Three ways to reduce your anxiety during lockdown

Image: Diego Vito Cervo/123RF

People the world over are experiencing unprecedented restrictions to their movement in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. As South Africans we are in our second week of a mandatory three-week lockdown and many people are struggling to cope with the new normal.

If you find yourself feeling stressed out or anxious about being cooped up at home, only allowed to go shopping for essentials, you are not alone. Not being able to engage in your usual routine can have dire consequences on your mental health. The good news is that there are ways in which you can manage this.

If you’re still trying to figure out how to do this, we’ve put together a short list of exercises specifically targeted to reducing stress and anxiety. Give it a try – it might just bring down your anxiety levels in ways that will make going about our lockdown a little easier.

Journaling

Journaling isn’t necessarily the stuff of teenage girls. If you find yourself feeling anxious or slightly stressed out, it can help you to manage this. Many people use journaling as a stress management exercise.

A study carried out by researchers at the University of Chicago in 2011 showed that students who feel anxious about exams do better in them when they write about their anxiety before taking the exam. In the same way, if you’re feeling stressed or anxious it might help you to cope with this if you wrote about your feelings: confront them head-on instead of trying to push them aside or pretend they don’t exist.

At the risk of sounding like Oprah, another way of journaling that can improve your mood is to write down all the things you are grateful for. There is a reason why Oprah was such an advocate for the Gratitude Journal: according to different research on the topic, a feeling of gratitude can boost the hormones that make you feel happy.

If you’re skeptical, just give it a try. All you need is a notebook, or piece of paper, and a pen. Spend just a few minutes each day – maybe in the morning – writing down a list of things you are grateful for. It can be as simple as being grateful for your health while so many people are dying of a scary virus, of having had a good night’s sleep or being able to enjoy a cup of tea or coffee after waking up.

For this, try the old-school way and put away your phone. Writing down actual words are part of the process. After doing this for a few mornings, you might find that you have a lot more to be grateful than you realised. And just maybe you discover your inner wordsmith.

Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness is a practice in which you focus on being present and engaged with what’s going on right now or what you’re doing in the moment. It is meant to help clear your head of thoughts that clutter while acknowledging and accepting your emotions and feelings. In essence, it’s a therapeutic technique that you can use to centre and calm yourself.

One of the best ways to achieve mindfulness is through meditation. When done correctly, it has the benefits of lowering stress levels, improving focus and connecting with yourself. If you’re struggling with anxiety during lockdown, it might be a way for you to manage this.

If you’re a beginner, meditation can be a struggle. If you need some help, there are plenty of YouTube videos that can guide you as you start out. Alternatively, there are a few free mindfulness and meditation apps you can try.

These apps are specifically targeted towards meditation and mindfulness. They are free, are rated four stars or more and they're available on IOS and Android:

  • Aura: Mindfulness, Sleep & Calming Meditation
  • Breethe: Meditation, Sleep, Calm & Mindfulness
  • Calm: Meditate, Sleep, Relax
  • Let’s Meditate: Sleep & Guided Meditation
  • Serenity: Guided Meditation & Mindfulness

What’s important is to choose a time in which you won’t be distracted and to find a space that will allow you to reflect without interruption. You’ll know you’re doing it right if you start feeling more at peace and relaxed. Even just a few minutes of doing this can have a huge impact on how you feel the rest of the day.

Online yoga

If you enjoy meditation, yoga might be something that you find useful for managing your anxiety. It is a mind and body practice, combining exercise and meditation. While it has its roots in Indian philosophy, it’s widely practiced across the world today. Modern yoga has evolved to place more of a focus on the physical aspects: exercise, flexibility, strength and breathing. There are different forms, or branches, of yoga so if you’re starting out, don’t feel overwhelmed.

It is important to be mindful of the fact that you won’t be able to do all the stretches and poses as a beginner. Yoga instructors have spent time and energy fine-tuning their abilities. It is likewise important to stress that you need to exercise caution: as with any exercise, you run the risk of injury if you’re not doing the exercises properly. Don’t push yourself too hard, stop if you feel uncomfortable pain and watch the instructions carefully.

The ideal would be for you to attend classes with an instructor at first but if this is something you want to try during lockdown, there are plenty of online beginner’s videos that can guide you to start out with. Start out with a few minutes and see how this works for you. If you find it beneficial, you can always move to longer yoga sessions.


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