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How To Cope With An Anxiety Pandemic, According to A Clinical Neuropsychologist

Principal Clinical Neuropsychologist Dr Brian Waldron shares expert advice on coping with COVID-19 and the ‘anxiety pandemic’ that threatens alongside the national health crisis.

Some months ago, on St Patrick’s Day, the nation heard then-Taoiseach Leo Varadkar refer to ‘fear as a virus in itself’ as he urged the public to take regular breaks from watching world news.

Quite a bit has changed since then, however, a general feeling of anxiousness looms. 

As the nation watched – and continues to watch – more stringent measures introduced worldwide to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Dr Brian Waldron of Acquired Brain Injury Ireland echoes this advice as he explains that “every one of us will experience significant anxiety and stress during the coming weeks”.

“We can’t control everything in our lives and the current Coronavirus pandemic is a major example," Dr Waldron says.

"The fact is, that there is and will be, for some time to come, an additional 'anxiety pandemic' for all of us. Having disrupted sleep, waking at night, and having unusual dreams is to be very much expected for the duration of the pandemic in Ireland. But there are things we can do help manage and contain the emotional impact.

“People have both positive and negative beliefs about worry. On the negative side, people often believe that they have no control over worry, that worrying is dangerous, and that they could 'lose it', go mad or crack up. The good news is that none of these beliefs are true.

"Worrying isn’t dangerous and you won’t go mad from worrying," he continued.

"People also hold more subtle positive beliefs about worrying such as that it helps with problem-solving, reduces stress, promotes coping and helps them be prepared. The fact is that constant rumination (about for example the COVID-19 virus) doesn’t help with the problem, nor does constant worrying help with coping and preparedness. It will be important for us all to learn ways to contain this.

“I encourage everyone to introduce a 'worry period' in their day to control the tendency for constant rumination. Identify your worrisome thoughts during a ringfenced 30 or 40 minute worry period each evening. During the daytime, postpone your worry to later.

"Say to yourself that 'I'll put this off now until later and I'll give it some thought then'. Then, when it's time, absolutely use the 30 or 40 minutes to worry and problem solve. And note down your thoughts, your fears, and any practical actions you are going to take over the coming days around that. Then after the 40 minutes are up, do something else.”

Dr Brian Waldron's tips on coping with a global pandemic from home are as follows:

  • Set a worry period each day for no more than 30 or 40 minutes
  • Write down thoughts or actions you can take
  • Practice stress reduction techniques such as mindfulness or meditation
  • Limit your exposure to news stories or images
  • Stay busy, both mentally and physically
  • Talk to your family and friends and share your thoughts and feelings
  • Keep a normal daily routine as much as possible eg stick to usual mealtimes and bedtimes
  • Avoid excessive amounts of caffeine or alcohol as these will exacerbate disrupted sleep
  • Get some exercise while also maintaining social distancing 

As the nation continues to adapt to social distancing rules and with normal socialising routines broken, Dr Waldron reminds everyone that making time for socialising – albeit from a distance – is important. He also suggests making an extra effort to pick up the phone. 

“Everyone is feeling fearful, sad and angry. So it’s good to talk to your family and friends to share your thoughts and feelings.”

With a rapidly changing daily news cycle on the Coronavirus situation in Ireland and worldwide, Acquired Brain Injury Ireland’s neuropsychologist advises limiting exposure to news stories or images and avoiding 24-hour news running as a background to your day.

“One way to contain the anxiety pandemic is to limit your exposure to graphic news stories or images by not watching 24-hours news all day and night," he says.

"Choose a trusted source for information and stick to it. ”

For more information on how you can cope during periods of intensive stress, check out Acquired Brain Injury Ireland's website

If you or someone you know is suffering from mental health issues, there is help available: 

  • Samaritans – 116 123  – [email protected] or [email protected]
  • Pieta House – 1800 247 247 or text HELP to 51444
  • Aware -  1800 80 48 48
  • Childline – 1800 66 66 66 or free text 50101

Main image by @alexachung

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