Excessively worrying, feeling irritable or struggling to sleep? Doctor Saliha Afridi of The Lighthouse Centre For Wellbeing in Dubai tells us everything we need to know about post-lockdown anxiety
From the moment the Covid-19 pandemic took hold and businesses across the UAE pressed pause, fears over job security, financial stability and the health and safety of loved ones took over a generation already suffering from the likes of burnout and social anxiety. As the pandemic accelerated many women and men were swiftly forced into isolation and are now, almost three months later, quickly being encouraged back out of it: as a result, a new kind of fear dubbed ‘post-lockdown anxiety’ is taking hold. “It is a physiological and emotional response to uncertainty and feeling powerless in the face of change,” says Dr. Saliha Afridi. Here, the Clinical Psychologist discusses ways to overcome it.
How would you define post-lockdown anxiety?
Whether it’s post-lockdown or any other time when life is uncertain — it is a physiological and emotional response to uncertainty and feeling powerless in the face of change.
How can we recognise symptoms of post-lockdown anxiety in our friends, family or even ourselves?
Rapid heart-rate/pressure in chest
Inability to sleep
Can post-lockdown anxiety be mistaken for mood swings?
Many people are a lot less tolerating and a lot more agitated and stressed during times of change. They may not realise that they are actually feeling ‘out of control’ and anxious and may only see that they are being short tempered or sharp with their friends or family.
At what point does being cautious about returning to everyday life turn in to an unhealthy anxiety?
When the anxiety starts to consistently get in the way of social, occupational or academic functioning then it has reached a clinical level. This means that we will all feel anxious and that is very normal, however when we are feeling paralysed by it, or we can’t leave the house every day without having a panic attack, or we can’t focus on our work because we are too stressed about Covid-19, then we are not in control of the anxiety, then the anxiety is fully in control.
How might individuals who have been self-isolating for almost three months and must now return to their work place be feeling?
Anytime there is a transition from one way of doing things to another, there will be difficult feelings. Transitions involve grieving the loss of the old and adjusting to the new. Transition are best managed when approached intentionally.
What are the ways in which we can help manage post-lockdown anxiety?
- Bottom-up approach to mental health: When the mind is feeling like its spinning in circles, go in through the body. Spas use a bottom up approach to calming the mind. They use aromatherapy, teas, soothing music, lighting, decluttered environment, essential oils to send signals to the mind that everything is ok. The essence of the mind body connection is the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is a cranial nerve that connects the brain to all the major organs in the body including your heart, stomach, lungs, liver, kidneys…if your body is not good, your mind is not good, and if you mind is not going to feel good, your body is not going to feel good. Because it is a two-way highway, the fastest way to get your mind to feel in control and to feel better is to get your body to feel in control and to feel better.
- Exercise: Time and time again, research has shown that exercise is good for releasing negative and anxious emotions and increasing positive emotions. Some research suggests that exercise is as effective in eliminating anxiety and depression as medication. 30 mins a day of exercise at 75% of your maximum heart rate will help you feel more in control and also release happy chemicals in your brain.
- Guard your sleep: Stop drinking caffeine beyond 10am, wear blue-light-blocking glasses/or have shields for your screens, have chamomile tea every night to wind down the mind, and take MagVita supplements which reduce stress and tension in the body. Anything less than seven hours is considered sleep deprivation and you are 40% less able to regulate your emotions when you are sleep deprived.
- Guard your diet: 90% of our happy chemical serotonin is produced in our gut and up to 80% of your immunity is in the lining of your gut! When they say ‘you are what you eat’, this is accurate in the sense that you will definitely feel that way; if you eat junk, your mind will feel just as hollow, if you eat foods that are deep fried, then you will certainly feel that way in your mind as well.
- Switch off the news: No human is meant to consume as much content or news the way we have been for the last decade. News media play on our fight or flight response because that is what gets the attention from consumers of news. It’s too much, it’s too fast, and it’s too graphic. Instead, look at it once a day for one hour if you really must, and limit it to one channel. If you are feeling particularly out of control, then turn it off completely.
- Routine: Anxiety is uncertainty plus powerlessness, and routine is the antidote to uncertainty and powerlessness. Do not wait for motivation. Set a realistic schedule and follow it whether you feel like it or not. You will feel more in control and more empowered when you do this.
- Look back: You endured all the stages and phases of Covid-19 and you will endure this one as well. Make a courage jar of all the times you have did things you were afraid of or all the times you stepped up even when you didn’t think you could. It takes usually six weeks for a human being to adapt to a new change, so give yourself time to adjust to the new way of doing things.
- Highlight the positive: When there is so much bad news everywhere, we can get locked up in a negative mindset. While allowing for the difficult feelings to surface, feeling them and releasing them, make sure to highlight the positive aspects of your life…and I guarantee there are many. If you cant figure out what to be grateful for then start with the biggest or smallest thing/person around you and imagine that it wasn’t there tomorrow; that always helps to see how much we take for granted.
Doctor Saliha Afridi, PsyD (US) is a Clinical Psychologist and the Managing Director at The Lighthouse Center For Wellbeing, Dubai.