Coronavirus anxiety – Keep calm, keep healthy

In Summary

• Every day we are glued to our phones or news stations thirsting for more knowledge about this dreaded virus. Social media is rife with facts, figures, memes, jokes, advice – a never-ending barrage of information.

Daniel Mutua, a health worker in Wajir who has been trained to handle Covid-19 cases, at work in the new isolation ward
Daniel Mutua, a health worker in Wajir who has been trained to handle Covid-19 cases, at work in the new isolation ward
Image: STEPHEN ASTARIKO

Fear has gripped the nation. Coronavirus anxiety is on the rise. The worry and stress are palpable as I walk around the supermarket doing some lastminute shopping as the threat of a nationwide lockdown looms over us. As I stand with my small basket in a queue seven-people deep, surrounded by overflowing trolleys, I am struck by the survival and panic modes that we have resorted to as a society.

We are facing a new reality of a perceived life-threatening illness, food shortages, national lockdown, cancelled events and, of course, the loss of livelihoods as businesses close down and the threat of a global recession emerges. This is creating anxiety on a level that many Kenyans may not have experienced in recent years.

Every day we are glued to our phones or news stations thirsting for more knowledge about this dreaded virus. Social media is rife with facts, figures, memes, jokes, advice – a never-ending barrage of information.

And the more we learn, the more our levels of fear are rising.

Fear can be a merciless master. It can hold you in a vice like grip, paralysing you from making good decisions that nurture and nourish your mind, body and spirit. Fear, if allowed to take hold leads to stress that impairs our immune system and hampers our overall wellbeing, making us more susceptible to illness. Suddenly we are in a vicious cycle. The thing we dread most – catching the virus – is something that our bodies become vulnerable to. And so, it is at exactly times like this, that we must not allow fear to take over and cloud our judgement. Now is the time to exercise some self-care, not just on a physical level, but at a mental and spiritual level too.

We are holistic beings – mind, body and spirit. What we think about often manifests physically. What physical ailments we have affects our mental and spiritual wellbeing. And how we deal with things at a spiritual level, affects our mind and our body. So, our wellbeing relies on us looking after all three aspects.

The advice to wash your hands, use hand sanitiser, practice physical cleanliness and adopt social isolation should be taken seriously. Implement good habits like maintaining structured routines, sleeping well, continuing to exercise and eating healthily.

But that is not enough. You must also look after your spiritual and mental health.   

For many, spiritual peace comes through prayer and it is perhaps telling that President Uhuru Kenyatta has called us to unite for a national day of prayer on Saturday. But for those of us who are not religious, it is still a good time for the nation to come together for collective reflection and to send out compassion to all the people of Kenya and the world at large. We are in this together, and together we will overcome.

On a personal level, each one of us must also look after our own mental health, especially when you feel an imminent anxiety attack. When you feel your heart start racing, hands getting clammy, thoughts become erratic and breathing becoming rapid and shallow, use the following technique to ward off the attack.

Put your right hand on your heart and your left hand on your stomach. Take a long, deep breath in through your nose and think the word ‘All’. Hold your breath for the briefest of moments and think the word ‘Is’. As you exhale slowly through your nose or mouth, think of the word ‘Well’.  By repeating the mantra ‘All Is Well’ over and over again, you are anchoring your mind into believing just that.  Your heartbeat and breathing will slow down and enable you to achieve clarity of thought. Fear will no longer overpower you.

In these anxious times, going back to your breath is sometimes all it takes to bring your mind into the present, to truly feel the moment. And then, with the clarity of mind and with an open heart you will see that you are ok. And for now, this moment is all that matters. And you can remind yourself, in those times of anxiety and difficulty, that this too shall pass.

 

Shalini Bhalla-Lucas is an accredited mindfulness teacher, mental health campaigner and award-winning author of the book Happiness! Is It Simply A Mindset Shift?

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