Coronavirus is all over the headlines. Stories about the spread of it, stories about bare shelves in supermarkets. There is a lot of panic and anxiety around. Where there’s uncertainty and fear, we feel unsettled and don’t know what to do with ourselves.
I’m not going to cover the practical side of things like hand washing or limiting contact, but instead, what can you be doing to help yourself?
1. In the book Why We Sleep, by Matthew Walker, he describes a study done by Dr Aric Prather at the University of California. Dr Prather did a sleep study on 150 healthy men and women. He studied their sleep over a period of a week, then exposed them to rhinovirus (common cold) and studied people for the following week to see how their bodies responded. The basic finding was that how their body responded was directly linked to how much sleep they had in the previous week.
Those getting 5 hours sleep a night were 50% likely to catch the cold, whereas those sleeping 7 or more hours a night were only 18% likely to catch the cold. So quite simply, the less sleep they had, the more likely they were to catch a cold when exposed to it.
So what does this mean for us?
Sleep is one of the simplest and easiest things you can do to protect your body and to support your immune system. You are significantly less likely to get ill, even when you are directly exposed to something when you have slept well, so it is worth prioritising.
So what if you are feeling anxious so it is hard to sleep?
2. What you focus your attention on grows. So if you spend lots of time on social media reading up on symptoms or the spread of something like Coronavirus, or worrying about how things might affect you, then that anxiety will grow. When you are in a state of anxiety then your body is mobilised for danger and your blood flows away from your brain to your limbs to help you get away from danger. It literally means that you can’t think as clearly and don’t function as well as when you’re more relaxed. Also, stress causes inflammation in the body so quite literally lowers your immune system.
I appreciate it is easier said than done, but if you can focus your attention on what nourishes and calms you, then that is what will grow in your life. So taking the time to relax and care for yourself will help you to think better and feel better. It will also support your immune system.
3. Some quick ways to tell your body that you are safe are to sing out loud, laugh, or to focus on your breathing. If you were being chased by a lion then you wouldn’t be breathing in a calm and relaxed way, and definitely wouldn’t be singing or laughing. Doing these things sends a message to our body to tell it that we aren’t in danger.
Try to breathe in for a count of 5, pause, then breathe out for a count of 5 or 7. Do this a few times and see if it helps your heart to slow down and your body to feel more relaxed.
4. Another thing that works for some people is to focus in on your body. Can you find a place in your body where you don’t feel anxious? How about your little toe or your ear lobe? Whatever feeling we are feeling, and however intensely we are feeling it, there is usually a part of our body where we can find the opposite feeling. Finding a body part that feels calm and doesn’t feel anxious can give you some respite from the overwhelm.
Moving your body in whatever way feels good for you can also be helpful. You might want to walk, run, dance, do some yoga. It doesn’t really matter what you do, but do something you enjoy.
5. A final thing that can be helpful when feeling anxious is reaching out to other people and being part of a community bigger than yourself. Being with people, talking to others or having fun can limit the space our minds have to think about what we’re worried about and what doesn’t feel OK. It can feel risky to reach out to others, but it can be incredibly supportive and empowering.
These things aren’t about distracting yourself from the anxiety, but more about acknowledging what is there. “I’m feeling anxious and it is understandable as there is so much panic around and it is making me feel unsettled.” Try acknowledging what is there and choosing to nurture and support yourself to welcome more calm into your life. There’s no right or wrong way to do it, so experiment and find what works best for you!