Covid-19, health anxiety and kindness
I want to acknowledge those individuals whose suffering from anxiety has intensified due to the pandemic of Covid-19.
Anxiety is experienced in the body when our thoughts have not been checked and create a scenario which we believe is real or inevitable. The scenario is one that makes us feel vulnerable. When we are vulnerable our body prepares to protect itself through the freeze, fight or flight response. The body becomes alert, and the hormones adrenalin and cortisol begin to circulate in preparation for action. The effect of these hormones on the muscles and organs is what is felt as anxiety.
Health anxiety generally is when our thoughts are about sensations in our body. We become focused on, and over analyse each new pain, and might even ‘google’ it. Often not satisfied until we find something that relates the symptom to a scary illness such as cancer or chronic debilitating ones, such as muscular sclerosis.
Health anxiety that is specifically directed at Covid-19, is the same as other anxieties; thoughts causing the body to feel vulnerable and under threat. It is still the thoughts that are causing the anxiety.
What makes this mental suffering all the harder is that it is not just in your head, Covid-19 is everywhere. It is not an illness you have made up, it is an illness that has changed everyone’s lives already. Therefore, a proportion of your anxiety is logical and real.
How to cope with anxiety?
- Kindness, when offered to anyone in pain, can bring relief. Pain is both mental and physical distress.
- Kindness is generally described as an act of being gentle, caring, and helpful.
- It can help us feel ‘got’, or ‘connected’. We feel like we are not alone in this, that other people have also felt this way. It does not get rid of pain, it softens it around the edges, and makes it more bearable.
- Kindness is not pity. Kindness is a genuine desire to be there for the other. It is a reaching out in the other’s suffering.
Over the last decade individuals such as Kristin Neff PhD, Paul Gilbert PhD and Christopher Germer PhD have researched compassion - kindness being an element of this - finding that kindness is key in our ability to manage personal pain, and to combat the aspects of society that lead us to think we are not good enough.
We cannot expect others; friends and family, to always know when we want kindness, nor how to give it. In fact, expecting others to do this for us can itself lead to sadness and disappointment and further add to the belief we are not good enough or do not disserve other people’s attention.
Kindness for your anxiety
- Kindness will not make anxiety go away.
- Kindness will make anxiety easier to bare.
According to Shinzen Young a meditation teacher-
Suffering = Pain x Resistance
If we lessen our resistance to what is in the here and now, we also lessen our suffering. Suffering is used to describe an all over mental and physical hardship, not only the pain, but the restlessness, the mood, the impact on others, the unhelpful behaviours that come with the pain.
Resistance means not accepting what is, wanting things to be different. Not accepting that we are feeling scared, or vulnerable. Not accepting that we are only human, not a perfect being. Not accepting that we might become ill. Not accepting that we are doing our best and that is all we can do.
In this week of kindness, be kind to yourself. And so reduce your suffering.
How to be kind
For many of us kindness to others is a lot easier than kindness to ourselves. Kindness can come in many forms. Think about the ways you might offer kindness to others, these might include -
- Listening as they offload, or pour out their feelings.
- Take them for out for a coffee.
- A small gift.
- A hug.
- Sitting and crying with them.
This kindness comes from an empathy; you can feel their pain.
Tuning into our own pain is hard, that is why resistance happens. This doesn’t mean you cannot offer yourself kindness, knowing that you are suffering, even if you are not ready to face it, is enough.
Kindness is not laziness, indulgence or complacency. It is offering yourself a cup of tea until you feel strong again, it is giving yourself a break when you have had too high expectations. It is recognising that we all are fallible and do things wrong.
Kindness is an antidote to the critical voice telling you that you are not good enough.
Ways to offer yourself kindness
- Give yourself encouragement ‘well done you have got this far’.
- Offer soothing experiences to your body:
- touch your shoulder
- lay a hand on your heart
- hold your own hand
- Say kind words - I am loved, I am doing my best.
- Reflect on the fact that you are not alone - "other people also feel like I do, others also suffer anxiety".
- Pleasure comes from the senses:
- Look at some things that give you joy, family photos or flowers in the garden.
- What smells do you like? Put on your favourite scent.
- Listen to music, might it make you sing or dance?
- Call out your critical voice, tell her/him to be quiet for a bit.
These suggestions might feel uncomfortable and odd at first, but try to add them in a little at a time.
Evidence shows kindness can begin to shift a negative mindset to one of acceptance and give the energy to bring about change. Be patient with your attempts, you are doing your best.
Speaking to a pofessional
If you feel you need help with health anxiety or any other forms of anxiety-related symptoms then a therapist can help. Counselling Directory lists qualified professional counsellors who are available to offer you the support you need.