Understanding anxiety and personal resilience during COVID-19

agedcare anxiety blog Aug 20, 2021

COVID times have been challenging for all of us and particularly for the elderly and those them. We may experience strong emotional and physical reactions to the current outbreak such as anger, sorrow, confusion or even fear.

Watching the news, hearing government and health updates on the endless changes to restrictions and advice can make the process more difficult and stressful. You may feel overwhelmed through the entire process and experience a range of emotions. That is common.  

It is important to acknowledge these emotions as they may feel sudden and intense. 

What is going on?

When our bodies perceive a threat, we enter a state of ‘fight or flight’, which is an automatic physiological reaction to an event that is perceived as stressful or frightening. During this state we operate in automatic process, our thoughts can be racing, we may feel dizzy or lightheaded, our breathing can become faster and our heart beats faster. We may feel overwhelmed and at times unable to cope.

Our two key system are impacted – behavioural and cognitive system.

Behavioural system

The two main behaviours associated with fear and anxiety are to either fight or flee. The overwhelming urges associated with this response are those of agitation or a desire to escape, wherever you are. This is often not possible so individuals often express the urges through pacing, foot tapping or being short with people

Cognitive system

As the main objective of the fight/flight response is to alert the person to the possible existence of danger, one major cognitive change is that the individual begins to shift their attention to the surroundings to search for potential threat. They may be more aware of social distancing, washing hands and doing all the activities that can minimise the risk of infection.

Restoration of the systems

Once the immediate danger has abated, the body begins a process of restoration back to a more relaxed state. The heart rate begins to slow, breathing rate slows, the body’s temperature begins to lower and the muscles begin to relax. Part of the process of restoration is that the systems do not return to normal straight away. Some residual effects of the fight/flight response remain for some time and only gradually taper off. This can leave the individual feeling ‘keyed up’ for some time afterwards.

Importantly, be assured that for most people, the anxiety will be temporary, and will reduce over time, especially once the virus has been contained.

What is the role of resilience?

Resilience is considered the sustained or rapid resumption (re-start) of psychological function during or following exposure to risk. Resilience is a part of normal human functioning which tends to vary in levels between individuals. How much resilience an individual has depends on their capacity for resilience, vulnerabilities and the environment.  An organisation called Occupational Resilience identifies six triggers to resilience - loss of control, hindrance, ambiguity, threat, uncertainty and pain. Two most impacted trigers are loss of control and uncertainty as they affect our ability to problem solve and plan. In such circumstances we might not be able to change the stressor situation, but may need to try to adapt by managing our internal response to it. 

Five Strategies to Improve Coping

  1. Speak with someone you trust (family, colleague, friend or reach out to a counsellor through EAP line) sometimes just talking through your worries with someone can help to reduce them.
  2. At the end of the day when you shower, try and imagine all your worries washing away down the drain, take a few deep breaths and tell yourself three times out loud “This too shall pass”.
  3. If you feel your emotions build up, take some time out – go outside or to the bathroom for even five minutes. Short bursts of alone time can do wonders for our endurance, wellbeing and resilience
  4. When you finish work for the day switch off by watching something funny, even a short YouTube video on animals, comedy show can help release endorphins and feel good emotions
  5. The best way to keep track of what works does not work is to maintain a journal or diary – you can even just mentally note what strategies work for you and help you with your resilience so you can become strong, healthy and successful again after working through a pandemic

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by anxiety, seek professional support. Psychological therapies can be done online, or remotely via phone or videoconferencing, and are an excellent option if you’re in self-isolation, or worried about going to a clinic. 

Beyond Blue – 1300 22 4636 24 hours / 7 days a week

Lifeline – 13 11 14

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