It’s difficult to believe that we’ve been in lockdown since 23rd March. It really wasn’t that long ago that life changed overnight when Boris Johnson made an unprecedented address to the nation with the message of “Stay Home, Save Lives”.
Since then we’ve been living a new version of our old lives where the majority stayed at home, key workers kept the nation going, and as the days blended together, we bonded over a love of the NHS, kept in touch via video calls and made banana bread.
In the new normal, we left our homes only when necessary and, although rules were imposed on us, those rules kept us safe.
Over the last couple of weeks, lockdown restrictions have eased which, for a lot of us, now means that the prospect of returning to work, commuting and socialising in person could become a reality in the not too distant future.
With coronavirus still dominating the headlines, the thought of returning to the world post-lockdown is understandably sparking a new kind of anxiety in people relating to their health. Many of us are lucky enough to have never experienced this kind of anxiety before.
So, what is health anxiety and how can we manage it?
Health Anxiety (sometimes called hypochondria) is when you spend so much time worrying you’re ill, or about getting ill, that it starts to take over your life. At a time when coronavirus has actually taken over our lives, it’s no wonder that more people are experiencing fears over their health.
Symptoms include constant worry about health, obsessively looking at health information on the internet or in the media and frequently checking your body for signs of illness. If you can relate to these behaviours, then there are a few things that you can do to help ease your feelings of worry and anxiety.
In times of crisis, we tend to go to extremes. For some, it is too tempting to bury their head in the sand, whilst others will spiral into information overload, reading everything they can and becoming overwhelmed in the process.
If the uncertainty around returning to work is sparking health anxiety, try and cut through the noise and read up on information that is relevant to you. Citizens Advice, for example, provide useful articles on employment rights covering everything from what to do if your commute is unsafe to childcare issues.
Part of the problem right now is that we feel helpless because our movements feel out of our control. Knowing exactly what you are entitled to and what your employer should and shouldn’t expect of you is a way of regaining some peace of mind.
Write it down
It can be all too easy to let our minds run wild with ‘what if’ scenarios. Writing these worries down can help us take a step back and put them in perspective. Once these worries are laid out in front of you, it’s easier to identify those which are unlikely to ever happen. This, in turn, should help to reduce your anxiety.
As well as helping to rationalise worries, writing down your concerns is a therapeutic way of dealing with stress. A lot of people use writing to practice mindfulness which is an effective way of filtering out that, sometimes too chatty, internal dialogue.
Take a step at a time
Even a walk to the shops at the moment can feel completely overwhelming. A lot of us hadn’t quite realised how many sights and sounds we encounter day to day until we spent months indoors. Add in the fear of getting ill and the outside seems like a big scary place.
We’ve adjusted to being indoors so it’s important to slowly re-adjust to going back outside to remind ourselves that it’s not as scary as we’ve built up in our heads. Getting active will also help to release those endorphins and boost your mood.
Reach out to those around you
As cheesy as it sounds, we really are in this together and a lot of people will be feeling the same way. Speak to family, speak to friends and if anxiety around your health continues, then therapy can help you to understand what the triggers are and methods to help stop health anxiety from taking over.