Blog Post No. 62
25th April 2020
Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne, 2020
Survival skills for very difficult times: Reducing Covid-19 anxiety and worry
By Renata Taylor-Byrne, Lifestyle Coach/Counsellor
Millions of people are going through terrible uncertainty and fear for their families and their incomes at the moment, all over the world, because of Covid-19.
Various individuals have described what a massive challenge the current situation has been for them to deal with.
For example, Davina McCall stated in a recent interview in the UK magazine ‘OK’, that she had been battling anxiety, and she said that:
“If you start thinking too far in advance it becomes too much for your brain to handle.”
However, the problem is not really about how far in advance you try to think, but the idea that the future contains threats and dangers, which worry and/or frighten you.
And Catherine Zeta-Jones stated in the same issue of ‘OK’ magazine, in a section which was headed “Lessons in Lockdown”, that: “I worry about everything”.
What can they do to handle this?
I have recently co-authored a book on how to overcome worry, using various approaches.
In this blog I am going to describe one of those approaches: an ancient technique which helps you to reduce your worrying.
Anxiety and worry are not just a mental strain, but also very bad for your physical health.
The worries mentioned by Davina McCall and Catherine Zeta-Jones, sound very onerous and trying, and it would be good if they could figure out how to stop worrying so much.
And that is certainly possible, as indicated in Dale Carnegie’s book, ‘How to Stop Worrying and Start Living’.
The price we pay for worrying
Knowing the effect of worry on the central nervous system can be very useful. It’s important to know what the bodily price tag is for worrying. Awareness of the physical effects of worrying can protect you against allowing worry to take over your mind. If you know you are harming yourself, you are less likely to allow worry to dominate your mind.
It can also be helpful to know Dr Tom Miller’s view that “Worry is a magical attempt to control something which cannot be controlled by worry!”
And those two insights can, with other strategies, stop you going over and over problems in your mind. Worry can keep you awake when you need to be sleeping at night, which prevents you then feeling fully re-energized in the morning.
The beneficial effects of not worrying are described by Reid (2003), like this:
“When you ‘don’t worry’, your adrenal glands don’t secrete stress hormones such as cortisone, which suppress immune response and enervate the nervous system with hypertension. When you are happy, your brain secretes neuropeptides, the happy hormones that communicate directly with the glands of the endocrine system, and signal them to ‘turn on the juice’ of healing hormones and other growth factors.” (Page 319).
So what can we do to handle the uncertainty of this present health crisis?
How can we stop worrying?
I want to describe a very ordinary skill, but one that is hard to practise and is a daily challenge to do; but the physical and mental rewards are well worth the effort.
The skill I want to describe is the skill of practising living in the present.
This practice – which includes the ideas of meditation and mindfulness – helps you to avoid going off into the future, where you worry about threats and dangers. If you keep your mind focussed on the present moment, there are no threats or dangers to worry about.
To help you to stay in the present, you can focus your attention on your breathing, as the breath comes into your lungs, and goes out again. In addition, you can count your breaths, over and over again, which further keeps your mind focussed on the here and now.
That’s all you have to do – but it is surprisingly good for you.
In the absence of this kind of ‘present time awareness’, your mind can take over your body and drain it of energy.
More detail on meditation
Meditation is an extremely simple process, and there are a lot of different techniques. One of them is called ‘breath counting’, and is said to have been recommended by the Buddha Gautama, about 2,500 years ago. You simply count your breaths, over and over again from one to four, as you breathe in and out.
You must breathe ‘from your diaphragm’, which is a dome shaped muscle between the bottom of your lungs and the top of your intestines. As you breathe in, you push your diaphragm down, which expands your belly. You might have to experiment a little to make this happen.
As you breathe out, you belly returns to a flatter state. This is called ‘belly breathing’, and it is illustrated on a number of video clips at YouTube. (Do not let your upper chest rise. That is called ‘anxiety breathing’).
Firstly, sit comfortably; with you back straight; hands open, one on top of the other; palms facing upwards; thumbs touching each other, and both little fingers touching your belly button region.
Secondly, count (silently in your mind):
– 1 on the in-breath;
– 2 on the out-breath;
– 3 on the in-breath; and
– 4 on the out-breath.
And repeat, over and over.
Slowly, slowly, let your rate of breathing slow down; and relax your body. And, as you breathe, focus your attention on your diaphragm, where your breath is fully experienced. Feel the air filling your lungs, from bottom to top.
I suggest you try 10 minutes a day at first. Ten minutes of peace! But as you get to feel the effects on your body, I would suggest that you build up to 30 minutes a day. That will be really good for your mind and body; and it will improve the quality and quantity of your nightly sleep.
If breath counting doesn’t work for you there are a variety of other methods. For example, some people chant a single word mantra – like ‘Om’ – or a multi-word mantra – ‘Namo Amitaba’.
- Your calm breathing will switch on the “rest and digest” branch of your autonomic (automatic) nervous system, and your body will begin restoring your energy and healing you. This also switches off the tendency to worry.
Your body will become more relaxed and rested, and this will mean that when you experience stressful events, you will be meeting them with a more relaxed body/mind. Therefore the stress response will be less powerful and you’ll recover more quickly, making it much less likely that you will tend to worry.
- Focussing on your breath keeps you in the present, and stops you creating scary images about the future.
This blog has suggested that worry can have a nasty effect on your body, even in people who are great role models of physical fitness, like Davina McCall. And meditation is one of several valuable ways of reducing the effects of worry on you.
To see details of our most recent book about how to reduce worry, called ‘Cutting through the worry knot’, please click the link:
Bringing your mind back to the present, with meditation, will help you strengthen yourself in the face of the regular and shocking daily news that we hear about the course of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Meditation reduces stress levels and helps people sleep much better.
Some people meditate each morning, and again when they want to get off to sleep at night; or if they wake up in the night and want to get back to sleep again.
Here is a very good website which has gone into detail about the benefits of meditation: https://parade.com/969668/ericasweeney/benefits-of-meditation/
01422 843 629
 Reid, D. (2003) The Tao of Detox: The natural way to purify your body for health and longevity. London: Simon & Schuster.