How to cope with overwhelming feelings of anxiety – particularly when worrying about the impact of CV-19 on your business and livelihood

Covid-19 has caused major global changes. It has forced many experiments on us; working from home, running a remote team, and homeschooling our children just to name a few. As you can imagine, this has caused a lot of stress and a lot of anxiety that has been building over the last three months to the point where it has become quite overwhelming. To help you cope with this coronavirus anxiety, this article outlines three things you can do and why it’s important to know that your ancestors have a lot to answer for.

Threat = anxiety

Our minds evolved from our cave ancestors. What does this have to do with anything? Surprisingly a lot.

Somewhere in the deep consciousness of our minds, we are pre-programmed to identify threats, to churn them over in our minds to learn from them, and to even focus on the doom and gloom more than the good because that enables our survival. While that was crucial for our cave predecessors because, let’s face it, not being aware of threats in those days could easily result in your life hanging in the balance, it’s surprising how this trait has stuck around.

So what am I rambling on about and why is this relevant?

To put it simply, I’m saying that this is what our mind is meant to do. To worry. It is our defence mechanism and it’s meant to protect us.

Due to our current situation - where the world as we know it and our comfortable, predictable daily routines have been thrown up in the air - many of us are trying to spin too many plates to keep some resemblance of normality and we are filled with worry about what the future holds.

As you can imagine, our minds are having a field day right now as we are identifying potential threats everywhere. When will this uncertainty end? What will be the lasting damage to my business? How long can we cope financially? How long can my parents stay indoors before it takes its toll on their mental wellbeing? When will my children be able to go back to school? Will it be safe? Will these 3 months off have a lasting impact on them??!!

I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling quite overwhelmed just reading about the worries that plague us right now, so what do you need to take from this? The answer to this is three-fold: one, anxiety is a normal response to this incredibly difficult time that we find ourselves in; two, if you understand your anxiety, you can choose to change it, and three, you are not alone in feeling this way. Many people are struggling with a range of emotions right now so maybe that’s something to take comfort in.

Read: 16 Ways to Cope When Life Changes Suddenly

3 steps to cope with overwhelming coronavirus anxiety

It’s really easy to get caught up in how we are feeling, especially with the panic and uncertainty that we are currently faced with, but it’s important that we don’t let it consume us. Panic, too, is contagious, so to avoid being overwhelmed by the ‘coronavirus anxiety,’ make sure that you’re making these three steps a regular part of your daily life.

1) Identify exactly what is making you anxious

What exactly is making you anxious? Perhaps it is:

  • Worrying about the health of your business
  • Worrying about the future of your spouse or life partners’ job
  • Worrying about your business or household finances
  • Worrying about your health or your families health
  • Worrying about your children not being in school or having too much screen time or isolating themselves from peers and social contact
  • Trying to support loved ones who are vulnerable
  • Being bombarded by news of the coronavirus
  • People being negative or venting about the coronavirus
  • Not being able to exercise or to do activities that help you let go of stress
  • Trying to adapt to the transition out of lockdown (e.g. being around people or in public spaces again)

Often, when we are overwhelmed, it can be extremely difficult to pinpoint exactly what is making us anxious as it feels like it’s everything (hence the term ‘overwhelming’). However, if you want to be able to cope with the anxiety and panic without it consuming everything you do, then you need to understand it.

Start paying attention to your thoughts and your physical reactions that are caused by anxiety, and when you find yourself worrying, write them down. This could be something as simple as “when the news is on, I feel sick to my stomach” or “when I listen to someone being negative about the current situation and they project their worries on to me, I get this pain in my chest or I bite my nails.”

This may seem insignificant, but over time, you will notice a trend and you’ll start to recognise your ‘anxiety triggers.’ Armed with this knowledge, you can then start to make significant changes. By simply identifying what triggers your anxiety, you can:

  • Avoid these triggers altogether or only consume what you know you can handle.
  • Understand yourself better and start to notice your habits when it comes to negative thoughts and how your body reacts.
  • Stay on top of your anxiety by making the necessary changes before it gets to the point of being overwhelming.

Writing it down really does help. Not only with recognising patterns but with helping you look at it from a different perspective too (a non-emotional perspective).

2) Take control of the things that you can

Often, when we feel overwhelmed with anxiety, we feel out of control and as you can imagine, the current global pandemic is only exacerbating this feeling of helplessness. If you take the first step that we mentioned, however, and you’re writing down what exactly is making you feel this way, then you can remove the emotion from it and start to tackle it head-on. Of course, there will be a lot of ‘what if?’ worries (which are the more stubborn ones) so focus on the worries that you can do something about first.

So, when you have your list of worries or what makes you anxious, think about what you can do to take control of them and make a plan. Is there anything that you can do about them now? Here are a few examples below:

  • Hearing the news makes me anxious.

Plan: only check reputable sources that show the facts (e.g. BBC news & and schedule one moment in the day to just get the highlights.

  • Family/friends being negative really affects me.

Plan: Communicate with them that you want to support them but you find it hard to be surrounded by constant negativity. Encourage positivity/optimism and if this doesn’t work, you may have to call them less often.(Find out how to stay positive for others when you’re scared and worried too)

  • I am worried about my business prospects.

Plan: How can you make your firm’s services relevant to your target audience right now? For example offering bookkeeping out to clients who may consider cutting their in house bookkeeper. How can you change your strategy to adapt to the inevitable change in the market? What systems and processes can you implement now to improve workflow later? What personal skills can you develop now that will be very beneficial later? E.g. leading a virtual team

  • I am worried about my personal and business finances.

Plan: Check what support is available from the government and keep up to date with changes. Review your finances and scale back what you can. Identify exactly how long you can manage on ‘comfortable.’ (Read our revenue recovery plan for small accountancy firm owners)

By writing your worries down and thinking about potential solutions, this helps your brain switch from emotional to logical as you problem-solve. Already this helps ease some anxiety as you focus on concrete things that you can change rather than those elements that are not in your control. When you have your list of possible (not perfect) solutions, you can then draw up a plan of action that you can follow for the next few weeks and months.

Now, this may be enough for many people, to manage their anxiety, but for others, it is the ‘what ifs?’, the hypothetical worries that overwhelm them. These are far more difficult to manage and let go of as you can’t approach them logically, but it is possible, you just have to put in some effort consistently. Here are a few Cognitive Behaviour Therapy techniques that you can use:

  • Journaling - start to write down any worries, what-ifs or thoughts as you have them. This will be your ‘worry diary.’
  • Schedule in ‘worry time’ - decide on a window in the day where you are allowed to worry. This could be in the evening after work and between dinner where you allow yourself to worry about all those things that you have written down that day. You’ll find that maybe writing them down is enough to let them go or you’ll find that this ‘worry time’ becomes shorter and shorter over time until you don’t need to schedule it in anymore.
  • Meditation/Mindfulness - try implementing 10 minutes of meditation or mindful breathing into your routine every day. Not only is this great for your focus, but it also helps you to be in the present moment rather than letting your emotions take over.
  • Talk to someone - if you’re struggling to manage your anxiety yourself, seek support with your doctor. Getting guidance when it comes to coping with hypothetical worry can make a big difference.

Useful articles:
The ultimate guide to dealing with overwhelm caused by constant client calls due to the Coronavirus Crisis
5 ways small accountancy firm owners can survive and thrive the tsunami of work brought by COVID-19

3) Prioritise self-care and build positive habits

Last but not least is taking care of yourself. When we say ‘care,’ we are talking about the four foundational habits of health:

  1. Sleep,
  2. Food and drink,
  3. Exercise,
  4. And relaxation.

If you are overwhelmed with your anxiety, it is really easy to let your self-care take a back seat. Maybe you’re not sleeping well because you’re constantly worrying and you can’t switch off your mind. Maybe you’re seeking comfort food and this is making you feel groggy so you don’t want to exercise (which then serves to make you feel worse). This is easily done, but it is bad for you, so don’t fall into this negative cycle.

Before anything else, you need to be looking after you. This means getting 7-8 hours of good quality sleep consistently, preferably between the same times every night. It also means eating healthy foods that boost your immune system and make you feel good, as well as staying hydrated. It also means getting 30 minutes of exercise every day and finding moments to properly switch off and give your mind a much-needed break so that you can recharge.

You may not think that this will make a massive difference but trust us when we say that if you take care of your body, it will make it so much easier to take care of your mind. When you recharge your body with sleep and you fuel it with the right nutrients, you will make better decisions when it comes to your health and you’ll build positive habits that will get you out of that cycle.

Don’t let your anxiety consume you

The term ‘coronavirus anxiety’ keeps cropping up because many people are suffering from the uncertainty and worry that the pandemic has caused and will continue to for a long time yet. While a little bit of stress and anxiety is not detrimental, we’re not built to sustain this for long periods so it can very quickly become overwhelming.

If you’re feeling quite overwhelmed with anxiety, it’s important to remind yourself that this is a normal ‘protective response’ and that it can be changed with a few different habits. First, identify what is making you anxious and then take control of the things that you can. It’s also important to remember that self-care should be something that you prioritise every day.

If you do these three things consistently, over time you’ll find that you can keep your anxiety in check and manage it without becoming overwhelmed by it.

How are you coping with the coronavirus anxiety? What works for you?

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