Blurb: Claire Eastham is no stranger to anxiety. In this piece she gives advice on managing ‘thought storms’.
In the UK we’re reaching the end of week four of the official coronavirus lockdown. The self-isolation thing was a novelty at first, what with the Netflix binges, online gym sessions and mass frozen food consumption.
However, for many, the reality of the situation has begun to sink in.
As a nation, we are essentially imprisoned. No more grabbing a takeaway coffee, going to the pub with friends, or visiting grandparents. For the foreseeable future, we’re all stuck in limbo together. Of course many countries are much worse off, but you can only compare against what you know.
For those living with anxiety, the most hazardous part of isolation is the overthinking. The uncertainty and the lack of structure leaves an endless amount of time to indulge, analyze and question EVERYTHING.
Yesterday, for example, I got caught up in the following cycle;
‘Green Wing’ is such a good TV show – Maybe that’s what I should’ve done career-wise… become a hospital doctor. Have I wasted my life? What am I even doing with my life? What about my marriage, is that OK? Dan seems distant today. Does he still love me? Do I still love him? Was I even meant to get married? Or have I just fallen into the trappings of conventional adulthood? – At eighteen I imagined adopting myself. A single mother living in Paris. Is it too late to move to Paris? Do they rent there or buy? Why am I thinking about this stuff now? Am I actually a horrendous person and just not realized? My tax is due soon – Need to log that. What if I’ve been doing it wrong for years? What if the taxman decides to make an example out of me and prosecute? How would I survive in prison? What gang would I join? What if I can’t think of anything interesting to say when presented to the head of the gang? What if I start blushing or vomit? I feel sick now. Oh dear, is that a symptom of coronavirus?
FOR FORTY-FIVE SODDING MINUTES I WAS STUCK IN THIS THOUGHT STORM!
Recognize and re-direct
Even with all of my experience with it, I still fall into the jaws of anxiety at times. And that’s OK. I liken it to stubbing one’s toe – i.e. it CAN and WILL happen multiple times in life and no amount of prep or research can prevent it. There’s no shame in that.
But while overthinking or ‘thought storms’ are natural, they’re also distressing and a pointless use of energy. Not to mention the negative impact they have on the mood.
Top tips to avoid negative thought cycles:
Adapt and create a new timetable for the home. This can include wake up and bedtimes, a list of activities to do for the day (both work and play), and set mealtimes. Don’t assume your brain will automatically accept change.
Once you realize that you’re caught in a thought storm DON’T berate yourself. Instead, think: Ah OK, it’s happened again. No worries, this is normal. I’m not weak, or pathetic, I just live with anxiety.
Self-anger and criticism feed mental illness. So be kind to yourself.
If you’re on the couch, get up and move. Ideally, run your hands under cold water for thirty seconds. The brain can only prioritize one activity at a time, so a sudden movement or change in temperature/sensation can jolt it off track. Star jumps are my personal favorite.
I’ve become slightly obsessed with the Nintendo RingFit. Gaming is an excellent distraction technique. However, distraction can be anything (legal) you like. Think about what might engage you in advance, so that you can deploy when the overthinking strikes.
I like knitting too, reading out loud (seriously it works) and playing the ‘accent’ game with Dan – which is exactly what it sounds like by the way. You choose a random sentence and take it in turns to do as many accents as you can. BOOM!
If the same thoughts persist in circulating, then grab a piece of paper and write them down. Don’t think, just write, (or use your phone if you’d rather). It might seem like an effort, but you’d be surprised at how cathartic this is. Think of it a emptying an overflowing bin. Thoughts are easier to rationalize on paper.
Good luck and stay safe everyone. Avoid any unnecessary risks and remember to be kind.
NPS-ALL-NP-00119 APRIL 2020