(As featured in Northshore Mums –

Coronavirus anxiety is something many of us are facing, in different ways. Perhaps you’re worried about your parents, or the risk to a vulnerable loved one. Maybe you’re not coping with the demands of home-schooling, or perhaps the changes in our lives have left you feeling more stressed. With so much uncertainty to manage, it can be helpful to explore strategies to help, writes Psychotherapist and Clinical Hypnotherapist Brigitte Tong.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed so much about our lives. Just the other day I was in a public place and started coughing (into my elbow) after swallowing the wrong way. Immediately, I found myself cringing as people glanced at me with suspicion. And who would have thought, a few months ago, toilet paper would be a valuable commodity? Add to this the worrying reports about people panic-buying and images of the long lines outside Centrelink, and the sense of panic becomes palpable, increasing until you are gripped by coronavirus anxiety.

You’re not alone if you feel overwhelmed or worried about what the future might look like.  But, in the midst of all this, what can we do? Here are some ways to manage your mindset throughout the pandemic that may help reduce your coronavirus anxiety.

1. Control the things you can control

The first step toward managing coronavirus anxiety is to identify what you can control in your life. The virus is now a fact of life, and you can’t wind back the clock and somehow stop its arrival.

Focus on practical action: Instead of focusing on what might have been, look toward what you can learn, and concrete actions you can take. For example:

– Keep up to date on hygiene advice and practice hand washing, social distancing and stay home to help manage concerns about catching the virus

– If your concern is cashflow, empower yourself by researching what assistance may be available to you

2. Distinguish between the ‘known’ and ‘the unknown’

People often struggle dealing with uncertainty, and right now we’re not sure about may happen in the next few weeks, months or even years.  Feelings of coronavirus anxiety go hand-in-had with our fear of the unknown.

Don’t get caught up in the unknown: Keeping up to date with coronavirus news is important, but information overload could fuel anxiety and lead to burnout or hyper-focusing on the what-ifs about every situation. Repeatedly watching and hearing the same news over and over again does not help, but only builds anxiety, leaving you worried about multiple possible futures.  Before you get to that point, set healthy boundaries around when and where you consume news, for example:

– Limiting time spent, or choosing just one platform instead of accessing radio, TV AND online news

– Ensuring you are balancing your consumption with other activities, like listening to an unrelated podcast, taking a walk, or whatever eases your mind

Focus on what you do know: When there’s so much we don’t know, it’s easy to lose sight of how much we do know for certain. Make a list of facts that will remind you how much progress has been made in coronavirus research, and add to it as you uncover new positive or useful facts, for example:

– We know scientists around the world are working on a vaccine alongside the Australia the University of QueenslandThe federal and state governments are taking fast, considered actions for our safety

– The federal and state governments are taking fast, considered actions for our safety

– The Australian coronavirus response has been effective in flattening the curve, limiting cases and our hospitals remain accessible and operational

3. Introduce yourself to ‘Now Time’

Our normal schedules have been upended, so now’s the time to introduce rituals into your new routine to give yourself structure, and a sense of routine. My suggestion is dedicate some time for daily ‘Now Time.’ What do I mean by that?

‘Now Time’ is a more user-friendly way to suggest you spend time focusing on yourself, finding some stillness in your day, and mediating

I call it ‘Now Time’ because people think of meditation as hard, disciplined sessions sitting, and trying to control thoughts

‘Now Time’ is simpler, and you probably already do it when you forget your thoughts and anxieties while you’re absorbed in a good book or movie!

How ‘Now Time’ works:

Take a break: This might simply mean pausing for one minute at a time at different moments throughout the day.

Use your ears: Hearing helps us focus and calm, so  wherever you are, (safely) stop and focus on what you can hear around you for one minute.

Let go of your thoughts: You will most likely be thinking, but don’t try to fight your thoughts, just keep listening for sounds with a light-hearted curiosity.

Continue to listen: Just noticing the different sounds that come and go, and noticing your awareness of them.

It’s amazing what you can hear that you would normally miss. As I sit at my desk right now, I can hear the sounds of the kookaburras and cockatoos in the distance; I can hear a fly that flew in through the open door buzzing at my ear; I can hear the whirring of the computer.

Coronavirus anxiety: Moving forward

There is a saying from the Upanishads saying, ‘When a blade of grass is cut, the whole universe quivers’. In the midst of this public health crisis, when an incident in one country has made the whole world shudder, it seems the saying is more relevant than ever. But while difficult, another perspective might be that in a strange way, the global coronavirus pandemic has the potential to unite a frequently divided world. It has given people the chance to reassess what is important to them and the community, such as collective health, our loved ones and the welfare of our wider community.

Brigitte Tong is a clinical psychotherapist and hypnotherapist with a passion for helping people overcome their issues to achieve their highest potential. You can contact her here for more professional help or guidance, or phone her on 0490 416 330.

The Dog-Zen Doctrine

Recently we decided to go camping one weekend and our neighbour kindly agreed to feed her and check that the water in the bucket remained full. I have to say that the dog was constantly at the back of my mind during our trip, especially as we had no mobile coverage so I couldn’t phone our neighbour to check on the dog. My thoughts were on how she had been given up twice in the past and what anguish she may be feeling not having us there, and how she was going to cope for the remaining days.

You may be wondering what this new doctrine of Dog-Zen is all about. Well, quite simply it’s what I’ve learned about mindfulness practice from my own dog. She was abandoned at goodness knows where and a kind stranger picked up this little puppy and took her to the RSPCA. Then at eight weeks my brother went to adopt her assuming that she would remain her small puppy size, but of course she grew bigger and bigger and eventually he faced the dilemma of returning her once more to the RSPCA – when I stepped in and adopted  her and have now had her for two years. But technically, she’s been unwanted twice.

So when we returned I was anxious to find out how the dog had coped with our absence. And what happened? Well, she didn’t miss us at all… She didn’t bark, she didn’t whine. She spent her days sunbaking as usual and snoozing in her kennel when the weather got wet. What a relief!

Now don’t get me wrong; dog’s can also get psychological issues such as phobias and fearful behaviour due to past trauma, but I was interested in how our dog remained blissfully unconcerned about our absence. From her behaviour I could safely assume that she wasn’t doing doggy thinking such as, ‘Have I been abandoned again?’ ‘Why me?’ ‘Why is this happening again?’ ‘What’s going to happen from now on???’

Instead, her dog brain allowed her only to focus on the present moment and deal with the situation as required: sunbake when she got cool, lie in the shade when she got warm, go into her kennel if wet or windy weather and come out for food when called. Her rocky past did not affect her; the future did not concern her. She was confident that her needs would be met.

Of course, dogs’ ability to completely focus on the moment is an extreme example as they lack the important ability to plan for the future, but we can learn so much from this long-lost skill of just immersing oneself in each moment, taking things as they come and adapting appropriately to any changes that may affect us. This is what I learned from my own Dog-Zen master.