Psychology expert gives advice on coping with an ‘anxiety pandemic’

Acquired Brain Injury Ireland’s Principal Clinical Neuropsychologist Dr Brian Waldron shares expert advice on coping with COVID-19 and the ‘anxiety pandemic’ that threatens alongside the national health crisis.

Last week on St. Patrick’s Day, the nation heard An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar refer to ‘fear as a virus in itself’ and he urged the public to take regular breaks from watching news.

This week, as the nation watches more stringent measures introduced worldwide including the UK to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Dr Brian Waldron echoes this advice as he explained that “everyone of us will experience significant anxiety and stress during the coming weeks”.

Dr Waldron said: “We can’t control everything in our lives and the current Coronavirus pandemic is a major example. The fact is, that there is and will be, for some time to come, an additional “anxiety pandemic” for all of us. Having disrupted sleep, waking at night, and having unusual dreams is to be very much expected for the duration of the pandemic in Ireland. But there are things we can do help manage and contain the emotional impact.”

Dr Waldron continued: “People have both positive and negative beliefs about worry. On the negative side, people often believe that they have no control over worry, that worrying is dangerous, and that they could ‘lose it’, go mad or crack up. The good news is that none of these beliefs are true. Worrying isn’t dangerous and you won’t go mad from worrying. People also hold more subtle positive beliefs about worrying such as that it helps with problem solving, reduces stress, promotes coping and helps them be prepared. The fact is that constant rumination (about for example the Covid-19 virus) doesn’t help with the problem, nor does constant worrying help with coping and preparedness. It will be important for us all to learn ways to contain this.

“I encourage everyone to introduce a ‘Worry Period’ in their day to control the tendency for constant rumination. Identify your worrisome thoughts during a ringfenced 30- or 40-minute worry period each evening. During the daytime, postpone your worry to later. Say to yourself that ‘I’ll put this off now until later and I’ll give it some thought then’. Then, when it’s time, absolutely use the 30 or 40 minutes to worry and problem solve. And note down your thoughts, your fears, and any practical actions you are going to take over the coming days around that. Then after the 40 minutes are up, do something else.”

As the nation continues to adapt to social distancing rules and with normal socialising routines broken, Dr Waldron reminds everyone that it’s important to make an extra effort to pick up the phone and stay in touch with your loved ones. “Everyone is feeling fearful, sad and angry. So it’s good to talk to your family and friends to share your thoughts and feelings.”

With a rapidly changing daily news cycle on the Coronavirus situation in Ireland and worldwide, Acquired Brain Injury Ireland’s neuropsychologist advises limiting exposure to news stories or images and avoiding 24-hour news running as a background to your day.

He said: “One way to contain the anxiety pandemic, is to limit your exposure to graphic news stories or images by not watching 24-hours news all day and night. Choose a trusted source for information and stick to it. ”

Tips from Acquired Brain Injury Ireland’s Dr Brian Waldron on coping with COVID:

  • Set a worry period each day for no more than 30 or 40 minutes and write down thoughts or actions you can take
  • Practicing stress reduction techniques such as mindfulness meditations can help
  • Limit your exposure to news stories or images
  • Stay busy, both mentally and physically
  • Talk to your family and friends and share your thoughts and feelings
  • Keep a normal daily routine as much as possible such as sticking to your usual mealtimes and bedtimes
  • Avoid excessive amounts of caffeine or alcohol as these will exacerbate disrupted sleep
  • Getting exercise can help boost your mood and clear your head. A brief walk while social distancing is good

Barbara O’Connell, CEO with Acquired Brain Injury Ireland concluded: “The very fact of living with an invisible disability like a brain injury can see individuals become isolated in our society. Now more than ever, we need to support our brain injury survivors and their families and each other. Our rehabilitation services are built on an ethos of support through empowerment. The support we give changes lives for the better every day and we are doing our utmost to ensure this continues. During this extremely challenging time, our clinicians and rehabilitation teams continue to deliver vital support to the best of our ability and in line with national guidance. We want our families, clients and staff to know, We Are With You.”

Acquired Brain Injury Ireland confirmed that its frontline teams will continue to deliver essential residential neuro-rehabilitation services across 16 services in Ireland for as long as possible during the COVID-19 crisis. Additionally, Acquired Brain Injury Ireland community rehabilitation teams and occupational therapists continue to deliver one to one support to brain injury survivors and their families while abiding by social distancing and using remote means of communication.

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