Regardless where you live in the world, there is no hiding from the fact that many people’s lives are going to be undergoing a great deal of change in the coming months – if they haven’t already. The World Health Organisation recently declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, meaning that it is a virus that has officially spread to and is prevalent across the entire world.
In the UK itself, over 1,500 people have been officially confirmed to be infected with the virus and the Prime Minister has released an official statement urging people to avoid non essential contact with others, cancel travel plans and to work from home wherever possible. For other European countries, this has already been the case for weeks, with some currently even in quarantine.
But while there is a very real physical effect of the coronavirus on our populations, the mental health implications of the pandemic can be felt just as strongly. For those already suffering with mental health conditions such as OCD or anxiety, the added stress of a global pandemic can feel overwhelming and unmanageable. The WHO itself has published its own advice on how to protect your mental health during this difficult time, regardless of whether you suffer with a preexisting mental health condition.
How can coronavirus increase anxiety?
Uncertainty: Right now, there is still much that scientists and health experts do not know about the coronavirus. Unfortunately, anxiety thrives on uncertainty and being in a constant state of waiting for something to happen will only increase this. Reading only credible, scientific sources regarding the virus will help with that feeling of uncertainty and can also mitigate the risk of overexposure to information, which also increases anxiety.
Financial concerns: While the government has not officially ordered businesses to close, many have already done so in accordance with advice from the WHO. While many industries will be able to carry on working remotely and coming up with creative ways to keep working, there are many that simply cannot. With cinemas, bars and restaurants closing all over the country, this is an anxious time for many workers as they wait to hear of what is to come of their financial situation.
Loneliness: It is a fact that sooner or later, most of us will have to face a period of social distancing or isolation in the coming weeks and months. With no knowledge yet of how long COVID-19 is likely to last for, social distancing may not be a two-week holiday; it could be a complete long-term change in lifestyle for the majority of us. For some this will be easier than for others, but even if you are socially introverted, isolation can take its toll mentally on anyone if it lasts long enough. Luckily, there are plenty of ways in which we are able to ensure we feel connected with the world around us, as well as our loved ones, during this period of reduced social contact.
How can yoga help alleviate anxiety?
A lot of the ways in which we can reduce our stress levels and anxiety during this pandemic and any social isolation will be practical steps. For example, staying off social media, sticking to a regular routine and getting as much fresh air and exercise as we can are all tools to help us cope with the trying times ahead.
Yoga is another tried and tested method for improving and managing anxiety, even if you have never tried it before. And with so many people now spending their days indoors, working from home and spending much less time socialising than before, now may in fact be the perfect time to take up a solitary, calming activity such as yoga. Not only does it provide a welcome distraction from what can sometimes feel like information overload from news outlets and online media, but it is proven to help you feel less anxious.
The short term effects of yoga are usually felt through breathing techniques. By learning to breathe deeply, you not only physically allow your muscles to relax, but you are also much better equipped to connect with other relaxation techniques, such as meditation. In fact, shallow breathing is thought to contribute to stress responses, which can worsen anxiety.
In the long term, practising yoga helps to build a mind-body connection that reinforces the how much control we actually have over both. Anxiety disorders, and by extension, coronavirus anxiety, thrives on you feeling out of control and helpless. Over time, yoga can help you to regain that sense of control and allow your mind and your body to sharpen each other, which in turn gives you the tools to better manage those moments when you feel anxious over a situation you can’t control.
Practising yoga in isolation
Of course, not everyone feels comfortable or confident with practising yoga by themselves for the first time and getting to a class or a workshop will not be feasible or safe in the coming weeks and months for most people. But that does not mean that yoga should be inaccessible to you should you wish to take it up during a period of quarantine or isolation.
Sticking to a routine is key to helping you feel comfortable in your practice, as well as helping you to see progress. Set aside a set time of the day and a specific place in your home that you can practice in and repeat the same sequence. This also helps you to connect with your breathing on a deeper level if you are not constantly thinking about what pose or position to take up next.
Do not take your breathing for granted. Taking the time at the beginning and end of a session to just breathe deeply for three minutes or so can already help you to see an improvement without even moving a muscle. The power of being still is just as important as the movement.
Remember that yoga is just as much about the mind as the body. While it can be a fantastic form of exercise, you will not feel the appropriate benefits if you are pushing yourself past what feels comfortable. Focusing on how each pose makes you feel is far more important than how nice it looks. Challenging yourself is always a good thing, but if your breathing quickens or is affected, then adjust your pose to something that makes you feel more at ease. Yoga is all about finding your perfect comfort zone, not creating extra stress, and you should allow yourself the time to do that.