Mental Health

Lockdown anxiety: how to cope if you’re struggling for the first time

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Lauren Geall
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Has the coronavirus pandemic left you dealing with anxiety for the first time? Here’s how to cope.

Experiencing anxiety for the first time can be incredibly overwhelming.

Not only can the physical symptoms be a lot to deal with, but the feelings of fear and unease which are characteristic of anxiety can make you feel as if you’re alone in your struggle.

In reality though, things couldn’t be more different. Because while you may feel alone, there are actually thousands of people going through the same thing.

This is especially true at the moment, when the coronavirus pandemic has caused the number of people experiencing mental health problems like anxiety for the first time to surge. According to a recent study from the University of Bristol, the number of young people dealing with anxiety during the early stages of the pandemic almost doubled from 13% to 24%, with women in particular being worse affected. 

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And perhaps most worryingly, the study found that those high levels of anxiety during the early stages of the pandemic did not ease as restrictions were lifted – a trend which suggests people could be facing similar issues this winter. 

Taking into account the fact that previous studies have already identified an alarming rise in the number of first-time mental health patients experiencing “serious mental illness” as a result of the pandemic, it’s more important than ever that those among us who are experiencing anxiety (or any other mental health problem, for that matter) for the first time feel equipped to deal with it.

With this in mind, we thought we’d bring together some of Stylist’s most thought-provoking, informative and expert-led guides to everything you need to know about dealing with anxiety, from the symptoms you might experience to coping mechanisms you can use. 

The different types of anxiety

A woman with anxiety
Identifying the 'type' of anxiety you're dealing with may make it easier for you to find effective coping mechanisms.

Although most people who deal with anxiety will share a similar experience when it comes to the physical and mental symptoms, there are a number of different types of anxiety which may cause a variation in experience.

These different types of anxiety largely depend on the focus of your anxiety, from eco-anxiety (anxiety about the climate and global warming), health anxiety (anxiety about your or someone you are close to’s health) and social media anxiety to the more specific Sunday night anxiety (anxiety caused by a dread of Monday morning) and night-time anxiety (anxiety typically experienced when trying to get to sleep.

In general, however, it’s important to remember that anxiety may be triggered by a number of different factors – especially during the coronavirus pandemic, when we’ve got a million and one things to worry about.

What to expect

One of the most overwhelming parts of experiencing a mental health problem for the first time is knowing the ins and outs of your condition. Although anxiety may be a mental health issue, it can also produce physical symptoms – many of which can be a shock to first-time sufferers.

Find out more about the physical symptoms of anxiety, including how understanding more about the signs and symptoms of anxiety can help you in the long run.

In certain cases, your anxiety may also manifest as a panic attack – defined as a “short-lived episode of overwhelming anxiety”. Although anxiety and panic attacks share similarities, panic attacks tend to manifest more physically in the body, causing symptoms such as a racing heartbeat, nausea or dizziness.

Coping mechanisms

A woman meditating
The limbic system is where our feelings, memories and sense of smell are processed.

If you’re looking for ways to bring your anxiety under control on a day-to-day basis, using coping mechanisms – a strategy or management technique you might use to decrease anxiety – is a great place to start.

It’s important to experiment with a number of different coping mechanisms to find out what works for you – while one person might find meditation particularly helpful, another person may prefer to work out or go for a walk.

Alongside using self-care techniques such as eating well, practising mindfulness or giving yourself a bit of extra TLC, there are also a range of anxiety-focused coping mechanisms that might help.

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These include the use of sound therapy (an approach which uses music and sound to decrease stress levels), connecting with your ‘inner child’, practising coherent breathing, engaging in ‘comfort listening’ (listening to soothing podcasts and audio books to calm anxiety before bed), journaling or using ‘safety signals’

For more general information about coping mechanisms you can use to soothe night-time anxietycalm anxiety during the pandemic or stem anxious thoughts in the moment, you can check out our guides. 

Resources and tools to use

Alongside using these coping mechanisms, there are a number of different tools and resources you can turn to to help you with your anxiety now and in the future.

In some cases, these resources may be free – during the coronavirus pandemic, a number of wellbeing and mental health apps have made their library of resources free of charge – but other apps may require you to pay a subscription fee. Organisations such as NHS Every Mind Matters and the mental health charity Mind also offer a selection of free resources on their websites.

You might also consider investing in a weighted blanket, which has been said to help people with anxiety, insomnia, ADHD and more. To find out more, you can check out our guide to how they work and the best ones to buy now.

Seeking additional support

A woman on the phone to her GP
If your anxiety is impacting your day-to-day functioning, you should talk to your GP.

If you feel unable to cope with your anxiety on your own, or simply want some additional support, there are a number of different routes you can take.

If you’re looking for someone to talk to about what’s going on, you could seek therapycognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is recommended by the NHS as a way to treat anxiety and depression.

In most cases, you should be able to get therapy free on the NHS – simply ask your GP for a referral or self-refer online. However, if you prefer to go down the private route, there are plenty of private therapists waiting to help – to find out more about how to find a therapist that works for you, you can check out our guide.

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If your anxiety is beginning to impact your everyday life, you should seek support from your GP. Even during lockdown, your GP is available to talk to and should be your first port of call if you’re looking for help – after you’ve spoken to them, they might be able to prescribe you medication such as antidepressants or organise support in the form of talking therapy.

In a mental health emergency, always call 999 or go to A&E. 

If you’re not ready for therapy but want to talk to someone about how you’re feeling, there are a number of helplines you can access, often 24/7. 

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with anxiety, you can find support and resources on the mental health charity Mind’s website or visit the NHS’ list of mental health helplines and organisations and the NHS Every Mind Matters resource hub.

If you are struggling with your mental health you can also ask your GP for a referral to NHS Talking Therapies, or you can self-refer.

For confidential support, you can also call the Samaritans in the UK on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org.

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time.