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Coronavirus anxiety: cognitive therapist says one word can help ease your feelings

Posted by
Anna Brech
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Coronavirus anxiety is live and kicking in most of us at the moment, but a cognitive therapist suggests one word that can help with spiralling thoughts.

If you’re anything like us, the coronavirus crisis will be bringing a riot of emotions to the surface right now.

One minute you’re feeling positive and pumped up, fuelled by stories of community kindness and this brilliant NHS of ours.

The next minute, you’re full of nagging dread, wondering when the pandemic will end – and what the world will look like when it does.

And, while the easing of lockdown is bringing some relief, it’s also generating more questions and uncertainties to contend with. The road ahead seems both difficult and far from clear, even one step away from the height of the outbreak.

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Then, to make matters worse, you may also have guilt creep into the equation whenever worry erupts. 

How dare you feel scared or alone when people out there have it so much worse? Who are you, with all your privileges, to complain (if only silently, to yourself)?

A shift in perspective

Amid this whirlwind of thoughts, cognitive therapist Alyssa Mancao is offering a simple truth. The LA-based therapist and clinical social worker is here to remind us that it’s OK for two conflicting feelings to be present at once. 

Even more importantly, if you add a simple “and” between the two opposing emotions, you immediately regain a semblance of balance and control. Here’s the magic in action:

Mancao’s approach is powerful, because it shows that it’s perfectly OK – normal, even – to allow room for negative emotions at the moment.

Indeed, trying to reject those “bad” feelings may result in the beach ball analogy often used by therapists. If you try to repress your negative thoughts, like holding a beach ball underwater, they will only shoot up again the minute that you loosen your grip. 

It’s much better to just let those difficult feelings bob about, like a beach ball skimming the surface of a pool. Let them be, and the pressure will ease naturally of its own accord.

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Moving towards a more positive place

The series of “and” statements above are effective because they don’t deny the existence of troubling thoughts. Yet by putting the tiny word “and” in the mix, they subtly shift the worry towards a more positive place. 

For example, “I feel worried about AND proud of my doctor friends” or “I’m frustrated AND empathetic with my loud neighbours.” 

We humans are complex creatures, and for every fear we have, there’s something more optimistic lingering in the ether, too. Pairing these two feelings together introduces a little balance and perspective; it can help stem that spiralling effect that is so common when anxiety takes hold.

If you wanted to take Mancao’s statements (or similar) to the next level, you could use them as daily written affirmations, to help power forwards that small – yet vital – shift in mentality. 

Instagram therapy in an age of wellness

Mancao is one of a growing number of social media therapists dubbed the “Instagram poets” of a digital generation.

Alongside running practices in real life, these professionals share bite-sized snippets of advice informed by their background in clinical therapy to a global audience increasingly in need of just such insight. 

Although Instagram posts around self-love or trauma recovery could never match the efficacy of personalised therapy, they help bridge the gap at a time when many people are unable to access mental health support; either because of waiting times, fees, or a fear of stigma. 

Marriage and family therapist Lisa Olivera was one of the pioneers of the movement, and one of her recent posts focused on thoughts she gathered following a week of lockdown therapy sessions:

At a time when most of us are struggling in one way or another, these expert insights are a timely reminder to take care of our emotional health. 

Because, no matter what chaos lingers in the world at large, there’s always scope to look internally, and do work from within. 

Doing so will pave the way to a kinder mindset; not only towards others but to yourself, too.

Images: Getty

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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for stylist.co.uk. Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.

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