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Dealing with anxiety, finding balance and maintaining wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic

These are unprecedented times. As the 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic unfolds, we find ourselves in a world that is increasingly unfamiliar and changing daily. Many legal professionals are working from home, teams are disconnected and whole offices are closing as we follow government guidelines to fight COVID-19. As well as the physical threat, many people are also experiencing high levels of concern and anxiety about their own health and the health of family members.

When humans are faced with a threat, it is a natural and biological response for the brain to generate a fight or flight response so that we can be prepared to run or defend ourselves against danger. This response can save your life in some situations but chronic levels of uncertainty and stress, which some individuals may be experiencing now, can be long-lasting and damaging (see Practice note, Mental health, stress and wellbeing in the legal profession: an introduction).

Feeling continuously anxious and frightened undermines our health and wellbeing, as well as our ability to function. So, what can we do to feel calmer over the days, weeks and months to come as COVID-19 continues to affect our lives? Thankfully, humans are both adaptable and quick to learn. Equipped with the right mindset and strategies, we can boost our ability to maintain our equilibrium and wellbeing in even the most unusual and extreme situations.

Here are some useful tips and strategies that I hope will help you to deal with the current uncertainty, together with links to relevant, trusted resources.

Be self-aware and in tune with how you are feeling

Knowing how you are feeling in any given moment means that you can be proactive in using strategies to manage your mood and stay in control. If you notice that you are anxious, set an intention to feel steadier, calmer or more grounded. This is the first step in changing your state. For further information, see Practice note, Mental health, stress and wellbeing in the legal profession: an introduction.

If you feel physically unwell, make sure you follow NHS guidelines.

Be selective and limit your exposure to the news and social media

Choose a reliable and trusted source and only check it once or twice a day as constant scrolling through varied news stories can lead to preoccupation and increased anxiety. Limit social media use to content that is uplifting and positive. If it’s not, stop scrolling.

Maintain and enhance your connection with others

It is important to stay connected with others while you are working from home, social distancing or in self-isolation. We are social beings and maintaining social contact can reduce feelings of isolation and anxiety. For example:

  • Have a daily team video meeting and use video link to talk to colleagues during the day rather than emailing or messaging.
  • Arrange video chats with friends and boost your connections with those you love.
  • Talk to your manager or to colleagues if you need support.

Be present and manage your thought patterns

Our thoughts and the stories that we tell ourselves have a huge impact on how we feel. Levels of anxiety rise when we focus on possible difficulties or problems in the future. Notice your internal dialogue and be aware if you are catastrophising or being overly negative in your thought patterns. The more we creatively develop “what if stories” about problems that may arise, the more anxious we tend to become. Remind yourself that these are stories and that more positive scenarios are possible.

Remember to stay in the here and now. We can use mindful techniques to bring ourselves firmly back to the present moment. For example, feeling our feet on the solid floor or feeling the sensations of our breath roots us back in the here and now and helps us to feel grounded. Our breathing can also be used to reach a calmer state. Taking three to five deeper breaths and tracking each one, while relaxing your shoulders, has a quick and positive effect if you are feeling anxious.

Be proactive, look after yourself and plan things that will lift and calm your mood

Take charge of your internal chemistry and boost feelgood hormones by doing things that make you smile. For example:

  • Get some fresh air by taking a walk or sitting with a window open if you are unable to go out.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Practice yoga or other relaxation methods.
  • Read that book that you’ve not had time to open.
  • Learn a language.
  • Start a project.
  • Plan where you will go when global travel resumes.
  • Listen to music that either lifts you or calms you, depending on the intention you have set.

Make use of free resources

Tap into the many free resources available to help calm and manage your state. For example, Headspace has launched free resources for employers and employees, while Lawcare has a helpline to support legal professionals who are experiencing anxiety and stress. Other useful organisations you may wish to contact include:

Practice gratitude

There is growing evidence that gratitude aids wellbeing and happiness. One suggestion is to keep a gratitude journal and write down at least one entry every day. It is also useful to stop for a moment and notice all the things that are still the same and are unaffected by COVID-19. For example:

  • The dawn chorus and birdsong.
  • Nature, budding trees and emerging blossom.
  • Friendship.
  • Laughter.
  • The love of those close to us and our love for them.
  • Kindness. There are so many examples of this at the moment.
  • Great music and films.

Establish a working from home routine

For many legal professionals, working from home is the new normal. It is therefore important to take control and establish a routine. For example:

  • Get dressed for work.
  • Set up a workstation.
  • Take breaks.
  • Plan in social contact.
  • Have a defined beginning and end to the working day.
  • Be kind and tolerant of others also working from home as you may have to share space.

For further information, see BBC News, Coronavirus: Five ways to work well from home.

Remember that the COVID-19 pandemic is happening now, unfolding and will pass. Be kind and supportive to yourself and to others during this time of uncertainty, and follow government and health service guidelines for the latest advice.

For further information from Practical Law on stress and wellbeing, see Practice notes:

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