Everyone is dealing with the pandemic in their own way. Some people are experiencing intense feelings of anxiety for the very first time. While many others who have been experiencing anxiety for a long time are now facing more extreme and constant feelings of anxiety that might be impacting their daily life.
Whether you’re concerned about yourself or a loved one, fears about the pandemic can take an emotional toll.
In terms of people struggling with anxiety, what are you seeing in the patients you see at the moment?
For many people, the pandemic is triggering feelings of uncertainty, a lack of control and, to an extent, a lack of information. These psychological factors add to the feeling of stress and anxiety.
The lockdown is also triggering memories and issues that many people might not have properly dealt with, such as negative feelings of uncertainty. Yes, lockdown is a huge contributing factor, however it’s more about what it’s doing for their memories that haven’t been properly processed. We see this a lot, not just with memories of uncertainty, but also memories of feeling trapped and not knowing where their future is heading.
If someone comes to you experiencing these symptoms, would you treat them in the same way you might in normal times or are there other treatment techniques you have introduced?
In many ways it’s about the same things. Anxiety is always about overestimating the danger while underestimating your ability to cope. We need to explore what that danger is for each person and then challenge their concerns.
During lockdown, I’ve been trying to connect whatever their issue is to the current situation and specifically to the feeling about the past that it is triggering.
I would then look at what the person can do to change, or we might go back and explore and resolve the past issue through behaviour experiments. Unfortunately, this type of activity is being made harder in the lockdown for many reasons.
Take someone who is suffering from social anxiety, which is the fear of being judged negatively in social situations and therefore avoiding them. Pre-lockdown, I would challenge the individual to get out, talk to people and observe how people are acting towards them. But right now, we can’t do that for obvious reasons. For the individual, this means they don’t get the opportunity to challenge or disconfirm a lot of the negative thoughts they’re having. As such, their safety behaviours go unchallenged and their anxieties remain the same.