Q: I really struggled with my anxiety last time, but now with all the talk of how much worse "Delta" is, it's off the charts. What should I do?
A: It helps to first acknowledge the reality - the Delta strain is worse, and as a result, we're taking it more seriously. It also helps define what anxiety is - specifically fear in the absence of fearful stimuli that grow to cause a problem by causing us to avoid or become preoccupied with the feared outcome.
I reckon we're all a bit preoccupied right now.
And this is the problem with Covid and anxiety - the threat is real, but the intensity of how we're feeling is a problem.
So rather than focussing on dealing with, solving or getting rid of the anxiety (arguably not possible or even a good idea in situations where the threat is real) instead, we focus on reducing - or regulating - the fear response.
So how do we do that?
Breathing, distraction, connection and external focus.
Learn, and regularly practise, some simple relaxation breathing techniques. Apps and YouTube videos abound, the simpler the better. The aim is to be able to work on reducing physical arousal by slowing down and deepening the breath.
Distract with activities that are enjoyable, engaging or, even better, both. You will know what works, but taking our mind off the over-focus on anxious thought patterns is the aim.
Connect with people, those you live with, or if on your own reach out via screen or phone. It doesn't have to be a counselling session - a catch-up or gossip session can be just as helpful as a distraction and leave us feeling connected to other humans.
And with distraction and connection, work to focus on what is outside ourselves - external focus. Helping someone else or contributing to others in some way can be helpful too.
Anxiety tends to take us inside ourselves to over-focus on thoughts and bodily sensations of anxiety. Instead, turn your attention outwards.
And, of course, if you're really struggling, reach out to your GP - medication is also an option, and while not a silver bullet, it can be helpful to support - and even enable - all of the above efforts.
Q: One of my close friends is angry at lockdown, the Government, and is ranting directly - on social media and by messenger - to me about it. I don't agree with them and I'm finding it hard to cope with, what should I do?
It's a balancing act - on the one hand, it's pretty clear that a lot of us don't cope well with lockdowns, and for some that manifests as anger, frustration and even paranoia.
It's also true that you don't have to put up with bad behaviour, especially at a time like this. Regardless of what theories or views they may be screaming into the void of social media, I don't think it's a good idea to engage to argue; set them straight or otherwise try and talk them down.
As a rough map, there are two types of people in the world. Those that are prone to - when struggling - collapse into their distress.
And those that "project out" and direct their distress at others - and then attack. We might commonly think of these people as angry, or even in extreme forms as "difficult" - and they can be.
But they're also in pain.
So by all means set limits. Point out you don't share their beliefs and don't appreciate the endless negativity landing in your inbox.
But you may also want to ask if they're okay. Ignore the content and express concern and ask if there's anything you can help with. They may say no, and it may make no difference, but it may also invite them to reflect on the real reason they're so upset.
Lockdowns are hard, and for some, it can be hard to just accept that and get on with controlling what we can in our own little corner of the world.