‘When I feel a panic attack coming on, I call a friend to completely distract my brain from the path that is on. It’s been really, really helpful.’
As lockdown is set to continue for another two weeks and maybe longer, six women talk movingly and candidly about their depression and anxiety, and how they are managing during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Hayley, 31, West London
My anxiety has been horrendous during isolation. I’m on a path at the moment where Monday and Tuesday I am fine and productive; then, Wednesday hits and it’s like a downward path for the rest of the week. I become very, very anxious, unmotivated, and unfocused. There have been days where I literally haven’t been able to do anything. I’ve just had to curl up on my bed in a ball because that’s all I can do.
My anxiety symptoms are very physical. So, I often play a fun game of ‘have I got coronavirus?’. I have severe chest pains when it’s at its worst, double vision and I get headaches. I’ve even suffered from memory loss and hallucinations in the past. Sometimes, I feel like my head’s underwater – so it’s not as if I can shrug off the anxious feeling.
I feel stuck and claustrophobic in isolation. I’m a very sociable person and I am struggling with not seeing my friends and not being able to go out when I want to. I’ve also lost clients and my wedding has been pushed back. Everything is just stuck.
My emotions are heightened at the moment. I keep have these really horrific whirlwind thoughts that I wouldn’t usually have, where I feel a total loss of control. If I’m feeling a little bit down, I’m in floods of tears; but if i’m feeling really happy, I feel high. There’s no in-between for me at the moment.
I find being creative helps my anxiety. I’ve started to draw (not very well) and I’ve taught myself how to hula-hoop. I’m not going to stop until I’ve sussed it. Doing these activities allows me to feel accomplished, but also to focus on something that doesn’t have an end goal.
Honey, 23, Camden
At the beginning of quarantine, I was very scared about how my anxiety would be affected, which I’ve lived with since I was 14. At first, I was catastrophizing everything, but as I’ve adjusted and learnt some new coping mechanisms, I’ve managed to keep it under control.
I make my bed every morning. Non-negotiable. It just makes me feel like a person. I have a really strict bedtime routine, which makes me sound like a grandma, but it really, really helps. I’ve been really trying to listen to my body and go, ‘OK, where’s this anxiety coming from? Why do we think it’s happening?’. If I can’t identify that, then I change what I’m doing and focus on something completely different.
For example, if I get lost in Instagram and start feeling anxious, I’ll tell myself ‘OK, this is really not making me feel good’. Then I’ll shake up my physiology a bit, so I’ll go dance in the kitchen. To be honest, any movement in general really helps my anxiety, so I’ll pratise yoga or bake. I also journal every night before bed. It helps release any of the anxieties I’ve been having, because you don’t want to dump them on your family. It’s a good way of unpacking everything from the day.
Alice, 27, Kent
I’ve spent a year intensely grieving my nan, who I looked after towards the end of her life. When she died, I was the first one there so a lot of trauma came from that. This led to PTSD, so panic attacks, and I kept having terrible flashbacks and nightmares. Although the flashbacks have stopped, I have a baseline of anxiety, which is higher than usual at the moment.
I was really looking forward to this year on the basis that it wasn’t last year. I wanted to go forward into life, but now Covid-19 has left me feeling stuck. Especially as my anxiety is based on a chronic fear of losing a loved one and dying. My parents are in their 60s and are a vast concern for me. I don’t have any other siblings so I’m frightened of being alone.
I feel trapped with my own thoughts and my panic attacks have intensified and become more frequent during this time. I get that feeling on the back of my neck and I know it’s coming. You can feel that sense of impending doom and then all these intrusive thoughts and things in your head and you can’t escape your own mind.
When I feel a panic attack coming on, I call a friend to completely distract my brain from the path that is on. It’s been really, really helpful. I’ve started to crochet – it’s wonderful because it puts your mind into a meditative place. I also care for these two chickens and now I feel like all I do is talk about them. They are just the most entertaining, wonderful distraction. I can quite happily sit outside all day and just watch them. I have lots of friends who are doing really productive things with their time. Me? I’m watching chickens.
Vicky, 35, Putney
I’ve lived with anxiety and depression for the last seven years. Last year, I had a miscarriage and then I felt suicidal. At one point, I couldn’t take a tube or a plane because I had too many panic attacks and it was out of control. So I saw a psychotherapist, which helped; but after Covid-19, my anxiety has got worse.
I’m finding myself getting trapped in negative thought patterns; for example, one day I had a little sore throat, and I started thinking ‘I’ve got coronavirus,’ then ‘God I’m never going to be able to go to a hospital, and I’m going to die.’ Then I had a panic attack.
I’m coping by talking to my psychotherapist every week. She gives me simple stuff to do like drinking a glass of water with lemon in the morning (as it helps your immune system) or cleaning my face at night. These simple things help me control my negative thoughts. I also find meditation helpful as it teaches me to see thoughts as just thoughts. I also write my anxieties down; everything gets bigger and bigger in my head, but when I put my thoughts on paper, it gets easier and more manageable.
Claire, 35, Glasgow
I’ve been living with anxiety after suffering a bout of depression following a series of miscarriages. Since lockdown, my symptoms have got worse, mainly because when you go out, there’s more and more people wearing face masks and gloves; you’re constantly aware of not touching your face and maintaining a distance. It makes me jumpy when people don’t seem to be adhering to the two metres when you’re in the supermarket.
When I start to get panicky when I’m doing the occasional supermarket shop, I start to excessively sweat, to the point where water is running down my face. Usually I can tell myself that I’m overreacting; but I can’t do that now. I’m now finding it difficult to stop my anxious thoughts in their tracks.
I am lawyer for a firm that supports the NHS; so luckily, through work, I’m talking to a psychologist every fortnight. Maintaining that contact has been really helpful. I’m also limiting my news consumption to the best I can. I’ve started practising meditation again and taking part in online yoga classes twice a week. I find incense very grounding – it helps me relax quite quickly.
Stephanie, 31, Brighton
When the pandemic first began, I had feelings of panic, dread, fear… I wondered how I’d be able to operate normally when the struggle being experienced everywhere was so great. How would I cope managing my business alongside my three-year-old daughter who was now at home with me all the time? What would happen to my business? How would I cope with the uncertainty and the angst of needing to know how long this would go on for?
As the days ticked on, the fear and anxiety began to subside because I started to see this as an opportunity; to slow down, to re-evaluate my life, to connect, to tap into the fear of uncertainty and work out why it feels so uncomfortable, to spend better quality time with my daughter, to work on growing my business with the new-found creativity that boredom unearthed in me.
It’s now been several weeks in lockdown and to be quite honest with you, I’m more frightened about coming out of lockdown than staying in it. I have learnt to love this new slow-paced way of life. I enjoy lazy mornings eating breakfast in the garden, while listening to the birds and absorbing all of the beauty that nature offers. I am watching my daughter grow and develop rapidly before my very eyes, something I must have been missing while she was at nursery. I feel more connected than ever to some of my loved ones. I have shared such meaningful moments with my customers – teary phone-calls and acts of kindness that have been greatly received by them.
My life feels extremely fulfilled right now. Not because of money or material things but because of the things that really matter that I was perhaps missing before lockdown.