The coronavirus has dominated headlines around the world. With media outlets relentless in scaring us witless, the ramifications may be manifesting themselves closer to home than one may be conscious of. The mental health of a person has been overburdened and attacked more than the staff guarding toilet rolls at Tesco’s. Here are some useful tips to help manage the anxiety of COVID-19.
1. STOP FEEDING THE MACHINE
Although generally I like to refer to this as the mainstream media, in this case it is referring to one’s own anxiety. Anxiety by nature increases the more we feed it. Try and reduce one’s intake of the daily news, particularly the fake news spread through forwarded WhatsApp messages or videos shared on social media platforms such as Facebook. Otherwise, you may find yourself attacking innocent installation workers or joining mobs that want to burn down 5G towers that have transfigured themselves into lamp posts.
Contrary to what was initially said, it may be a good idea to only refer to a somewhat reputable news source such as the BBC, once or twice a day. This will hopefully free up space in your mind and allow you to think about things that are in your circle of control i.e. how to avoid emotionally traumatising your children or partner.
2. DON’T CATASTROPHISE
Stick to what you know. Be conscious of when your mind is wondering into the realm of ‘What ifs?’ The uncomfortable feeling of anxiety stems from your mind sending signals to the rest of your body that there is an imminent danger. Be mindful of the present and utilise breathing techniques to help you relax. The body can’t be both anxious and relaxed at the same time; deep, controlled breathing exercises have been found to be useful.
Build a relationship with Allāh. Death is a reality and there is no better form of managing its anxiety than the truth that is in Islām. Set a dedicated time in the day to read the Qur’ān; try memorising parts of it and take advantage of the increased volume of lectures and reminders readily available online. The intimate nature and benefits of the night prayer, where one is alone to talk to their Lord, should never be underestimated. The power of du’ā and turning to Allāh – to Whom all power lies – is imperative for anyone feeling any level of distress.
4. DON’T BE LAZY
Working from home isn’t a get out-of-jail-free card. Establish a routine, as difficult as that may be. Make the fajr prayer the reason to get up in the morning. Try to stay awake after fajr, either to exercise or complete some chores early in the day. Throughout the rest of the day, try and eat healthily, develop a skill, spend quality time with loved ones, or anything else productive. Do something other than watching Netflix! Keep yourself and your mind occupied with things that you can look back on and feel a sense of accomplishment. When you have achieved your daily goals, be sure to reward yourself with something that is pleasing to you.
5. TAKE TIME OUT
A break is important, even if it is simply a break from isolation. Use modern technology to talk to people. The phone in our pocket is actually for something other than taking selfies and spying on people. Make time to talk to your family and friends; video calling through apps such as Zoom can be very helpful.
The mind, body, and soul must all be nourished. Get some fresh air from your balcony, garden, or through an open window in your house or flat. If you can, then go for walk or a run. If you can’t, then exercise at home. There are many workout videos that can be found online and are easy to follow. When we exercise, our body releases endorphins that positively affect our mood. It’s also a good way to maintain our immune system.
7. DON’T BINGE
Whether it is food or entertainment, try your best to control your consumption. Neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin are found to regulate the pleasure reward systems and mood of a person. If their levels are manipulated and abused over a period, which within many Western societies is done through the consumption of drugs and alcohol, a person can become more prone to depression. Similarly, other things such as music, movies, and chocolate can also give us dopamine boosts. Binging on TV shows can spike our dopamine levels, leaving us addicted to the screen.This also explains why many have reported to be left with an empty feeling, similar to that of mourning, at the end of a series. 
8. TALK TO SOMEONE
Speaking about your difficult emotions can be cathartic in and of itself, so talk to someone whether it is a trusted friend or a counsellor. If you don’t have either available, then try journaling. Whether you feel anger, sadness, or panic, the mere act of talking or writing about your emotions helps to relieve some of the intensity and overwhelming feeling. When done properly, it can also be a reflective tool to help us spot patterns in our behaviour and understand ourselves better.
9. UTILISE THE HELP THAT IS AVAILABLE
Our circumstances aren’t all the same, and I can imagine the difficulty that a single mother, for example, may face when tasked with leaving her child at home alone whilst purchasing basic necessities. Alhumdulilāh, one of the silver linings of COVID-19 is the coming together of communities. Many local neighbourhood projects have been set up to help the vulnerable. Please check to see what is available within your locality, as there is no shame in asking for help when it’s needed.
10. IMPLEMENT SELF-COMPASSION
I am very aware that this article may appear to be contradictory at times, but life is complicated and there are very few straight answers. Don’t beat yourself up for not being as productive as others. One of the most important relationships you can have, after your relationship with Allāh, is with yourself. Be easy on yourself if you find the self-critiquing voice taking control. Not everyone will leave the period of quarantine with a plethora of online diplomas and an athletic physique. Do as much as you can but don’t compare yourself to others.
Please ignore this point if you’re a bit of a narcissist and are a complete stranger to the self-critiquing voice.
The pandemic we’re in is a big deal! It’s a life changing experience and possibly one of the biggest in our lifetime. This message is not to dismiss the seriousness of COVID-19 and how it’s affecting individuals and society. Rather, it’s to deter us from aiding this disease in damaging our mental health as well as our physical health. We cannot control how our body will react if we contract this virus. Some are affected so badly that they die; some spend time in the ICU; some experience mild flu-like symptoms whilst most are asymptomatic, meaning they’re physically fine without even realising that they have it. What we can control is how it affects us mentally, so why not focus on that?
 MIND. 20 17. About Anxiety. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/anxiety-and-panic-attacks/about-anxiety/. [Accessed16th April 2020].
 SCIENCE DAILY. 2020. Regular exercise benefits immunity – even in isolation. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/03/200331162314.htm [Accessed16th April 2020].
 NBCNEWS. 2017. What happens to your brain when you binge watch a TV series. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.nbcnews.com/better/health/what-happens-your-brain-when-you-binge-watch-tv-series-ncna816991/. [Accessed16th April 2020].
Ahmed Tomal is a BACP qualified Counsellor and Psychotherapist. He is the founder of Tawfiq Therapy (www.tawfiqtherapy.com) which is a private practice specialising in bettering mental health and relationships.