Don’t let poor sleep ruin your life

Coping strategies and advice for managing anxiety

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to several changes in how we live our lives. Many of these changes are uncomfortable and there is a lot of uncertainty over just what else will change and for how long.

During this difficult time, it’s perfectly natural to feel anxious. We’re in a scary situation. But, persistent, severe feelings of anxiety affect both our waking lives and our sleep. What’s worse is that poor sleep exacerbates feelings of anxiety. It’s a vicious cycle1.

In the spirit of our science-led approach, we’ve looked to the literature to see how best to deal with any anxiety you may have in response to COVID-19.

To date, two scientific papers have been published which look at COVID-19, sleep and anxiety23. We’ve outlined the key messages from this research below. Let’s look at how to address the symptoms of anxiety directly.

Managing anxiety directly

Check the news less frequently

While it is crucial to be aware of the latest health advice to keep you and your loved ones safe, it has been reported that spending more than three hours each day focusing on the situation is linked to:

  • Increased anxiety
  • Heightened feelings of depression
  • Worse sleep quality

To reduce the likelihood of experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, we’d recommend that you:

  • Limit the time you spend watching news.
  • Check the news no more than twice a day.

You can keep up to date with advice from the UK Government here.

You can also sign up for e-mail alerts from the UK Government, which will notify you when the situation changes, without having to check news outlets constantly.

When you check for information also matters. If done too close to your normal bedtime, there’s a risk of becoming psychologically aroused, experiencing poorer sleep and a worsening of anxiety.

Avoid rumours

Social media is a great way to keep in touch with loved ones, especially for those who are practising social distancing or are in self-isolation. However, many of us will be aware that not all news is accurate and some news can be fake. COVID-19 news is no exception.

If something has appeared in your feed that seems worrying, you might want to fact check it to reassure yourself. You can do this using a variety of websites, such as:

Tell others how you’re feeling

In addition to the above, don’t be afraid of discussing your feelings with a close friend or relative along with qualified professionals. Anxiety can feel severe, but it is extremely treatable and discussing your feelings in this way can help immensely.

Improving your sleep

Another effective way to manage anxiety is to improve your sleep. Here are some strategies that you can use:

Try to maintain a routine, if possible

We understand that this might be the hardest thing to do, given that many of the measures being introduced in response to this crisis won’t be under our control. However, you can improve your sleep and reduce anxious feelings by:

  • Maintaining a consistent bed and wake time.
  • Continuing to exercise regularly.
  • Working as normally as you can.
  • Making sure to get outside in the daylight each day (while maintaining a good distance from others).
I woman looks out at a beach

Quiet your mind

A common symptom of anxiety is racing thoughts that make it harder to get to sleep once you’re in bed. Although they may seem uncontrollable at times, there are a number of ways that you can distract yourself from them for a better night’s sleep. These include:

  • Mouthing out a meaningless word while in bed.
  • Distracting yourself by imagining a relaxing scenario.
  • Thinking about the good things that have happened during the past day.
  • Accepting your thoughts as they are and not trying to fight them.

All of these techniques are forms of thought blocking and you can read about how and why they work here.

Conclusion

We hope that these tips will help you or a loved one during this difficult time. While some anxiety about the situation is normal, it doesn’t need to rule your life.

References


  • Michael J Sateia and Daniel Buysse. CRC Press, 2016. Insomnia: Diagnosis and Treatment

  • Yeen Huang and Ning Zhao. Generalized anxiety disorder, depressive symptoms and sleep quality during COVID-19 epidemic in China: A web-based cross-sectional survey, page 2020.02.19.20025395, March 2020. 10.1101/2020.02.19.20025395. medRxiv

  • Jun Zhang, Weili Wu, Xin Zhao, and Wei Zhang. Recommended psychological crisis intervention response to the 2019 novel coronavirus pneumonia outbreak in China: A model of West China Hospital. 10.1093/pcmedi/pbaa006. Precision Clinical Medicine

Further information