Pandemic 101 - Helpful Words
PANDEMIC ANXIETY 101 – Facebook post by Imogen Wall
Sunday 22 March 2020
So… my goodness. A couple of days ago, I threw out an off-the-cuff post on aid
worker tips for surviving lockdown and quarantine. Today I’ve woken up to find it’s
been reshared thousands of times. I’m getting comments from strangers around the
world, messages of thanks, even requests to translate it. If you’ll forgive the
expression, it appears to have… gone viral. The overwhelming reason it seems to
have a struck a chord is that it talked about how we’re all feeling a bit wobbly. It
sounds like there are an awful lot of people having reactions they don’t really
understand. So today I thought I’d write a short follow up with my mental health first
aider/therapist hat on. Ladies and Gents, this is Pandemic Anxiety 101.
IN CRISES, WE START DOING WEIRD STUFF: Over the last week I have struggled to
sleep, stayed up late into the night reading endless news articles, bought pasta I
don’t even like very much, got angry with my mum for not staying home. My spelling
is a disaster and I’m definitely drinking more. I’ve been a bit teary, and all I really
want to eat is cake, cake and more cake. From what I got back from my post
yesterday, I’m not alone.
If you’re having a wobble, you may also have noticed all sorts of weird stuff going on.
Are you arguing more, talking faster, struggling to sleep, restless, desperate for
information? Or are you teary and overwhelmed, perhaps feeling a bit sick?
Struggling to make decisions? Just want to stay in bed? Tummy upsets? Having
palpitations, butterflies, headaches? Ranting, picking fights or getting into
arguments? Laughing unexpectedly or saying random, inappropriate things?
Developing Very Strong Opinions on epidemiology overnight? Or have you just
completely gone to ground?
If you are feeling any of these things: good news! You are not going mad. And you
are 100% not alone. You are, in fact completely normal: a fully emotionally functional
human being. Congratulations! Why? I’ll explain: take a seat and put the kettle on.
WE ARE LIVING IN TURBO-ANXIOUS TIMES. Well, no kidding. We’re in the middle of
an unprecedented crisis that has showed up unexpectedly (they do that) and which
presents a mortal threat to ourselves, our loved ones and our way of life. It’s
terrifying and it’s getting worse and it makes us feel totally out of control. And this is
on top of anything else we have going on.
HERE’S THE SCIENCE BIT. When we are exposed to threats and need to deal with
them, our brain springs into action. Specifically a tiny, innocent-looking thing buried
behind your ear called the amygdala (fun fact: it’s the size and shape of an almond).
It’s the bit in charge when we are frightened and right now, it’s in full tin-hat klaxon
mode. Unfortunately, it’s also very ancient bit of kit. It came into being when threats
basically consisted of being eaten by large scary animals like bears. You know that
thing about when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail? Well, to the
amygdala, everything looks like a bear. It’s also pretty basic, so it really only has two
settings. They are no bear 🙂 and BEAR!!!.
SETTING: BEAR!!!. Because all threats look like a bear to the amygdala, it preps you
accordingly. There are really only two reactions to a bear about to eat you: fight it, or
run away really fast. So this is what the body gets you ready to do. It’s called the
Fight or Flight response (there’s also freeze, meaning you just get paralysed). It does
this by flooding your body with chemicals like cortisol, and adrenaline. Your heart
rate goes up, you feel super alert, your breathing goes shallow, your muscles are
ready for action. These chemicals are also largely responsible for the huge range of
other cognitive/physical/emotional reactions in my intro. In group fear situation like
a pandemic, this tends to happen whether you think you’re scared or not – anxiety is
even more infectious than COVID. Your body reacts even if your conscious mind
BEAR V VIRUS: Obviously this is all great if you really are running away from a bear.
But we’re now in a situation where we’re being asked to do the EXACT OPPOSITE of
running away. We are being told to sit tight. Literally stay still. Process large amounts
of information, make complicated and life changing decisions, and stay calm. All
while a bit of your brain is running around yelling BEAR!!! BEAR!!! BEAR!!! This isn’t
easy. The result is an awful lot of stress and anxiety. And if you’re anything like me,
you end up feeling really overwhelmed and having all sorts of reactions.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS: Anxiety isn’t just mental – it’s also physical, cognitive and
behavioural. You will notice all kinds of things: stomach upsets, headaches, insomnia,
changes to eating, changes to the way you talk. It’s also cognitive: it’s very difficult to
think straight when you’ve got the BEAR!!! BEAR!!! BEAR!!! thing going on – so we
also become very bad at making decisions, absorbing information and generally
thinking rationally. Which is EXACTLY what we need to do.
SO WHAT TO DO: well, the good news is it is possible to calm down. We can turn the
amygdala from BEAR!!! to NO BEAR 😊, and not just by distracting it with cake and
tea. Her are some solid, scientifically proven things you can do.
BREATHE. It’s so basic, but breathing exercises are basically magic. They work in
minutes and you can do them anywhere. They work because of all the physical
reactions the amygdala triggers, rapid breathing is the only one over which we have
conscious control. Control your breathing and you are basically telling your body: it’s
OK. There is no bear. Your body will then start to dial down the adrenaline and
cortisol and all the other reactions will slow to a halt. How to control your breathing?
It’s easy – and if you want help just put “two minute breathe bubble” in into Youtube.
The golden rules are these:
• In through the nose, out through the mouth. SLOWLY
• Make the outbreath longer than the inbreath – imagine there’s a candle in front of
you and it mustn’t go out
• Breathe from the tummy not chest – really make your tummy go out when
• Do it for two minutes – time yourself – and see how you feel
Seriously, try it – this technique is used by everyone from top athletes to the US
military to help stay in control while under stress. There are all sorts of versions –
from yogic breathing to box breathing to 4-7-8. Google them, mess around, figure
out what works for you.
CALL A FRIEND: Don’t suffer alone. Call a mate – someone who’ll listen while you
have a bit of a rant, or a cry, or a general wobble. Someone you can trust not to
judge you and who’ll just sympathise. And if you get one of those calls, just be nice
to them. You only need to be kind. You can’t fix what’s going on so just give them a
bit of space to rant and tell them they’re normal and doing great. And if you’re OK,
call your friends and check in on them. Especially if they’ve gone silent.
LAUGH: it doesn’t matter what is funny – laughter is a huge releaser of endorphins.
Silly memes, silly jokes, stand-up, rolling around with your kids – videos on youtube.
The sillier the better. Also v good for bonding with friends, which will also help you
feel less alone.
DO SOMETHING WITH YOUR HANDS. Yes you can meditate if this is your bag, it’s
amazing. But if it’s not, and personally I’m rubbish, then trying to start when you’re
already anxious is really hard. So do something instead with your hands, that you
have to focus on to get right. Cook. Tidy. Knit. Draw. Bake. Garden. Mend things. This
is what nice middle class therapists like me call Mindfulness.
TREAT YOUR BODY: We hold stress in our bodies at least as much as our minds. Take
a bath or a shower. Put on things that feel good on your skin. Use nice smelling body
creams. Stretch. Skip. Do yoga. Dance. Eat healthy but delicious things – fresh if you
can get it. All of these will help calm you down.
SUNSHINE. It’s SPRINGTIME amid this horror – enjoy it. If you can’t go outside, open
the windows and feel it on your face and breath it in. If it’s safe for you to go outside
(maybe you live in the country) do it, while of course observing social distance. Go
for a walk. Being outdoors, connecting to nature, is hugely calming.
STEP AWAY FROM SOCIAL MEDIA/THE NEWS: All it will do will scare you more and
make things worse. Turn off the telly and for gods sake avoid the psychopathic
digital wild west that is Twitter. Stick to sensible sources like the BBC and the NHS,
and limit yourself to short need-to-know bits a day. You’ll feel better immediately.
Talk to friends instead – this is physical, not social distancing
STEP AWAY FROM TERRIBLE COPING MECHANISMS: They will all translate as BEAR!!
to your poor brain. Especially don’t get drunk, especially if you’re alone (BEAR!!!),
take drugs (BEAR!!!), stay up all night reading (BEAR!!!), get sucked into conspiracy
theories (BEAR!!!), pay attention to ANYTHING Donald Trump says (BEAR!!!). See?
Stress levels going up already. Breathe.
BE KIND: to yourself and others. Now is not the time to go on a diet. Nor is this the
time to start on Proust or makeover your life. You’ll probably struggle to concentrate,
fail and make yourself feel worse (hat tip Laura Gordon for this bit). Don’t make this
more stressful than it already is. Think comfort books, comfort telly, comfort
everything. Personally I re-read children’s books. Everyone is wobbly, everyone is
going to have a meltdown at some point. Understand that if someone is angry or
aggressive, then they are also just scared. And eat more cake. Cake makes everything
So, there we go. Hopefully a bit less BEAR!!. Now, that kettle should have boiled by
now. Go make a nice cup of tea, sit by a window and drink it in this lovely morning
sunshine. We are British after all. And save me some cake.
First Aid Provision
If our students are unwell or injured then the First Aid Room is the place to come.
The school medical room is equipped with basic first aid supplies.
- The First Aider & Health Co-ordinator runs the medical service and provides first aid for students in school.
- First aid refers to the first assessment, first aid treatment and referral for further medical help, for any injuries or illnesses that arise during the course of the school day, including school trips and sports fixtures. This does not include assessment, treatment and referral for injuries that have arisen outside of school on a previous date.
- Students requiring first aid may bring themselves to the medical room during break and lunchtime.
- During lesson time, students should speak to their teacher who will either send them to the medical room or call reception for First Aiders to attend the student.
- Students should not contact their parents directly for assistance while they are in school. They should speak to their teacher or a First Aider in the medical room who will make any necessary contact with the parent/ carer.
Support for students with complex and potentially life-threatening medical conditions
The Brakenhale School is committed to supporting students with complex and potentially life-threatening medical conditions via our Individual Healthcare Plan procedure.
Student’s Own Medication
All medication should be handed in to the medical room before morning registration to be stored, this includes painkillers such as paracetamol. Students should not carry medication around with them in school.
The only exception to this rule is emergency medication (e.g. students with severe allergy or asthma whose medication should be kept with them at all times). The only exception to this rule is emergency medication (e.g. Students with a severe allergy or asthma, whose medication should be kept with them at all times). There are emergency inhalers in the Medical Room should a student not have access to their own.
Medication must be handed in according to our school policy which includes:
- Medication must be in its original container
- Name of medication must be visible on the original medication container
- Dose of medication required must be visible on the original medication container
- Medication expiry date must be visible on the original medication container
- For prescribed medication – Student’s name must be on the pharmacy sticker
- Medication must be accompanied by a fully completed and signed Parent/Carer Medication Consent form, available below and from the main School Reception.
May we remind you that it is the responsibility of your child to come to the First Aid room at the correct time to take their medication.
Please do not hesitate to contact us if you would like any further clarification on our medical procedures.
Pleased complete and return the Medical Questionnaire enclosed and ensure that any changes to your child’s health are reported to our First Aid Health Co-ordinator. You can contact medical directly through email, firstname.lastname@example.org or via phone on 01344 423041 with any concerns.
Illness and Accidents
If students feel unwell or have an accident they must tell a teacher straight away. Normally they will be sent to the medical room where they will be taken care of. If they are too ill to remain at school or if hospital treatment is necessary then parents/carers will be contacted to make suitable arrangements. Under no circumstance should students leave the school premises without permission.