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News / July 1, 2020

Refocused – coping with the anxiety of the pandemic

by Aisling Doherty

Aisling Doherty from Mental Health Ireland explores the ways to cope with the stress and anxiety of the pandemicAisling Doherty from Mental Health Ireland explores the ways to cope with the stress and anxiety of the pandemic.

As we enter the phased return for reopening our society and businesses in Ireland, our government has provided us with a roadmap of how current restrictions can be lifted.

They give us details of how, and when, we will get to share a space with loved ones, travel outside of our 5km radius and get that overdue haircut.

With this roadmap, we have felt a renewed sense of hope that we can – and will – return to how things used to be, with social distancing in place.

However, for some of us, not least dentists, the roadmap has raised more questions than answers.

We still are operating in an unknown and uncertain climate as to when it might be possible to return to our place of work.

In last month’s issue of Irish Dentistry, we spoke about ways we can support our mental health and wellbeing at this time through the Five Ways to Wellbeing.

We can try to ensure we get as much sunshine, fresh air and nature as we can. Stay connected with friends and family, keep a healthy routine, and be mindful of how we are feeling so we can address it, if needs be.

At times of uncertainty though, some of these actions simply are not enough and the associated anxiety and stress due to this pandemic can still be felt.

On hold

Increased levels of anxiety and stress are normal reactions to the current pandemic, as we face a variety of challenges daily.

Our lives are on hold for now and the doubt associated with many of our yearly plans can give rise to more unrest.

Anxiety is one of the most common mental health issues in nearly every country in the world.

Everyone has feelings of anxiety at some point in their lives, and it is normal to experience anxiety in everyday situations.

A low level of anxiety can be a useful motivating force. However, persistent and excessive anxiety can be distressing and may point towards a more serious issue.

The word ‘anxiety’ tends to be used to describe worry, or when fear is nagging and persists over time. Anxiety is a type of fear usually associated with a perceived threat or something going wrong in the future, but it can also arise from something happening right now.

Unlike fear itself, which is a response to an immediate danger, anxiety is an ongoing sense of worry, sometimes without a specific cause.

Stress on the other hand is a natural and healthy response to challenging situations or life events. Stress can sometimes be helpful in motivating us to complete a task. However, at times, stress can become overwhelming and affect our ability to cope.

At the most basic level, stress is our body’s response to pressures from a situation or life event.

Fostering healthy habits

It can be hard to break a cycle of worry and anxiety, but there are lots of positive ways to cope so it doesn’t stop you from living a full life.

Talking it through

Talking with friends, family, work colleagues or someone who has had a similar experience can help you to feel supported.

Try to learn more about your anxiety, as learning is empowering. Keep an anxiety diary to note down when it happens and what symptoms you experience.

Being aware of when your anxiety levels are rising is important as it can allow us to put in place strategies to counteract it.

See the Mental Health Ireland pocket guide on how to manage and live with anxiety, on the resources section of our website (

Relaxation techniques

Simple relaxation techniques can help you with the mental and physical feelings of fear or worry. It can help if you just drop your shoulders and breathe deeply, or imagine yourself in a relaxing place.

Practices like yoga, meditation or mindfulness will relax your breathing. They will also help you manage the way you feel about stressful experiences.

The development officer team at Mental Health Ireland has created a series of videos on The Five Ways to Wellbeing, and specifically on how to be mindful at this time. There’s a link to these on the Mental Health Ireland Youtube channel.


Even small increases in physical activity levels can trigger brain chemicals that improve your mood, wellbeing and stress levels. This can act as a prevention and treatment for anxiety as well as lead to improved self-esteem and self-worth.

Nature Moves (Mental Health Ireland’s latest campaign) aims to highlight the benefits of being in nature.

Why not upload your favourite nature image from your local area to social media, including the hashtag #NatureMoves? You can also review all the submissions to date by searching #NatureMoves on your social media platform of choice.

Healthy eating

At this time, snacking on high fat and sugary foods can be difficult to avoid. Aim to replace sugary snacks with fruit. Display fruit on the table as this will act as a positive reinforcer for making the healthier choice.

At the same time, try to avoid blaming yourself if you do have a treat from time to time. These are not ‘normal’ times we are experiencing and sometimes a small pick-me-up is a nice method of self-care. Remember, everything in moderation.

Listen to the Mental Health Ireland podcast with Orla Walsh RD to hear the links between nutrition and our mood. Search ‘Mental Health Ireland’ wherever you get your podcasts.

Bear in mind, caffeine can also increase anxiety levels, so try to avoid drinking too much tea or coffee. Substituting caffeine with water can help keep the body well hydrated.

Recent research by the Central Statistics Office indicates our alcohol consumption is up 22.2% and tobacco consumption up 30.5% (CSO, 2020).

Being mindful of our alcohol intake or tobacco use at this time is important.

We are likely to have more time than usual to fill. Sometimes it is tempting to use alcohol to fill this void, but be wary, as this will easily become an unhealthy habit, or way to cope.

Alcohol Action Ireland has lots of information on how to develop healthy coping tools that will last long beyond COVID-19. Visit for more information.


Stress and anxiety related to COVID-19 can imped our normal thought process. There are so many things outside of our control at the moment. When you feel yourself overwhelmed, try to refocus on things you can currently control.

We can all take steps to look after our own health and wellbeing by washing our hands frequently, avoiding touching our face, and avoiding any unnecessary journeys. Stay informed by only reputable sources of information at and

If the challenges of the COVID-19 outbreak seem like too much for you to cope with alone, help is out there. If you are concerned about your mental health, don’t hesitate to contact your GP. Any dentist, doctor or pharmacist in Ireland who has a concern about their mental health can also receive confidential help from experts at the Practitioner Health Matters Programme ( 

This story was taken from June’s issue of Irish Dentistry.