The global coronavirus pandemic is not just affecting people’s physical health. The anxiety, stress and uncertainty of it – and the sweeping changes we’re having to make to our lifestyles – are also having an impact on people’s mental health too.
If it’s making you feel that way, then you’re not alone.
It’s quite normal to feel this way in such a difficult and unpredictable situation.
Here are some tips and strategies recommended by our members to help you cope with the mental health impacts of the current global situation.
Keep a routine
Many people are working from home for the first time in their lives, and some will now be juggling a full-time job and home-schooling their children.
Plus, there are people whose usual activities have been curtailed by self-isolation.
Our member Vasia Toxavidi says keeping a routine can be really important.
“Without a routine, negative thinking and anxiety can escalate. I would suggest that people create a day to day plan of things they will need to do e.g. create a morning exercise programme, work from home if possible, cook something different, get into an online course.”
Think about restricting access to news media and social media
Many of our members recommend having a think about how and when you access the news or social media.
This may involve choosing news sources you trust – and avoiding social media channels filled with speculation. Stick to the official government guidance and NHS advice websites.
Or limit your access to the news to a certain time of the day.
“Some people can be quite paralysed by this anxiety and may want to completely stop interacting with the news,” says Elizabeth Turp.
Keep connected with friends and family
In our new world of self-isolation and social distancing, we can’t meet up with family and friends like we used to.
But keeping connected to them is vital.
Melani Halacre recommends “connecting online with friends and talking about other stuff, inventing new fun ways to connect. An online pub quiz among friends...learn a dance routine at home then share it? Play games online? Cook the same recipe in your own home whilst online?”
Emma Brand recommends ‘being present.’
“Take a breath and really experience where you are and how you are feeling. To take in your surroundings and thank the space/environment and people in your space - to actively be grateful is very powerful,” she says.
Hansa Pankhania also recommends being grateful for what you have, instead of what you do not.
And Natasha Page recommends keeping a gratitude diary, where you write down three things you are grateful for every day.
She adds: "These can be small things such as the sun shining, hearing your child laugh, a home-cooked meal, a cosy bed. Think about what are the things you do have and are grateful for."
Try some breathing and relaxation techniques
Take a five-second breath in through the nose, hold that breath for five seconds and then breathe out for five seconds. Do this five times, says Catherine Gallacher.
Melani Halacre recommends the STAR technique.
“Smile, take a (breath) and relax...breathing out longer than in to override fight and flight mechanism,” she says.
Cate Campbell also recommends trying mindfulness or relaxation apps, and practising deep breathing.
Write down your anxieties, and let them go
It can help to express this anxiety in a way that you can control. That could be writing down what you feel, or keeping a journal.
“Acknowledge that you feel this way. Don’t ignore these feelings,” says Elizabeth Turp.
“Allow yourself to worry, put it down in writing in a notebook, and then put that away. Let it go.”
Get access to natural light
Lockdown may have limited your trips to parks and for countryside walks, but it's still important to get access to natural light, says Rakhi Chand.
"Our exposure to natural light is limited at the moment, and this affects our serotonin and melatonin levels - both vital for our mental health.
Rakhi recommends sitting near windows and making home environments as light and airy as possible. "If you're lucky enough to have a a balcony or garden, use it regularly.
She also says that certain foods - such as walnuts, almonds or bananas - can help boost melatonin, and salmon, eggs and spinach are among the foods that can help boost serotonin.
She also says it's worth looking into Vitamin D supplements, a light therapy lamp and limiting blue light from phones or screens as it disrupts circadian rhythm.
Look after your wellbeing
Make sure you are looking after yourself, doing what you can to help get a good night’s sleep, eating well and doing exercise, adds Catherine Gallacher.
“I always talk to my clients about a wellbeing check. Sleeping, eating, exercising. If we manage our health like this, it can help make us more robust against anxiety.”
Running either on the spot, or outside, releases endorphins and fools the brain and body that they’ve run away from the danger, says Cate Campbell.
Use all your senses
One of the self-care tips recommended by Eve Menezes Cunningham is to use all your senses to notice where you are.
You might want to notice five things you can see right now, five things you can hear right now, says Eve, or any smells or tastes.
“These can help us resist the well-worn neural pathways around catastrophising and feeling helpless.”
There are more of Eve’s self-care tips available to read here.
No expectations, no pressure
Sarah Wheatley, who specialises in helping new parents, says that she often discusses with her clients, how “when we live in extraordinary times, all bets are off.”
“Since expectations can be one of the things that are difficult to manage as a new parent, when there are no expectations it can be really freeing and allow people time to find their way without any pressure.
“The pressure to get back into shape, the pressure to socialise, the pressure to feed certain ways, the pressure to feel calm and relaxed, the pressure to look as though you have it ‘all together’. These pressures are reduced by physical isolation, and can be helpful to some mothers.”
At times, this may feel very difficult to do depending on your personal situation. But re-framing a negative situation into a positive one can be very helpful.
Indira Chima says: “I believe there are a lot of positives to be gained, which might not be apparent right now. It forces people to slow down and breathe and take stock and that is always a good thing.
“We live at such a fast, frenetic pace and sometimes don't stop to think about what it's all about and where we are heading. This is forcing us to do that. And we will grow as a result of this.”
Ask for support
“It’s not a sign of weakness, but strength to reach out and ask for support,” says Hansa Pankhania
“Make a list of everyone you know, friends, family, colleagues, neighbours etc. Now tick 9 people from this list, who can provide practical, psychological and moral support. Connect with them and sustain this support circle.”
If you would like support from a qualified professional, many counsellors offer online or telephone counselling. They can help you explore and understand what you're feeling.
To find a counsellor or psychotherapist who can help you visit our Therapist Directory.
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