How to protect your mental health during the coronavirus pandemic

In which Lauren Heritage ponders the impact the current situation can have on our mental health and what we can do to help ourselves..

Silhouette Of Person Standing By The Door

Coronavirus, Covid-19, SARS-CoV-2, The Rona..

It’s all we hear about at the moment. Anyone remember Brexit?

It is understandably a stressful time for all. With most of us having never experienced a situation like this in our lives, it can all feel very out of control and anxiety inducing. Whilst some may be enjoying being in lockdown and/or working from home, others are finding it a real struggle. Let’s also not forget our health and key workers out keeping the country going and fighting Covid-19 who are also reporting a significant impact on their mental health.

What are the biggest stressors at this time and what can I do to help?

Social 

We are, by nature, sociable creatures. Even if you don’t enjoy face to face interaction, most enjoy interacting with others in one way or another. It’s been weeks and months since many have physically been in the company of family and friends. You might have a closer relationship with the security guard at the supermarket than your own family at this point. Shout out to Tony at Walderslade Morrisons!

If family and friends are a source of happiness and support, this can feel like you’ve lost a lifeline.

For others, they may have difficult family relationships and being forced to be in lockdown can feel incredibly stressful. Unfortunately, lockdown has also seen a rise in domestic violence. Click here to see how you can seek help if you find yourself in this situation.

For those of you missing family and friends, video chatting has become the new ‘going down the pub’ or ‘popping round for a cup of tea’. OK, it’s not quite the same as being face to face, but at least helps you to see your loved ones and take part in things like virtual pub quizzes, games and general chit chat. Houseparty, Whatsapp and Zoom are popular (other apps are available). Some people are even getting into roleplay and conducting virtual afternoon teas and pub nights whereby each person has a drink* going or some nice sandwiches and cakes to make it feel more ‘real’.

*Disclaimer: please drink responsibly.

If familial difficulties are making relationships difficult, here are a few tips you might like to try:

  • If space allows, everyone has their own area of the house where they can have their own ‘me time’ and can be left alone or can escape to if tempers rise.
  • This website has some really excellent resources to help aid communication and conflict resolution. I use these all the time in my working and ‘real’ life and think they really make a difference.

Self-Care

Self care isn’t just about personal hygiene and getting dressed. Hands up if you’ve worn jeans at any point since lockdown begun? Anyone? No?

It’s also about attending to the holistic self and wellbeing. We all know we are allowed our government mandated daily exercise and it’s important we use it. Whether it’s a slow walk, attending to the garden, a bike ride with the kids or running many miles; exercise has huge benefits to mental and physical health. Research shows even just being out in fresh air or having a change of environment has a significant impact on mood and stress as well as physical stuff like blood pressure and heart health.

Keeping your brain busy is important. We have a tendency to go to darker places when we have little to do. There is a reason why long term solitary confinement can be considered torture. You don’t have to do anything extravagant or Nobel Prize worthy. It can be as simple as a jigsaw (if you can buy one anywhere at the moment), reading a book, doing a crossword, listening to music or binging that show you’ve been meaning to watch for ages but have never found the time. These easy things can also be used as redirection when you feel yourself getting worked up. The brain finds it very difficult to overthink and do an activity that requires logical thinking at the same time, so if you really throw yourself into whatever task it is, it should reduce your stress.

I think it’s important to have a bit of a reality check here. We all tend to be slaves to social media and it can be very easy to believe that everyone is mastering a new skill, getting in shape or making their house look like something out of a magazine. If you’re doing those things, fine. But it’s also absolutely fine if you aren’t. Getting through this is enough. And remember, social media shows only the best snippets of someone’s life. There is a phrase I really like which is ‘don’t judge your behind the scenes on someone else’s highlights reel’.

You do you, judgement free.

The News

Everyday we get the headlines of the amount of people who have sadly lost their lives, the number of new infections and heartbreaking stories of families having their lives ripped apart. If you’re not careful it can become an obsession as you try to seek out the latest information. It also can lead to extreme health anxiety where you think the slightest sniffle means it’s finally got you. We tend to fall victims to something called ‘confirmation bias’ which is when we look for evidence that supports our beliefs/fears and discard anything that doesn’t. This can really feed into anxiety.

It’s therefore important that we ‘change the record’. Make a conscious effort to seek out the positives or just take a break from the news altogether. If you read a negative story, make sure you then read a positive one after. If you feel overwhelmed with the number of deaths, make sure to read about the survivors, because the reality is there are many. Many more people who survive this than don’t make it. By doing this, you start to balance your anxious thoughts and helps gain perspective.

And Finally..

I am getting asked a lot what resources I can recommend to help people get through this time. Below are a list of just some of the ones I have either looked at and really rate or use on a regular basis and think are really helpful.

More general mental health:

I absolutely love these websites. It has many easy to understand tools for most things mental health and emotional wellbeing. I use these professionally and personally.

https://www.therapistaid.com/

https://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/Resources/Looking-After-Yourself

Coronavirus specific:

I really liked this article by the BBC.

This is a brilliant piece of support from The Wellness Society

Stay safe out there, everyone.

Lauren Heritage is a mental health professional born and raised in Medway. She wants Medway to be the best it can be and is growing more exasperated by the day with politics. She likes to travel, enjoys good food, is a scuba diver, and a wannabe pilot.

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