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Your mental health and Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Right now, a lot of people are feeling uncertain and anxious due to the impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) on their daily lives. The huge amounts of news – across TV, radio, the press and social media – seems never-ending. It is inevitable that factors such as social distancing, self-isolation, confinement and the risk of losing a loved one, or falling ill yourself, may cause increased feelings of anxiety or worry.

So, what can you do to help support your mental health during this time? I have put together a few suggestions that I hope you will find helpful.

Create a daily routine

Structuring your day so that you make time to focus on specific activities – such as doing some work/study, communicating with friends, playing with the kids, having lunch, exercising – can really help.Especially if the structures around you, such as work, school, and other external obligations have closed down for the time being.

Importantly, try to stick to a consistent time to go to sleep and to wake up. A recent study across over 90,000 people in the UK suggests keeping consistent sleep patterns is incredibly beneficial for our mood and well-being (Lyall et al., 2018).

Avoid watching, reading or listening to anything that causes you anxiety

I’d like to propose a little awareness exercise.

See if you can think about the mental and physical experiences you have whilst reading, watching or listening to stories related to Coronavirus. The triggers of anxiety are not always obvious and can be very subtle but see if you notice any.

For instance, you might watch the news without reacting to any specific segment, but after you find yourself going to the kitchen to get a large glass of wine or to eat lots chocolate.

Notice if such behaviours are normal for you or if they might be a way of helping you to relax because of feeling of anxiety or worry. Limiting your media intake, being selective about your news sources, and being mindful of your needs from moment to moment can all be helpful.

Find different activities to pass the time

Anxiety UK, a mental health charity, has produced advice for people who experience health anxiety, or specifically anxiety relating to the Coronavirus.

They suggest baking, cooking, writing, DIY, learning a new hobby and getting through a Netflix box set as ways you might like to pass the time.

Though none of these sound particularly innovative, you might find that revisiting an old hobby or trying a few different things throughout the course of the week help you to focus on things other than the pandemic.

Start yoga and/or meditation

I understand that for many people their home has never felt fuller. With everyone at home for prolonged periods of time, suggesting yoga or meditation seems a bit ignorant of the reality? But now is a great time to start, as if you can begin to find 3, 5 or 10 minutes of time within a day to focus on your mind and your body, that’s a great achievement in a busy life!

Some helpful resources include:

Keep in contact with family and friends

As your social interactions may have become more limited, it’s helpful to think about ways you can keep in contact with friends and family. This is particularly important if you are used to seeing people at work and rarely reach out to others for social interaction.

You might want to explore making phone calls, video calls or hosting group hangouts (using tools like Skype, Zoom, Google Hangouts) with friends or family members.

Studies have found that the more time young people spend on Facebook, the more dissatisfied they feel (Kross et al., 2013). So finding ways other than social media posts to connect with people close to you might be useful right now.

Schedule time to talk with your partner

If you have a partner, spouse, husband, wife, lover, who lives with you, the chances are that under the current climate, scheduling time to talk doesn’t seem very important. After all, you’re probably under the same roof all the time!

But making time, once a week, to sit down with your partner and talk about what’s gone well, and what hasn’t gone so well, can be a productive use of time. Some people like to borrow methods from their workplace to structure these meetings, whereas others look to relationship specialists.

Regardless of your approach, try to use this time to empathetically listen to what has gone on for your partner and use it as an opportunity to learn more about them, you, and your relationship.

Recognise when it gets too much

Even though we are subject to stories of many people suffering and struggling at this time, please don’t forget that you also have needs.

If you find that you are feeling overwhelmed despite trying to put in measures to help yourself, it may be a good time to seek additional support.

As a result of the Coronavirus, many counsellors and therapists are now working online, so you would be able to reach out to one from home. As an online counsellor myself, I work exclusively online and if you feel it would help to talk, please get in touch.

References

Kross, E., Verduyn, P., Demiralp, E., Park, J., Lee, D. S., Lin, N., Shablack, H., Jonides, J., & Ybarra, O. (2013). Facebook Use Predicts Declines in Subjective Well-Being in Young Adults. PLOS ONE, 8(8), e69841. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0069841

Lyall, L. M., Wyse, C. A., Graham, N., Ferguson, A., Lyall, D. M., Cullen, B., Morales, C. A. C., Biello, S. M., Mackay, D., Ward, J., Strawbridge, R. J., Gill, J. M. R., Bailey, M. E. S., Pell, J. P., & Smith, D. J. (2018). Association of disrupted circadian rhythmicity with mood disorders, subjective wellbeing, and cognitive function: A cross-sectional study of 91 105 participants from the UK Biobank. The Lancet Psychiatry, 5(6), 507–514. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanpsy/article/PIIS2215-0366(18)30139-1/fulltext

Scullin, M. K., Krueger, M. L., Ballard, H. K., Pruett, N., & Bliwise, D. L. (2018). The Effects of Bedtime Writing on Difficulty Falling Asleep: A Polysomnographic Study Comparing To-Do Lists and Completed Activity Lists. Journal of Experimental Psychology. General, 147(1), 139–146. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanpsy/article/PIIS2215-0366(18)30139-1/fulltext

Graphic with tips for supporting your mental health during the coronavirus pandemic. Includes creating a daily routing, avoid anxiety-provoking TV, Find different activity and giving yoga or meditation a try.

By William

William is a BACP registered online counsellor, working with English-speaking clients.