How to take care of your mental health during COVID 19
Disclaimer 1: the advice is changing quickly, please stay up to date with current guidelines on the government website.
Disclaimer 2: mental health is important, this article is not to be used instead of a consultation with a health professional, but rather summarising some useful tips. If you are feeling mentally unwell, or have previous mental health diagnosis and are finding it harder to cope, please speak to your GP.
Things that are going on right now are undoubtedly the cause of much stress and anxiety. It has been a whirlwind of emotions in the past few weeks, with the epidemic growing, far from us at first but slowly getting closer and settling in our country. You might be feeling stressed and anxious, and that is normal. Additionally, social distancing or self-isolation for some of us changes drastically our way of life and may make you feel isolated. Staying at home can have its difficulties, especially with younger children. We are presenting below reflections on how to deal with these emotions and how to take care of your mental health during the current novel coronavirus outbreak.
Dealing with uncertainty
Psychologists show that uncertainty is a big contributor to anxiety: How long is this going to last? How long will I have to stay locked at home with my family? How is my work going to be affected? And you cannot get rid of this uncertainty at present: scientific estimations remain estimations, politicians and health officers rethink health plans every day and many factors out of our control will impact the timeline of current events. You can, however, deal with this uncertainty differently and try to accept the inability to control the situation. What can you do practically? A few tips psychologists would give are summarised below. Instead of focusing on things you cannot change, try to think of what you could change: for example, I have no choice, I must self-isolate, I wish I didn’t have to, try to ask yourself what things you could do to make the self-isolation better (see point 3). Focusing on the things you can actually control can make you feel less anxious and help you move forward.
Unsurprisingly, news on the outbreak is everywhere on mainstream media and social media. Additionally, everyone around is constantly discussing the details and bringing information and numbers on the table. This constant flow of information may fuel your anxiety, not giving you any spare moment to think about other things. As important as it is to stay up to date with recommendations, it may not be beneficial for you to stay hanging onto your phone for updates, checking the news every hour or even following live numbers online. This may create a permanent sense of urgency and rising stress. Instead, how about setting a set time to check the news, once or twice a day, no more. Look out for government and NHS advice, but no need to delve into detailed articles if you find these stress you. In the meantime, focus your attention on something else and try to practice mindfulness: what is important right now, around you? Your work is still on even if you are working from home, your family is near you, there are new ways to stay occupied etc…
Making the most of self-isolation
It is normal that the idea of staying at home for a long stretch of time is stressful. We are so used to being out and about in our day to day lives, and we perhaps take it for granted as it is part of our routine. Suddenly, we are confronted with a reality that is so different from what we are used to, a context which seems much more restricted to us: less space, fewer people, fewer activities. However, it is possible to approach this situation with an open mind: staying in may not be as bad as it seems. A tip to get started would be trying to stick to a similar routine to your usual one, this way you will find comfort in repeating your day to day tasks. If you usually wake up early and go to work, do the same in your house: wake up early and get to work at a desk in your home. It is a good idea to create a “workspace” inside your home, to help you stay focused. If you wake up and go to the gym, you can also keep this up: wake up and get exercising in your home. In fact, getting moving will be very beneficial to your mental health, boosting your energy levels and your mood and also releasing endorphins to help you sleep better. There are lots of video tutorials and follow along workouts on the internet, set yourself challenges and don’t lose the rhythm. Why not put music to get yourself motivated and get the family involved? Also, being at home like this means you may be able to finally start on some projects you have been putting of due to lack of time before: making photo albums, tidying the attic, repainting the bathroom etc… Additionally, you now have plenty of time to start or develop activities or hobbies: reading, drawing, playing an instrument… Finally, don’t forget that “self-isolation” definitely does not mean you have to cut contact with friends and family, in fact, this is the best time for long phone calls, skype sessions and group calls to catch up with some friends. People around you remain here for you and they are just a phone call away.
Helping your children with self-isolation
As discussed above, keeping yourself occupied at home can look challenging at first, but is after all not impossible. Similarly, you might be worried about your children especially young ones will react to this change of context. Remember that playing is essential to your child’s development and wellbeing and that it may be easier than you think to get some fun and exciting playtime inside your house. Getting out old board games, puzzle, painting or drawing sets, but also baking or doing some family exercise. Keep your children in touch with other relatives or friends through the phone, or even video calls as children have been shown to engage better when they can see the person they are talking with.
Talking to your children
Your children can also suffer from anxiety as they can see all the ongoing disruption but are too young to understand the situation completely. Psychologists have been giving tips on how to discuss the ongoing issues with your children, so you are not alone. They advise to bring up the topic with your children if they haven’t done so yet, as it is necessary to have this conversation to understand how they are feeling. It is important to note that children will have heard rumours at school or from other children, and they might have built up some fear. You can ask your child open questions, to gauge how much they know about the epidemic. This might be useful to correct some facts that may have been misunderstood and explain calmly what you can. Experts encourage you to explain at an appropriate level for your child’s age: explaining simply, not focussing on numbers or on the difficult aspects. Explain to your child while they have to stay inside and why they cannot play with other children as normal, so they do not feel lost. It is important to be realistic and admit to the seriousness of the situation but stay reassuring. Show them that even in this situation you are here for them and there are lots of things to look forward to despite the current stress. However, it may not be advised to give promises that are out of your control such as “we will all be fine, don’t worry”. Make sure that there is an open communication with your children and they can feel they can discuss their worries with you.
Written by: Marianne - Purpose Print Team