Managing your Mental Health during the Coronavirus Lockdown (or indeed at any time!)
Lockdown is proving to be a testing time for most of us in a myriad of ways.
The anxiety, stress and uncertainty of it – and the sweeping changes we’re having to make to our lifestyles – are having a huge impact on our mental health.
It’s quite normal to feel stressed and anxious in such a difficult, unprecedented and unpredictable situation. It’s really important to recognise that the effects of this situation are completely normal – we are reacting in a normal way to a highly abnormal situation. Anxiety is a reasonable response! It’s not unusual to lose sleep in times of worry, to find it hard to concentrate, to be less tolerant – all the things that are linked to stress and anxiety are a normal reaction to this unique and troubling time.
But for many of us, it doesn’t need to be as difficult as we are making it for ourselves.
People often come for counselling for support with managing stress and/or anxiety, and this lockdown has turned up the volume on those feelings. People are experiencing overwhelm; feeling suffocated, trapped and helpless under the extra strain lockdown is creating.
There are ways in which this can be managed, and they are the things my clients have found helpful, so hopefully you will too.
There’s a little analogy I’ve read somewhere about a fish swimming in a river. I cant find it, so sadly I cant share it here, but the basic idea is that time is like the water in a river, it will continue to flow in the same direction and we can’t do anything to stop it: it’s nature.
As so many of us have found, trying to swim against the current is exhausting, frustrating and uses energy we could be using for other things. We use up so much energy fighting the things we can’t control we become depleted! What do you suppose would happen if you gave into the flow of life, and just allowed it to carry you to whatever destination lies ahead? Well, in short it would mean less stress and more energy for other things.
You see, it’s pointless winding yourself up about having to stay at home, not being able to go out and see friends and so on. Going with the flow of things, taking one day at a time and appreciating what you have makes life a lot easier than working against it and being frustrated with all the things you don’t currently have.
Consider this: In this lockdown we have enough food (for the most part), most of us have TVs, games consoles, board games, books and the radio (to name but a few) and access to so many people and resources online; plus a whole host of other luxuries we often just take for granted. A roof over our head, people who care, and in these times having your health is something to be incredibly grateful for. We need to switch our focus onto everything we DO have and CAN do rather than what we don’t have and can’t do. Can you see how that would make a difference? It’s all about that ‘Attitude of Gratitude’ I’m always going on about…
Here are some tips and strategies to help you cope with the mental health impacts of the current global situation.
Keep a routine
You might be working from home for the first time in your life, and some of you will now be juggling that with home-schooling your children and using space in your home to set up a ‘work station’.
Plus, your usual activities might have been curtailed by self-isolation.
Without a routine, negative thinking and anxiety can intensify. Creating a plan each day of things you need to do can help bring some structure back. You might want to create a morning exercise programme, schedule your work hours and breaks, have a menu so you know what you are cooking each day, and plan some time for enjoyment/relaxation.
If you have children asking ‘what can I do now, I’m bored!’ you could create a timetable for/with your children so they know what’s next and don’t pester you all day! Have a range of activities on there. You could try baking, growing your own fruit and veg, walking, outdoor games, indoor games, movie time, reading, puzzles, arts and crafts, and so on. You could learn a new craft together! (its easy to order online from Amazon or eBay)
Home schooling is hard but you can only do your best. Don’t fall out with your children unnecessarily over it if possible – try to break it up with more enjoyable tasks. It doesn’t have to all fit in with the school day, though most of us are more productive in the morning so maybe get started straight after breakfast.
Restrict access to news media and social media
You might want to avoid social media channels filled with speculation to manage any anxiety you are feeling. Stick to the official government guidance and NHS advice websites and limit your access to the news to a certain time of the day.
It can become addictive and consuming to keep yourself informed of all the latest updates, some of which may not even be true. Be selective, don’t believe everything you hear, and keep everything in perspective.
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. There is so much technology available nowadays so you can have a virtual meet up with one or a whole group of people! You can just have a chat, or do a group activity (cooking a meal together?) or have a focus (a book club?) or even do a pub quiz or play an online version of your favourite game. Get creative!
Working through the implications of staying at home should help you feel more prepared and less concerned.
If you are concerned about your finances and you haven’t already, you might want to talk with your employer to understand your sick pay and benefits rights.
You could also think about where else you can get help. The internet has a wealth of information (Martin Lewis the Money Saving Expert is invaluable) as well as talking to people you know, and lots of local and community help groups are being set up. Try to remember this disruption should only be temporary.
You can go to GOV.UK: Coronavirus support for info
Try keeping a gratitude diary, where you write down three or more things you are grateful for every day. Or if you dont fancy writing them down, say them in your head as you’re falling asleep. We have A LOT more to be grateful for than we do to be worried about.
If you are finding it hard to begin with, you can start with the things we often take for granted such as fresh running water, the sun shining, hearing a child laugh, a home-cooked meal, a warm bed. Think about the things you do have and are grateful for.
Try some mindfulness techniques
A good way to relax is to take a four-second breath in through the nose, hold that breath for four seconds and then breathe out through your mouth for six seconds. Do this five times and feel your body let go of tension.
You could try mindfulness or relaxation apps, such as Headspace, and practising deep breathing.
Another way of calming anxiety is by refocusing: using all your senses to notice where you are. Try to notice five things you can see right now, four things you can hear right now, three you can feel, two you can smell and one you can taste. Focus on those things and you will find that you are very present in the moment and other things don’t feel quite so overwhelming.
Write down your worries
It can help to write down the things you are feeling anxious or fearful of so that you can think more clearly and let them go. Writing things down helps to organise your thoughts and get them under control. This could be simply be writing down what you feel every now and then or keeping a more regular journal.
Get access to daylight
Exposure to natural light is essential for good serotonin and melatonin levels - both vital for good mental health.
Try positioning your desk near a window and keep curtains (and maybe even a window or 2) open. If you have a a balcony or garden, use it regularly. Otherwise try to go for a walk at least once a day.
You may also want to try Vitamin D supplements and a light therapy (SAD) lamp if you feel you suffer from low mood on overcast days.
Look after you
It’s simple and we all know it, but it really is important get a good night’s sleep, eat well-balanced meals, drink enough water and get regular exercise (raising your heart rate for 30 minutes a day if you can).
We feel a pressure to cope as well as we believe others are coping, to have it all together, and to be the same person you were before all this, but give yourself a break and acknowledge that you’re doing your best in extraordinary circumstances. If you put on a couple of pounds, that’s okay! If your roots grow through, its okay! If you find yourself feeling like you don’t know enough to help your children with their school work, its okay! You aren’t perfect – none of us are.
At times, this may feel very difficult to do depending on your personal situation. But if you can, re-framing a negative situation into a positive one can be very helpful.
There are a lot of positives to be gained from this, which may or may not be apparent right now. For one, it has forced many of us to slow down and take stock and that can only be a good thing. What don’t you miss about your old life? What would you like to continue once lockdown is over? What have you learnt about yourself and those around you?
It has also forced us to adapt and do things differently. We are now more creative, more tolerant, and more patient than we were before this, because we have to be!
There are also things you can now do that you never had time for before; things like reading the books you’ve had on your shelf for years, learning a new language, learning a craft, and finding a new appreciation for the things you used to take for granted. Or you could do the stuff you’ve been putting off, like sticking all that stuff you don’t need anymore on Ebay…
Ask for support
It's normal to feel worried, scared or helpless about the current situation. Remember: it is okay to feel this way and to share your concerns with others you trust – and doing so may help them too.
It’s not a sign of weakness to reach out and ask for support. There are various ways of doing this; you can talk to a close friend or family member, or form a support circle for several of you to help each other.
If you don’t find it easy to speak to someone you know or if doing so has not helped, there are plenty of helplines, groups or professional support you can try instead. There are forums and facebook groups to connect with people, and if you are feeling very low, the Samaritans. And, of course, you could talk to a counsellor like me.
WHERE YOU CAN GET ADVICE
Apps like Headspace can be great for this, and the NHS ‘every mind matters’ has a range of resources to support your emotional and mental health. You can also find a list of helplines on the NHS
Moneyadviceservice; Martin Lewis moneysavingexpert; Gov.uk and your local authority can tell you many of the things you need to know
NHS online and for serious matters you can still use the usual channels
There are lots of online workouts on YouTube and the NHS has a fitness studio.
Google is also a wonderful resource for finding out almost anything you need to know, but beware of self–diagnosis…