Everyday life can often take its toll on our mental health, without the introduction of a global pandemic. For some, we can only wait and see what happens, reasonably secure in the knowledge that should we catch Coronavirus the worst we’ll get is feeling terrible for a few days. However, for many, the constant looming threat of the virus, plus the burden of ill health within themselves or a loved one, can lead to extreme anxiety and panic attacks.
What to do?
If you find yourself one of the many who are struggling to come to terms with the current situation, there are a number of things you can do help alleviate the worry, and protect our mental health.
First, try and limit the amount of time you spend on social media. While Twitter and the like can be a good source of updated information, it’s filled with a huge majority of what a certain world leader would call ‘Fake News’. Out of the many Tweets being issued under any one of the Coronavirus hashtags, only a small percentage actually contain valid, scientific, and useful information. Finding the good from the bad can be difficult, so it’s best to try and stick to Twitter users who know what they’re talking about – such as the World Health Organisation or NHS. Misinformation is one the chief causes of the growing levels of anxiety, so ensure you protect yourself by only listening to those who are qualified to make statements regarding the pandemic.
Take regular breaks from what you’re currently doing. If you’re self-isolated, then take five minutes to go and make a cup of tea, or read a chapter of a book. If you desperately need to see what’s going on in the world, then quickly catch up with a site such as the BBC, but don’t dwell on what’s happening, just have a quick recap.
Don’t take advice to the extreme. This can encompass a number of issues of late. For example, the advice on washing your hands. While this is sound, it can make someone who is vulnerable to such information to go into overdrive and wash their hands far too many times than is necessary. The same goes for panic buying. While a lot of the panic buyers are simply uninformed, others are in an unhappy place and trying to keep it all together. Try and avoid falling into the same trap that uninformed people fall into.
Stay connected with each other. Just because you’re self-isolated, or even worried about events taking place, doesn’t mean you can’t pick up a phone and call someone. Call a friend, a relative, or someone you know who will listen to you – and preferably, someone who shows a little common sense in such times. Don’t go and ring the local conspiracy theorist – we all have one of those as a friend – while they could be well intentioned, they could cause more stress and anxiety.
Exercise when possible. Gyms may be closing, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get some form of exercise at home. Take a walk, if you’re able, or run through some routines in the living room. Take a moment to look up some great cardio routines at home on YouTube. And don’t forget to eat well and stay hydrated.
AnxietyUK is a national charity that specialises in helping people deal with levels of anxiety. They offer confidential advice for those with anxiety, stress and anxiety-based depression, and they’ve got some great tips and help on their website: https://www.anxietyuk.org.uk/.
One of the charity’s latest techniques is called Apple, which stands for:
Acknowledge: Notice and acknowledge the uncertainty as it comes to mind.
Pause: Don’t react as you normally do. Don’t react at all. Pause and breathe.
Pull back: Tell yourself this is just the worry talking, and this apparent need for certainty is not helpful and not necessary. It is only a thought or feeling. Don’t believe everything you think. Thoughts are not statements or facts.
Let go: Let go of the thought or feeling. It will pass. You don’t have to respond to them. You might imagine them floating away in a bubble or cloud.
Explore: Explore the present moment, because right now, in this moment, all is well. Notice your breathing and the sensations of your breathing. Notice the ground beneath you. Look around and notice what you see, what you hear, what you can touch, what you can smell. Right now. Then shift your focus of attention to something else – on what you need to do, on what you were doing before you noticed the worry, or do something else – mindfully with your full attention.
The world Health Organisation also has some great information on how to safeguard your mental health during such times as we’re currently facing. More information can be found at https://www.who.int/mental_health/en/.
Similarly, the CDC (Centre for Disease Control and Prevention) has some specific Coronavirus outbreak advice for those with stress and anxiety: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/managing-stress-anxiety.html.
The Mental Health Foundation has also published some information about our mental health during the pandemic that is certainly worth reading through: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/looking-after-your-mental-health-during-coronavirus-outbreak.
The Take Away Advice
The main advice every site is reiterating while we’re in this situation is to stay informed through proper and reputable sources, while avoiding false information and poor science. Take regular breaks, and if you need to, contact someone or one of the many charities and organisations that specialise in mental health management.