Is Covid-19 playing havoc with your mental health? Here’s how to stop the coronavirus panic levels rising and give your mental wellbeing a boost.
Whether you suffer with pre-existing mental health issues or not, the coronavirus pandemic we are currently experiencing may well be having an impact on your mental wellbeing.
For many of us, it’s the same. From concerns about what will happen if we become infected, to worries about family members and friends, to the impact it is having on local communities and wider society and the myriad uncertainties we are all trying to process at present, it’s no wonder anxiety levels are high – and rising rapidly.
While it’s important to keep up to date with Covid-19 developments as they unfold, it’s also imperative that you keep a check on your mental health over the coming weeks and months, to ensure you’re best placed to handle any impending challenges with resilience and strength.
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Read on for our expert tips on how to cultivate a sense of calm in our current climate:
Separate what you can control from what you can’t
Distinguishing between what you can and can’t control is a key component of managing your mental health and lessening anxiety. By focusing your energy and attention on the factors within your control, you’re giving your mind something practical and helpful to focus on.
‘When we’re in the midst of any challenging situation, distinguishing between what we can and can’t control can help us manage how anxious we feel,’ explains Navit Schechter, Cognitive Behavioural Therapist and Supervisor.
Distinguishing between what we can and can’t control can help us manage how anxious we feel.
‘Things that we can control include limiting how much attention we pay to the media, focusing on facts rather than rumours circulating on social media sites, preparing sensibly and responsibly for potential future isolation, and not assuming the worst case scenario. These are all things that can help us to feel more in control and less anxious.
‘Trying to control the things that we can’t strengthens our belief about not being in control and can lead to further anxiety. Things we can’t control include the decisions that are made by the Government, and whether we, our family members or those within our communities will contract the virus.’
Check in with your feelings
It’s important to acknowledge how you are feeling, rather than dismissing “negative” emotions or berating yourself for feeling them.
‘Accept that you feel the way you do, and that it may be what you need to feel in this moment,’ suggests Dr Lynda Shaw, neuroscientist and change specialist. ‘Don’t berate yourself for feeling anger, anxiety, fear, sorrow or resentment in the short term. Writing down your thoughts and feelings can be a great way to express emotions, as of course can talking to colleagues, friends and loved ones. Have self-compassion – be kind to yourself.’
Indeed, showing yourself a little kindness can often be the best way to help keep anxiety under control.
‘Regularly check in with how you are feeling and coping,’ reminds Schechter. ‘If you are feeling anxious, do something to help yourself relax – read a book, watch a feel-good movie, take a walk, or do some yoga or breathing exercises.’
Manage your time online
Yes, it’s good to stay in the loop when it comes to Covid-19 news, but spending too much time reading about it on news and social media sites can see you caught in a cycle of updates and panic.
‘If we focus too much attention on Covid-19 news, it becomes our sole focus and can become overwhelming,’ says Schechter.
Spending too much time reading about Covid-19 can see you caught in a cycle of updates and panic.
‘There is a lot of speculation circulating at the moment too, which can further fuel anxiety. Limit the time you spend listening to the news and reading social media posts, and choose your sources wisely. While it’s important to stay abreast of the facts from good-quality sources, any more than this can blow the issue out of proportion and raise anxiety levels unnecessarily. If you notice you’re feeling anxious, take time away from the news and focus on looking after yourself or those around you.’
Stay connected with loved ones
Self-isolation might become a very real experience for many of us over the coming months, but that doesn’t mean we can’t stay connected with loved ones and the outside world.
‘Some people are already in self-isolation and this figure may grow over the coming weeks,’ says Schechter. ‘Make sure you have the contact details of friends and family, and that you check-in regularly with those who are potentially more vulnerable within your community. If you’re worried about being alone, try to prepare in advance by reaching out to your community, friends or family.’
Get plenty of rest
Not only will getting a good night’s sleep on a regular basis help to give your immune system a boost, but getting enough shut eye will be beneficial for your mental health, too.
‘Even just one or two nights of disrupted or inadequate sleep can make you feel short tempered, moody or muddled,’ reveals Dr Shaw. ‘But prolonged sleep reduction will put you at serious risk of disorders such as depression and anxiety. Studies show that people with depression often have less than six hours’ sleep per night, meaning they do not have enough deep sleep and REM sleep, which is when the brain is restored.’
If your Covid-19 worries are preventing you from sleeping properly, taking measures to help improve your nighttime habits can help. These include avoiding the blue light from screens up to an hour prior to bedtime, taking a warm bath, reading a chapter of a good book, or trying an online guided meditation to help you unwind.
Plan your self-isolation time wisely
During periods of upcoming self-isolation, plan how you will spend your time. Starting a new creative project or working to improve your health and fitness are great ways to keep your mind occupied, as well as giving you a sense of fulfilment and purpose.
‘Self-isolation may be a daunting prospect, but making a daily plan, which includes activities that give you a sense of pleasure or achievement, can help keep your spirits up,’ says Schechter.
Self-isolation may be a daunting prospect, but making a daily plan can help keep your spirits up.
‘Examples include exercise programs to do from home, making sure that friends and family can stay connected with you online, and looking up activities you can do with your children if housebound,’ she adds. ‘If you have a weekly bridge game, book club, zumba class or playgroup you enjoy, explore possibilities of moving these online for a while.’
Manage your choices
Yes, loo roll is selling out fast and the shelves are emptying of hand sanitiser quicker than you can sneeze. But does this mean you have to jump on the panic-buying bandwagon too? Nope. As well as being harmful for the most vulnerable members of society, panic-buying through fear is the perfect fuel for anxiety.
‘It’s important to make sure that our behaviours reflect the reality of the situation,’ says Schechter. ‘If we fall down a rabbit hole of unhelpful behaviours, such as excessive panic-buying, it can make the situation feel even further out of our control, leading to increased anxiety. It’s important to follow the advice we’ve been given and trust that this is sufficient to ensure we are as safe as possible. Not giving in to urges based on fear can help to keep the risks we are facing in perspective.’
Making considered and sensible lifestyle choices over the coming months is another way of helping to manage both your physical and mental health. ‘Focusing on staying as healthy as possible, by eating well, quitting smoking and reducing alcohol consumption, can all help give ourselves the best chance of remaining well.’
Focus on the present moment
While fears and anxieties about the future may be clouding your mind, remember that the only moment we truly have is this one, right now. By focusing on the positives in this moment, as well as working on what you can control at present, you can help ease your mind and keep fear at bay.
While fears about the future may be clouding your mind, remember that the only moment we truly have is right now.
‘Ultimately, the difference in how we get through these uncertain times will come down to how we think about the situation, as well as the way in which we view our ability to deal with it,’ says Schechter. ‘We can’t predict the future, and if we focus on our fears and doubt our ability to cope with what will happen, we will naturally feel anxious. If, on the other hand, we focus on the present moment and what we can control, as well as our strength and resilience, then together we will get through this difficult time with more calm and ease.’