The Covid-19 outbreak has meant that life as we know it has changed, at least for a while, and this may have caused you to feel anxious, stressed, worried, frustrated, sad, bored, lonely, or frightened. It’s important to remember everyone reacts differently to stressful events, and it’s okay to feel this way. Your feelings are your feelings.
It’s essential to recognise, this situation is temporary, which means in almost all cases, the difficult or uncomfortable feelings most of us will experience from time-to-time during this crisis will pass. It is not your emotions that matters but your action in response to them. Some behaviours that are unhelpful include over analysing and constantly watching or checking the news, and repetitive conversations about the pandemic. Fortunately, there are simple steps that can help you take care of your total wellbeing.
Side note: It’s not at all helpful to think or say even to yourself that “this is worse for someone else” because it doesn’t stop whatever you are feeling or experiencing.
Control what you can
While it is helpful to acknowledge that some things are outside of our control, focusing on the things you can control, such as your behaviour will give you mental clarity and ensure you can look after yourself and your loved ones too. It’s entirely reasonable to feel worried, scared, or helpless about the current situation, but examining anxious thoughts is one of the best strategies to feel less concerned and more in control. Sharing with people you can trust may help you and them. If that is not an option for you, there are many helplines (details below) which can offer a listening ear and support.
Staying up to date with the headlines, and daily government bulletins are essential but in these days of rolling news and constant alerts, having break periods is critical. Setting limits or specific times to access news and social media can help mitigate stress especially for people who have an anxiety disorder. Also, try only to use trusted sources, such as gov.uk, Public Health England, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and mainstream news channels.
While some people are thriving during this period of lockdown, most are not. We are a herd species and need physical and social interaction to thrive. Finding innovative ways to keep in touch with our trusted relationships is crucial for our total wellbeing. Fortunately, the internet has come into its own, video calls and Zoom meetings have become a saviour, and most of us now have time to have a proper chat; as long as both parties have a smart device and a stable internet connection. It that fails an old fashioned telephone can brighten your day.
Tip: Avoid talking about Covid-19 in every conversation.
Routine is important.
We, humans, are creatures of habits; they make us feel secure, so try to keep to your usual routine as much as possible and get the folk you live especially children and teens to do the same. Get up at or around your usual time, it’s easy all too easy to lie in and then spend your day in your PJ’s, but getting dressed will define your day. If you are now home working, remember to avoid overworking by starting and finishing work around the same time each day. Remember to take regular breaks during your working day, especially if you have a makeshift workstation, which may not be entirely comfortable.
Tip: You probably need to ease out your neck and shoulders, try a mini exercise hack, look out for the 10 minutes videos coming next week
If you are an employee who has been asked to work from home, check your employer’s home working policies and ask for help with your wellbeing, technology and setting up an at-home workstation. If you live with other people, agree on a household routine to reduce conflict, no one needs the sounds of vacuuming or children gaming while they are on a conference call.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has been advising people to maintain a healthy lifestyle while on lockdown, stating that eating a well-balanced diet, quitting smoking and reducing alcohol plays a” crucial role” in determining how well people recover from all coronavirus infections, including COVID-19.
Move, move and move more; keeping active is essential. If you cannot go out, regular exercising at home is simple; there are options for most ages and abilities: pop on tunes and dance in your kitchen or chair in you are less mobile. If you can take your permitted 60 min daily walk, or join a virtual exercise class.
Health note: It’s worth remembering that it is entirely normal to experience short-lived physical symptoms when you are feeling anxious or stressed. Some of them could be confused with symptoms of COVID-19, for example, feeling hot or shortness of breath.
- Good-quality sleep makes an enormous difference in how we feel mentally and physically. Try to maintain regular sleeping patterns and keep up good sleep hygiene practices; switch off your screen at least 60 minutes before bed, or as a bare minimum switch them to night mode or wear amber glasses to block out the blue light.
- A room that is dark quiet and cool will generally make it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep.
- Try to avoid day time napping where possible, if you must try a 30-minute nap between 2.00 pm and 4.00 pm when there is a natural dip in the body’s circadian rhythm. Which explains why some people feel a drop in their mental performance.
- Being active can help you sleep better but remember to avoid vigorous activity near bedtime as it may affect your sleep.
- Caffeine and alcohol can stop you from falling asleep and prevent deep sleep. Try to cut down on alcohol and avoid caffeine close to bedtime.
- If you are lying awake unable to sleep for more than an hour, get up and do something either boring or relaxing until you feel sleepy again. Folding clothes works for me.
Managing your feelings and mood.
Concern about the COVID-19 outbreak is normal; some people may experience intense anxiety that can affect their daily life. The usual advice might for looking after yourself may be unrealistic at a time when some treatment and support options will be harder to access, or unavailable. In these circumstances, focusing on the things you can control is essential, there are simple things that can help you take care of your physical, mental and emotional health.
Interestingly, setting specific worry times each day to work through concerns can help shift focus and bring perspective. One of the best things we can do to understand anxiety and stress is to explore and challenge our thoughts and beliefs. Keeping a diary or journal of what you are doing and how you feel can help to identify triggers what action is the need to relieve things.
Are you experiencing loneliness?
Everyone’s experience of isolation will be different; loneliness is not always the same as being alone; you can feel content and peaceful when alone and desperately lonely in a crowd full of people. Consider the things you can do to stay connected, for example, if your home feels too quiet, listen to a talk radio station or a podcast. Have a daily virtual coffee break with a colleague, friend, or family member. Remember to talk about the things you enjoy not just Covid-19.
Find some joy.
Even if you are working from home during the lockdown, or homeschooling your children, most of us will have more time. Freed from commuting may offer you time to restore a favourite pastime or the opportunity to explore a new hobby or interest. If you have an outside space, you could garden, or grow your food. Most small nurseries are still open for online sales, and there is a plethora of TV and online support to get you started. Getting outside will also top-up your vitamin D, which can help with mood, improve your sleep and keep you moving; it’s a win, win.
Tip: Try to do something you enjoy every day; read, listen to music, dance, craft, play an instrument, do a crossword. Studies show that people affected by low moods have found it helpful to reconnect with an old hobby, or discover a new one.
Breathe to relax
Relaxation, mindfulness or breathing exercises can be helpful; they reduce tension and focus our awareness on the present moment. I am making a series of short videos that you can access from my private youtube channel. Stay tuned.
Support and help others.
Helping others can be as beneficial to you as those receiving your help, research shows that people who volunteer report better mental wellbeing. It’s heartening to see the number of local and community groups that have sprung up. Offering support and friendship to people either being shielded or in self-isolation.
Conflict at home.
Unless you spend all day every day with your loved one or housemates, it’s going to take a mammoth effort to remain tolerant, patient and calm. Self-isolation and life uncertainty may make it easier for small irritations to become huge arguments. Finding ways to distance yourself from conflict is crucial to living in harmony. No matter how big your home is, personal space may become an issue. Think of innovative ways to create space or distance yourself; put on some headphones and listening to an audiobook, podcast or music. Time-out in a separate room or outdoor space if you have one and it’s okay for you to be outside.
Are you in danger?
Cases of domestic violence have soared as lockdown takes ramps up the pressure. Organisations helping domestic violence victims have reported an increase in their caseload since the start of the Covid-19 epidemic. For those already in a controlling, emotionally abusive or violent relationships, the risks become higher during the heightened stress surrounding this period of self-isolation and lockdown. If you need help or are concerned about a neighbour or friend call the national domestic abuse helpline (number below). If you are in immediate danger call 999.
If you are struggling, these resources may be helpful.
- Samaritans – www.samaritans. org.uk / T: 116 123 (free 24-hour helpline)
- Mind – www.mind.org.uk / T: 0300 123 3393
- Anxiety UK www.anxietyuk.org.uk / T: 03444 775 774
- Cruse Bereavement Care – www.crusebereavementcare.org.uk / T:0844 477 9400
- Alcoholics Anonymous -www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk /T: 0845 769 7555 (24-hour helpline)
- National domestic abuse helpline 0800 2000 247 / www.national helpline.org.uk.
- Men’s Health Forum – 24/7 stress support for men – www.menshealthforum.org.uk
- Managing workplace stress and mental health issues -HSE www.hse.gov.uk/stress/mental-health
Your experience is unique, and it rarely helps to compare how you are coping with anyone else. Be kind and acknowledge your feelings, but don’t allow yourself to be consumed by them. In these extraordinary circumstances, routines, self-compassion, and building self-resilience are crucial.