The majority of the media appears to be focused on the doom and gloom of COVID-19. It can be difficult to be faced with this on a regular basis and whilst we need to be informed there are certain steps that you can take to ensure that your mental health does not suffer throughout this period of the pandemic and especially periods of isolating yourself.
In order to stay informed it is useful to follow official guidance which can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/topical-events/coronavirus-covid-19-uk-government-response and the NHS https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/ and both are being updated regularly.
Anxiety thrives on the feelings of things being out of our locus of control. This is the feeling that things are done to us rather than us making our own fate happen. However, we can take a big chunk of this control back through planning.
Making a good plan to overcome the following weeks and months on a day to day basis whether that includes self-isolating or not will be valuable to anyone. This includes making sure that you know where you will be staying, ensuring that you have ordered adequate amounts of food and household goods as well as any medication that you might need. Having a set of resources listed too can help in times of loneliness or crisis, such as knowing what people and services are available that you can rely on if you feel you need a little more help. This includes letting your local council know if you have any additional needs.
Back to Basics
As with anything getting the foundation right will serve you well for everything else going on. Where possible continue to try and eat enough and eating healthy foods, as well as staying hydrated are a great start. Without other structure around it can be easy to fall out of a routine especially a good sleeping pattern, if you can try and make a plan for each day of what you will be doing and keeping your wake and sleep cycle. Although there might not seem as much urgency as before, because there is always tomorrow to do it, keeping yourself clean and attending to your activities of daily living like laundry and cleaning the dishes not only helps prevent the spread of germs but keeps your environment a place that is nice to be in.
Engaging with the media
With doom and gloom everywhere even if you do not have health anxiety it might be worth engaging with the media and social media less and less. If you do read something online that is distressing always try and critique it first. Think about who is the author and whether they are a reliable source, do they have biases or agendas for publishing this research and is it fact or someone’s experience/opinion. All of these are valuable ways of working out as to whether that information is worth absorbing. If you still want to engage with social media, some platforms like twitter allow you to block certain hashtags so you can screen what comes through before you see it.
Carry on With Treatment
Just because some services are closing their front doors, or you must stay inside does not mean that treatment needs to stop. Continuing to take your medication is important and many services such as Quest Psychology will continue to offer appointments remotely. Whilst it may feel different and not what you originally wanted in terms of therapy, the evidence suggests that there is no difference in the outcomes of treatment if conducted face to face or online. There are some programmes that are safer and more secure than others like Zoom. But the NHS has recently released a policy that states that Skype and WhatsApp web are also ok to use at this time.
Utilise the Time
Whilst it might not have been your choice, whatever you do in this time is your choice. It can be made into a great opportunity to do the hobbies and activities that you love. Whether that is reading, drawing, painting, playing video games, listening to music or exercising. It is likely that all of your favourite things can be done in your house if adapted. We know that exercise has a huge impact on mental health so doing home workouts from the internet can be a great way to work off excess anxiety and get the endorphins running. Being creative can make the time go faster, as well as using the time to catch up on any household jobs or even any learning that you might have wanted to do but never had the time for.
If seeing people is what you enjoy most then that does not have to change. Facetime, Skype and WhatsApp allow us to see and speak to our friends and family, whereas programmes such as tabletop simulator and roll20.net enable us to play board games. Netflix has even announced that it can sync with your friends to make sure that the content is all played at the same time. Combine this with your Facetime and you have your own movie night!
Help with Cabin Fever
Everyone gets cabin fever from time to time. It is difficult to be staring at the same four walls all of the time. If you can rotate rooms and use them for different things. In addition to this use your garden if you have one, or even sit on your front porch just to get a bit of fresh air. If that is not an option opening the windows can shift the stale air and make the room feel bigger.
We are in an unknown time and many young people are unaware and have not been through previous worldwide illness such as SARS, swine flu or even the HIV/AIDS pandemic. They have not had the experience of getting through this and can worry that we are moving towards a movie-esque apocalypse. This is catastrophised by having many reinforcing factors around them such as posters, constant news and panic buying. With things getting cancelled left, right and centre it can be interpreted as ‘things are really bad’ rather than being seen a preventative measure. Explaining to your young person clearly in simple language using facts can be a massive help. This document from Mencap can be really useful https://www.mencap.org.uk/sites/default/files/2020-03/Information%20about%20Coronavirus%20ER%20SS2.pdf
Accept the Situation
This article started with planning for what you can take control of. However, there are some things that we simply cannot control and that needs to be accepted whilst we wait for the situation to change. It is ok to be scared and to feel anxious, it is a normal human reaction. If you find yourself getting worked up take a moment to ground yourself by using your senses. Slowly over the course of 2-3 minutes pay attention to what you 5 things you can see, 4 things you can feel, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you smell and 1 thing you can taste. Do this each time you start to feel your emotions taking over. Allow them to be there but not taking control of you.
Dr Gregory Warwick is a Counselling Psychologist and Director of Quest Psychology Services (www.questpsychologyservices.co.uk) that offers counselling and psychological help from the clinic in Salford, Manchester