Coronavirus has kind of taken most of the world into meltdown with uncertainty and the relentless news about the pandemic, it can feel all a bit too much. All of this is taking its toll on people’s mental health, particularly those already living with conditions like anxiety and OCD. And people are discovering that being away from their usual routine and people can make them feel depressed. So how can we protect our mental health?

Being concerned about the news is understandable, but for many people it can make existing mental health problems worse.

When the World Health Organisation released advice on protecting your mental health during the corona-virus outbreak, it was welcomed on social media. Feeling out of control and the uncertainty of life right now can deepen existing anxiety disorders, or even trigger new ones. So it’s understandable that many individuals with pre-existing anxiety are facing challenges at the moment.

“A lot of anxiety is rooted in worrying about the unknown and waiting for something to happen – corona-virus is that on a macro scale,” agrees Rosie Weatherley, spokesperson for mental health charity Mind.

So how can we protect our mental health?

1) Limit the news and be careful what you read

Having long periods away from news websites and social media has helped him to manage his anxiety. He has also found support helplines, run by mental health charities such as Anxiety UK, useful.

Limit the amount of time you spend reading or watching things which aren’t making you feel better. Perhaps decide on a specific time to check in with the news
There is a lot of misinformation swirling around – stay informed by sticking to trusted sources of information such as government and Health Service websites. Don’t rely on trending hashtags, media or content.

2) Have breaks from social media and mute things which are triggering

People with anxiety and anxiety disorders can feel compelled to stay informed and research COVID-19 constantly which can lead people to feel even more anxious or worried. Social media, especially, can be a trigger. Scrolling on social media can lead to falling down a rabbit hole of hashtags, mean comments, memes and conspiracy theories.

Be careful about which accounts you tune into, mute key words which might be triggering on Twitter and unfollow or mute accounts and avoiding clicking on corona-virus hashtags. Try hard to have time away from social media, watching TV or reading books instead. Mute WhatsApp groups and hide Facebook posts and feeds if you find them too overwhelming, and if you have friends who frequently post or share content that makes you unhappy, do feel free to ask them not to share them with you, or explain that you’d like a chat to be ‘corona-free’.

3) Wash your hands – but not excessively

OCD Action has seen an increase in support requests from people whose fears have become focused on the corona-virus pandemic. For people with OCD and some types of anxiety, being constantly told to wash your hands can be especially difficult to hear. As can thinking about what things, places or people may be carrying infectious viruses.

It can be difficult because those who previously worked on controlling compulsive behaviour, now have to do some of the behaviours that they’ve been avoiding. Stick to the advice given by official health organisations, using soap and sanitiser, but be sure not to let it slip back into destructive behaviour. Charity OCD Action says the issue to look out for is the function – for example, is the washing being carried out for the recommended amount of time to reduce the risk of spreading of the virus – or is it being done ritualistically in a specific order to feel “just right”?

4) Stay connected with people

Increasing numbers will join those already in self-isolation, and it is advised to practice social distancing. So now might be a good time to make sure you have the right phone numbers and email addresses of the people you care about. It is also wise to figure out if and how you can work from home without creating any additional stress or anxiety.

Agree regular check-in times and feel connected to the people around you. From my experience here in Korea, it made me feel so much better to Face-time people or call people, because I wasn’t meeting with my friends and colleagues like I was used to. It made me feel really depressed being by myself all. the. time. By calling my family at a set time every day it gave m something to look forward to and helped me to keep a set schedule. A great app to use as well is the app “Houseparty” where you can waste time together whilst staying apart.

So, if you’re self-isolating, strike a balance between having a routine and making sure each day has some variety. It might end up actually feeling like quite a productive two weeks, as you often discover how efficiently you can get work done, and then you have time for more leisurely activities or ways to achieve personal or social goals . You could work through your to-do list, read a book you’d been meaning to get to or get in contact with that old friend you’ve been meaning to catch up with.

Also remember that social distancing does’t mean you can NEVER leave the house. You can still go outside occasionally, just avoid coming into close contact with many people. So, if you’re completely healthy, you can go for a walk, or visit a friend (while keeping the regulated distance. However, if you are in quarantine or in self isolation, you must avoid going outside. Therefore, I would advise that you have a Skype party with your nearest and dearest… OR, as I recently discovered how to, have a movie night and watch the same Netflix movie all together but in separate places.

5) Avoid burnout

Plan for staying at home or indoors while taking care of your mental health and well-being

With weeks and months of the corona-virus pandemic ahead, it is important to have down time. Mind recommends continuing to access nature and sunlight wherever possible. Do exercise, eat well and stay hydrated.

AnxietyUK suggests practising the “Apple” technique to deal with anxiety and worries.

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.

If you are still unsure as to how you can make the most of this bad situation, the following checklist can help you to not only ask the questions yo need to ask at this time, but also find solutions to whatever is causing you the most difficulty and mental distress.

  • Food and Nourishment: Do you have a way to get food delivered? Are you over/under-eating? How can you nourish yourself in a way that makes you happy and healthy?
  • Cleaning and Environment: Are you cleaning your space regularly? Is it something that makes you unhappy? How can you make cleaning and cleanliness less stressful and more soothing? And if you live with other people, should you create a household schedule? Do you need to agree how the household will run with everyone at home all day?
  • Money and Expenses: Are you budgeting for any higher bills or expenses? Will you save money from lower transport costs that you could spend elsewhere? How does money make you feel?
  • Work and Activities: Can you work from home or not? If not, what are your rights to payment or benefits? Are you still maintaining a regular working-week schedule? What are you doing to engage your mind in a productive way? Are you taking time to rest? Can you create a routine or timetable for yourself?
  • Health and Exercise: Can you reorganise any planned therapy or treatments? Do you have enough medication, or a way to get more? Are you making healthy decisions and taking time to stay as healthy as you need? Is there any physical activity you can do inside your home, such as going up and down the stairs, using bean tins as weights, or exercises you can do in your chair?
  • Commitments and connectivity: can someone else help you care for any dependants, walk your dog, or take care of any other commitments? Are you able to cancel trips, bookings and appointments and claim for refunds? Have you checked the contact details of the people you see regularly, like their phone numbers or email addresses? Do you have a regular time you could call or contact someone for a chat?
  • Relaxing and Recuperating : Have you thought how you could access/experience nature? Can you get some seeds and planting equipment, houseplants or living herbs? Have you thought about things to do, books to read or TV shows to watch? have you got materials so you can do something creative, such as paper and colouring pencils?

The information for this article was taken from MindUK and MentalHealth.org. All information was up to date at 2020.05.04. For further advice regarding COVID-19 please follow the updates from the WHO and do not spread or engage with the inaccurate or offensive spread of misinformation.

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