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Coronavirus: looking after your mental health

Amidst ongoing developments around the outbreak of COVID-19, it’s inevitable that many of us will be feeling unsure of what the future holds.

This uncertainty may lead to us feeling anxious or distressed. While this is understandable, there are a number of things you can do to reduce these feelings and stay on top of your mental health.

Read the latest guidance on coronavirus from the NHS

Here are some key tips:

1. Limit your news intake

With coronavirus updates coming in regularly, it’s easy to get caught up in reading or watching the news, or feel that you should be staying in the know. 

While it’s important to keep an eye on official guidance, it’s also important to switch off if you feel that too much reading, watching or listening to the news is taking its toll.

Stick to official sources for advice, i.e. the government, the NHS, and the World Health Organisation (WHO), and set specific times in the day to check these sources. Turn off any news notifications on your phone so you’re not feeling overwhelmed – the constant influx of updates can cause of a sense of panic.

Ensuring that you’re only getting the important facts can help to reduce the sense of a lack of control.

2. Take social media breaks

Misinformation can spread quickly on social media. Even though it can be a useful tool to connect with others, it can also be used to amp up hysteria.

If using social media to source information on coronavirus, only use official pages and accounts. Avoid clicking on coronavirus hashtags, engaging with rumours or unofficial guidance, and take steps to mute or unfollow accounts that are causing you distress.

It can also be a good idea to take time out of your day away from social media, whether this be to do something creative, exercise or read a book.

3. Do good

We know that there’s a connection between helping others and maintaining our own positive wellbeing.

In a time where vulnerable people may need assistance with everyday tasks such as getting their shopping, we can help to retain positivity by helping others.

If you’re unable to leave your place of residence, you can do good simply by checking in on a loved one, colleague or neighbour by phone or email.

4. Share good 

If you are using social media, spend time reading some positive news stories of people who have recovered, or who are coming together to make a difference. There’s a lot out there.

Share them on your platforms and help others to feel hopeful.

5. Stay connected

Over coming months, it will be necessary to engage in “social distancing”, which means you may not see your social connections face to face as we all avoid gatherings at restaurants, cinemas and theatres.

This doesn’t mean the end of your social life. Agree to phone, text, or FaceTime your loved ones throughout the day so you can check in with each other and retain normality.

6. Be one with nature

If you can access nature, it’s recommended you do so. Whether this be through your garden, exercising outdoors if it’s safe to do so, having flowers and house plants around you, or something as simple as listening to the birds through an open window.

Connectedness with nature and the outside world can help to boost our mood and feel more connected.

7. Keep up healthy habits 

There are a number of healthy habits that you should keep up with in order to stay on top of your wellbeing. Getting enough sleep, maintaining a routine, eating healthily, exercising regularly and drinking plenty of water are all day-to-day ways of staying mentally healthy.

8. Learning Meditation

Gaining a meditation practice has been proven to help relax your mind, lower blood pressure and decrease inflammation in your brain and body.  A few minutes everyday can help form a life-long habit of returning to a place of calm you already posses and reduce stress. It’s a tool that can be utilised anywhere and at anytime you need it. It doesn’t require a fancy membership, expensive equipment or lots of space and time. It’s worth trying different kinds of practices, from silent contemplation, following an app, to guided exercises to see what works best for you.

9. Keep your body moving 

Without your daily commute, school run or being able to spend ample time outdoors, we’re spending more time sitting and being inactive. Whilst it can be detrimental to worry about how little exercise you’re doing or feel like doing, being active for just 20 minutes can really help physical and mental health. Taking a walk in nature (while maintaining social distancing) or doing an online yoga class at home will help get your blood pumping around your body and to your brain, helping to boost your mood. 

10. Get plenty of sleep 

Sleep is not only critical to maintaining a functioning immune system and physical health, but key to helping feelings of anxiety and depression. Without proper rest it’s common to have low energy, feel irritable and unable to make informed decisions. Making sure you maintain a healthy sleep schedule will strengthen the body’s defences and help enhance your mood to give you energy for the day ahead. 

11. Invest in a hobby

You may have read that this is the perfect time to write the book or learn the instrument you’ve always dreamt of learning, but sometimes mustering the energy to get though each day feels like all you can really handle. Don’t let others posting on social media about the progress they’ve made learning to speak Spanish or perfecting their handstand make you feel like you haven't achieved anything.. You don’t have anything to prove right now. That said, doing something small and creative can help elevate feelings of stress by focussing your mind on something other than your inner dialogue. Things like painting, sewing, yoga or singing are activities you don’t need to present to the world for validation but can help maintain good mental health.

12. Keep a diary 

Journalling and tracking how you feel each day are practices often suggested even under more normal circumstances. This is a situation unlike no other time we’ve lived through so you’re likely to be feeling things that are unfamiliar or more heightened than before.  It’s likely that you’ll experience good days and bad days throughout lockdown and you may find it interesting to see what influenced how you felt throughout. Receiving a package or a long phone call with a friend might have motivated you to make a delicious dinner that day or spending hours watching the news or scrolling on social media might have meant you spent hours hiding under your duvet. 

13. Keep your regular routine

Try to get up and go to bed and the same time each day. Getting up, cleaning your teeth and body, getting dressed and being active physically and mentally in the morning and then going to bed and putting your phone down at a reasonable hour at night will help you to stay grounded in reality. Even just the act of dressing out of pyjamas and into regular clothes can help to distinguish times of the day. Opening the curtains and getting bright, natural light into the house has a positive effect on circadian rhythm. A good circadian rhythm is linked to positive mental health. 

14. Acknowledge your feelings and be kind to yourself as well as others

    It’s important to not discriminate against all the feelings you’re having. There is no such thing as good feelings or bad. Try to look at them without judgement and allow yourself to feel a spectrum of emotions. There is nothing wrong with feeling lonely or scared about the situation we’re in at the moment so it’s best to accept that those feelings are present. You may also be coping completely differently to your family, flatmate or friend and it’s important to not judge them if their values are not the same as yours. Practice kindness with those you live with, and importantly for yourself. Recognise the small achievements, what gets you through each day and be your best advocate. 

      Read the latest guidance on coronavirus from the NHS