Looking after your mental health during COVID 19

COVID 19 will affect us all. Our lives are changing quickly, we are isolating ourselves and social distancing – which cannot be good for our mental health [1]. The inevitable uncertainty will also put pressure on our emotions and resilience [2]. It is normal to feel afraid and worried in the face of uncertainty and adversity – but there are also things we can do to look after our mental health and wellbeing during these times.


Look after the basics

Though this may be a little harder due to isolation and social distancing, we should all try to eat a balanced diet, with at least five portions of fruit and vegetables. Drink plenty of water and take vitamins. Our sleep is also very important, with evidence showing that poor sleep quality is associated with feelings of depression and anxiety [3]. We should aim for at least 7 hours a night.

It is well known that physical activity improves mental wellbeing [4], but this can seem like a very difficult task if we are not able to leave our homes. If possible, we should try to do 30 minutes of physical activity each day, even if it is just running up and down stairs several times! There are many excellent home workout videos available online (I’ve started a 30 days of yoga challenge!). You could even get your friends and family to join in – virtually, over the internet – so it feels like you are at a gym class together.  


Keep your brain active

Boredom is a massive risk factor when isolating, as many of us shift to working from home or are unable to work at all. Boredom can often lead to rumination and worry [5]. It is important to use this free time to engage our brains. We should try to do a jigsaw or crossword each day. Or start a new hobby, such as painting, knitting or baking. You could even start writing a book. When Issac Newton self-isolated to avoid the plague, he discovered gravity, experimented with prisms and the refraction of light, and began work on the calculus. When we are bored, avoiding COVID 19, we could be a couch-potato, or we could be like Newton.


Connect with others

Good relationships are important for our mental wellbeing. They provide emotional support and allow us to support others, they give us an opportunity to share positive experiences and help build a sense of belonging.

Staying connected is even more important, now that the government has advised against all but essential social contact. Luckily, we live in an age were almost everyone is just a phone call away. We should try to regularly stay in touch with others on social media, e-mail or the phone.

However, it is important that we assess our social media activity. Evidence shows that social media use can be associated with rumination and feelings of depression [6]. We should all check in with ourselves from time to time – if we find that spending too much time on social media is causing us to worry, then we can take some time off, or mute/unfollow accounts or hashtags that make you feel anxious.


Try to relax

We shouldn’t feel guilty for not being productive – it’s very difficult to concentrate in the middle of a global pandemic! It can be easy to compare ourselves to others during this stressful period. But we need to be kind to ourselves, we may not be in the right headspace to clean the house or do all the washing – and that’s fine.

Many people are now facing the additional struggle of having to possibly home school or entertain children for the foreseeable future. This can create further pressure when many parents do not have the time or resources to do this. This is exacerbated by isolation or social distancing.

No-one is perfect, it’s OK to spend a day watching all those films on Netflix that we have wanted to watch. Take some time to yourself – read a book, have a bath, play video games.


Help others

Evidence shows that helping others through a charitable activity (and it’s better to give our time and effort, rather than money) benefits our mental wellbeing [7].

If we’re healthy and able – we could offer to pick up some shopping for our neighbours (although make sure this is done safely!). We could try to phone those who we know might be isolated, as they may be feeling lonely or in need of some groceries or medicine.

We can be thankful to the incredible people working through COVID 19. Acknowledge the amazing health care workers, first responders, support workers, supermarket staff and delivery who are keeping us safe… and, if we can, offer practical support.


Share positive stories

It is very easy to watch the news each day and focus on the negatives – it is a very real threat and our reaction is justifiable. But it is also important to share any positive stories. For example, almost 90,000 people have fully recovered from COVID 19 and today, China reported ZERO new cases for the first time.

Here are a few more positive stories:

  • Eastbourne have set up a telephone befriending service to keep their community together [8].
  • The levels of pollution are down massively. Up to 100,000 premature deaths caused by air pollution in China could be avoided. Venice’s canals are clear, and fish are visible [9].
  • The owner of Louis Vuitton has started making hand sanitiser for hospitals, for free [10].
  • 10,000 people have signed up to the British Red Cross to volunteer to help others –dropping off milk, delivering food parcels or delivering the daily paper [11].
  • Chelsea Football Club and Manchester United team-mates, Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs, are all making their hotels available to NHS staff, to support those working long shifts who may not be able to travel home [11] – many other companies offering free hot drinks or discounts to NHS staff too!

If you feel like you need help, don’t be afraid to ask for it. You don’t have to deal with negative thoughts and feelings alone. There are a number of crisis lines or websites offering emotional support (e.g. Mind https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/coronavirus-and-your-wellbeing/, The Samaritans https://www.samaritans.org/).


Human beings have an incredible ability to adapt and survive, through altruistic and co-operative means. Be kind and considerate, look after yourselves and each other.

Blog by Patsy Irizar, with advice from Professor Peter Kinderman.


References:

[1] Leigh-Hunt, N., Bagguley, D., Bash, K., Turner, V., Turnbull, S., Valtorta, N., & Caan, W. (2017). An overview of systematic reviews on the public health consequences of social isolation and loneliness. Public Health152, 157-171.

[2] Afifi, W. A., Felix, E. D., & Afifi, T. D. (2012). The impact of uncertainty and communal coping on mental health following natural disasters. Anxiety, Stress & Coping25(3), 329-347.

[3] Zochil, M. L., & Thorsteinsson, E. B. (2018). Exploring poor sleep, mental health, and help‐seeking intention in university students. Australian journal of psychology70(1), 41-47.

[4] Paluska, S. A., & Schwenk, T. L. (2000). Physical activity and mental health. Sports medicine29(3), 167-180.

[5] Goldberg, Y. K., Eastwood, J. D., LaGuardia, J., & Danckert, J. (2011). Boredom: An emotional experience distinct from apathy, anhedonia, or depression. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology30(6), 647-666.

[6] Feinstein, B. A., Hershenberg, R., Bhatia, V., Latack, J. A., Meuwly, N., & Davila, J. (2013). Negative social comparison on Facebook and depressive symptoms: Rumination as a mechanism. Psychology of Popular Media Culture2(3), 161.

[7] Klein, N. (2017). Prosocial behavior increases perceptions of meaning in life. The Journal of Positive Psychology12(4), 354-361.

[8] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/coronavirus-eastbourne-east-sussex-blitz-spirit-telephone-befriending-service-community-a9408926.html

[9] https://www.sciencealert.com/here-s-what-covid-19-is-doing-to-our-pollution-levels

[10] https://news.sky.com/story/coronavirus-louis-vuitton-owner-to-make-hand-sanitiser-for-hospitals-11958170

[11] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/03/18/six-positive-coronavirus-stories-wednesday-18-march/

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