Written by Louise Chunn
In May there was a Mental Health Awareness Week, but mental health is not something that can be allocated a week-slot and then forgotten about. Especially now, as we are buffeted by the winds of the Covid-19 pandemic. The lockdown appears to be starting to ease in parts of the UK, but all the experts warn that many British people will suffer from mental health problems in the weeks and months to come.
With home-working, furloughed staff, home-schooling, social distancing, the norms of British life came in for a sharp change at the end of March: no football, no pub, no Monday morning rush hour, no chatting in coffee shops, no religious gatherings, concerts or plays.
Going forward though we will have to figure out how to work and live together safely while also overcoming any mental obstacles that arose from the lockdown. Potential problems might be relationships cracking under the pressure of too much time in close proximity; or anxiety and depression brought about by the loss of normal life structures; or insecurity about the future, including income and savings. Extreme occasions such as this (not that most of us have ever experienced anything remotely similar) are also likely to trigger people who have already suffered anxieties, trauma and crises in their lives.
Speaking to therapists, counsellors and psychotherapists, it’s clear that taking the right steps can help steer most of these people into safer straits. Here are six ideas to explore and share in this difficult time.
Focus on your strengths
Our brains right now are highly sensitive to what we could lose than they are to what could be gained, says London therapist Jay Rai. “Fear has a way of hijacking rational thinking, driving us to terrorise ourselves with horror images that, in reality, are very unlikely, if not outright implausible. The more anxious the climate, the more deliberate you need to be to reset your attention towards the positive outcomes you want to create rather than fretting about all you don’t.”
Avoid this happening by focusing on what you are coping with right now, not what might happen in the future.
Speak calmly: your words create your reality
If you use Armageddon-like language your body and mind will experience it. When you use language that implies that you trust yourself to meet your challenges as they arise, you not only spare yourself a lot of stress, you also spare others by not spreading it.
Remain in reality
Read official reports, advises Joshua Miles, another therapist, and familiarise yourself with the risk to you personally. But be careful how much media you take in. A constant diet of Public Health England’s infection rates and arguments by armchair epidemiologists about what next steps should be taken will only keep your alarm bells ringing. Instead, find internal stability and make conscious attempts at clear thinking.
Boost all healthful and empowering practices
Feeling under stress compromises your immune system, which is something you definitely don’t want at this moment. To help you de-stress, and feel strong and more able to handle the challenges that may still be ahead, don’t forget these simple rules:
- Get some exercise every day, in your home, or — with due care — outside.
- Eat well, including as much fresh fruit and vegetables as you can. Try not to use alcohol excessively.
- Sleep is a great healer, though not everyone is finding it easier to nod off, or stay there. If that is a problem, try using a meditation app like Calm or Headspace to put you in the zone first.
- Get out in nature whenever possible (and permitted).
Talk and share
You may not be able to share space with friends and family, but staying close to them through any means of communication is very important. As Joshua Miles says, confide in a friend, partner or family member about your anxious thoughts; they may share them. Many people find sharing memes and funny videos on social media is lightening the load for them. There are also community Facebook pages and WhatsApp groups to keep you up with what’s happening in your neighbourhood.
As for work, the amount of connection will depend on your employer and your employment status. They will have their own requirements and processes. But you may also find a lot of support in connections with your work colleagues. The people who you shared office space with are close in your relationship circles, and it can be surprising to realise how pleased you are to be in touch with them during this difficult time.
Don’t set yourself too many targets
Some people may imagine that this is an opportunity for extra productivity or new creativity. And it may be. But the opposite can also be true. If you are having problems adjusting to the lockdown, a strict programme of self-improvement can be stressful to begin and then disappointing if you stop. Better to be self-compassionate and take any project at a moderate pace, not being afraid to stop if you do not enjoy it.
It is understandable to feel anxious, worried or fearful during this crisis, especially if for any reason you already feel vulnerable either physically or due to your mental health. But what if all these different ideas for keeping stress and anxiety from your door don’t work? What if you can’t stop catastrophising, or sleep evades you every night, or you can feel depression taking over?
Due to social distancing rules, you can’t be in the room with a therapist or counsellor at the moment, but these professionals are still very much in practice all over the UK. Consultations have moved to video platforms such as Zoom, or FaceTime or phone or even email. These experts are trained and experienced in helping their clients negotiate the stresses and panic of all kinds of disasters. They can lead the way to finding an accommodation with the way we are living, and what comes next.
You can find a verified therapist on welldoing.org, the UK’s leading therapist matching platform.
Louise Chunn is the founder of therapist-matching platform welldoing.org. She is the former prize-winning editor of Psychologies, Good Housekeeping and four other magazines; she is married with three grown-up children and lives in London.
Welldoing.org are a white label partner of Youatwork, offering a range of benefits to their therapists