The coronavirus crisis can affect us in many different ways: physically, emotionally, economically, socially, and psychologically. Because the virus is unseen, unknown and seemingly inescapable, it grips us with a sense of dread, driving unhealthy thought patterns and associations.
The issue is dominating the news and conversations everywhere. You can become overwhelmed with information, making life feel difficult or stressful. During these testing times, we want to encourage you to look after your mental wellbeing, as well as your physical self — this is extremely important.
There are various steps that you can take to help your wellbeing. This information is to help you cope with:
- Feelings of anxiety around coronavirus;
- Staying at home or avoiding public places;
- Self-isolation. Remember, we’re talking about physical distancing — not emotional distancing.
(The NHS has published advice about self-isolation. For information on how long to self-isolate, consult the current government advice)
When we are facing a crisis of any sort, fear and anxiety are inevitable; they are normal, natural responses to challenging situations infused with danger and uncertainty. So, the single most useful thing anyone can do in any type of crisis — coronavirus-related or otherwise — is to focus on what you can control.
- Acknowledge your thoughts. It is ok to share your concerns with others that you trust — doing so could help them too. You could try a charity helpline or webchat for example, such as Lifeline or the Samaritans.
- If you are prone to panic attacks or flashbacks, establish a safe space in your home that you can go to when feeling uncomfortable or nervous.
- Connect back to your body. You might have your own methods of slowing your breathing but you can press your fingertips together, count in for 7 and out for 11 — whatever works for you.
- The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy has more information on how to cope if you're feeling anxious about coronavirus.
Some mental ill health can cause difficult behaviours around hygiene and cleanliness, making it hard to hear constant — and vital — public appeals to wash one’s hands in an effort to curb the spread of the virus. If this is a sensitive subject for you, try the following:
- If you are finding yourself distressed, try taking a break from the chatter around the advice. Let other people know you’re struggling by, for example, asking them not to remind you to wash your hands.
- Breathing exercises can help you cope and feel more in control. Check out these simple breathing exercises on the NHS website, along with our guide to relaxation techniques.
- Wash your hands for the recommended 20 seconds but set that as your limit. Plan on doing something after washing your hand, helping distract and change your focus.
- It could also help to read some tips and information on obsessive compulsive disorder.
Maintaining healthy relationships with people you trust is important for your mental wellbeing. Self-isolation doesn't mean emotional isolation. Many people in your communities are finding the current situation difficult, so staying in touch could help them too.
- Try to make plans to chat with people or groups you’d normally speak with in person. Video and phone calls, instant messages and texts are all good ways of connecting with people during these uncertain times.
- You could even make a plan to watch a show or a film or read a book separately, then chat about it with your friends later on.
- If you’re part of a support group; team or group communications are useful for receiving updates and can also serve as an informal support network.
- If you're going online more than usual or seeking peer support on the internet, it's important to look after your online wellbeing. Mind has published guidance for good online mental health, which provides advice and helps you protect yourself.
- If you are worried about becoming lonely, this is perfectly understandable. Listen to the radio or podcasts, talk on the phone, chat with loved ones online. Working on relationships with friends, family and colleagues will help build positive thoughts and banish negative ones.
The benefits of nature are great in number and they’re right on your doorstep. Spending time in green space or bringing nature into your everyday life can benefit both your mental and physical wellbeing, especially if you’re feeling a bit claustrophobic. It can improve mood, reduce stress and anger, and raise relaxation.
With the new government restrictions, we will all be spending more time indoors but you can easily try:
- Opening the window to let in the fresh air.
- Having flowers or potted plants in your home.
- Using natural, easy-to-find materials to decorate your living space.
- Arranging a comfortable space to sit and look out over a natural view.
- Growing plants or flowers on windowsills.
- Listening to natural sounds — be they audio recordings or apps that play birdsong, ocean waves or rainfall.
- Getting as much natural light as possible. Spend time in the garden if you have one, or open the door and sit outside if you can.
And, if you can, get out and about; go for a walk or run, keeping in mind government restrictions.
If working from home isn’t something you often do, it can present specific challenges, not least of which is the fact that you are carrying out your professional responsibilities in a familiar, non-professional setting. The change of setting, especially if it’s your house or apartment, can upset your daily work routine. However, there are ways to overcome any difficulties:
- Get started early, just as you would on any other day. Don’t prolong breakfast — get into your to-do list as soon as possible.
- Pretend like you are going into the office. The mental association you make between work and an office can make you more productive.
- Structure your day as if you are in work. Forget the fact that you are sitting in your own office or front room. Draw up a schedule to maintain focus.
- Identify and occupy a dedicated workspace, one that you can associate with the activity of work.
- Disable your ways of procrastinating. If it’s practical, and doesn’t interfere with the immediate tasks you’re working on, unplug your wifi. Log out of social media accounts and put your phone on the other side of the room.
- Familiarise yourself with when you are productive and capitalise on those periods, completing any tasks that tend to take a long time. Smaller, more straightforward tasks can be done during the other parts of the day.
- It can be so easy to get distracted and avoid breaks altogether. Don't let the guilt of working from home compromise your need to step away and recharge. Responsible employers should be encouraging this in the office and should have no problem with you doing it at home.
- Interact with other your colleagues during the day. Platforms like Zoom or Microsoft Teams are good ways of connecting and communicating with each other throughout the day.
One of the main difficulties in the present situation is staying at home to work, while also looking after children who are off school. Parents and carers might face a lot of anxiety stemming from not knowing what to say to kids and an expectation around sustaining a full education schedule. These tips might help you plan:
- This can be a difficult time for your children — being mindful of your children’s mental health, and offering reassurance and information, can really help them cope with and understand the current situation. Antrim and Newtownabbey Council have posted an informative video on this topic.
- Take the pressure off yourself. Consider more leniency with respect to your children’s social media and mobile phone use. Don’t feel guilty, you are doing a great job.
- In the absence of school, kids might find it challenging to be on their own, separated from their peers. Get your children to write letters to their friends talking about what they have been reading or watching.
- Find out from school what homework and digital learning is available and required.
- Alternatively, encourage children to select books or podcasts they'd like to explore during their time away from school. You can play card and board games or complete puzzles to stay active or be creative.
- For older teens, there are free online courses they could try out, FutureLearn and BBC Bitesize for example. Your local library might also have online activities or resources you can use.
- If you plan to work from home, think about how to balance this with caring for your children.
Whether you’re working from home or deliberately self-isolating, regulate your time and try to follow a routine. Think about how you can carry on your normal routines and try to do things that are useful or meaningful to you.
- Get up and go to bed at your usual time, filling the period in between with normal activities; set alarms to remind you of any new schedule if that helps.
- Alternatively, this might offer an opportunity to tweak the daily routine: retiring and rising earlier, spending more time cooking, reading or pursuing other interests that life’s demands stop you from doing.
- Think about how you’ll spend time alone at home. For example, plan activities for different days or habits you want to maintain.
- If you live with other people, you could all agree a household schedule.
- Respect each other's privacy and space — try to avoid arguments.
There are lots of different ways that you can relax. Take advantage of the time afforded and unlock your creativity. Such activities could include:
- Arts and crafts.
- Mindfulness and meditation.
- Playing instruments, singing or listening to music
- Writing or reading.
If you’re spending a lot more time at home, through self-isolation or forced quarantine, or social distancing, you can effectively spend your time keeping your mind and body busy; any meaningful activity is a plus.
- Reserve time in your schedule to do puzzles; read books, magazines and articles; or listen to podcasts and watch films.
- Some libraries have apps that members can use to borrow ebooks, audiobooks or magazines from home for free.
- FutureLearn and OpenLearn have free online courses you could try.
- There are a number of apps available to help you learn new things, from foreign languages to new skills, such as cooking.
- Exercising brings two benefits: It improves your physical health and it makes you feel good, helping to build up your wellbeing.
- From going for a run to taking a leisurely stroll, getting active is a straightforward way to lift your mood.
- Even if you’re self-isolating, you can be active at home by cleaning your house, following online workouts, doing Sudoku puzzles or completing crosswords.
At times like these, people are feeling anxious. A sense of community can help ease these fears and foster a sense that we’re all in this together. While you’re focusing on yourself, don’t forget that there are vulnerable and lonely people all around.
- Do something nice for a friend or stranger.
- Check in on a neighbour. You can talk to them through the door or if you have their number, give them a text or call.
- Volunteer your time or consider contributing to charity or a food bank.
Linking your happiness to the happiness of the wider world can be very rewarding. But you must also be kind to yourself. Make an effort to focus on you by starting a new hobby or scheduling time to focus on an old one. Revisit your favourite book or take a bath and listen to a playlist of relaxing songs. This is the time to be kind to the world — that includes you.
As the current coronavirus situation develops, a lot of us will be overwhelmed by information and this may open up concerns. Difficult feelings are guaranteed to continue showing up as this crisis unfolds: fear, anxiety, anger, sadness, guilt, loneliness, frustration, confusion, and many more. Our advice:
- Social media helps you stay in touch with people, but, for some, it can induce anxiety. Think about taking a break or limiting how you use social media.
- Stay connected with current events but ensure that you are basing your actions and thoughts on facts, not emotions. NHS guidance on the coronavirus is constantly updated, as is the European Union’s assessment of the situation.