Coronavirus: How to protect your mental health
As I write this, coronavirus is wreaking havoc around the world.
Italy is in big trouble, and Iran, most of Europe, the USA, and South Korea aren’t far behind.
I’m in the UK. Coronavirus is in exponential growth and I just read an article that says it’s estimated there may now be between 35,000 and 50,000 cases in the country.
Coronavirus has taken hold around the world, and we have a long and painful journey ahead of us.
Here in the UK, we’ve now officially been asked to avoid all unnecessary social contact and work from home wherever possible. People over 70 and those with health conditions are going to be asked to self-isolate for 4 months. The situation is escalating rapidly and new measures are being put into place every day. Many businesses are in trouble and people’s jobs are under threat. People are sick and people are dying. And the worst of it is yet to come.
So what do you do when you feel like you’re sitting on a ticking time bomb and there’s nothing you can do about it?
What do you do when things around you feel like they’re falling apart and are only going to get worse?
And how do you keep yourself sane when you find yourself shut away inside without your usual contact with friends, family and the outside world?
Here are my thoughts.
1. Focus on what you can control
I can’t control coronavirus. I can’t help the people who are infected. I can’t control the government’s response to the virus. And much as I wish to, I can’t guarantee the safety of the people I care about.
However, I can choose my own actions. And I am doing exactly that.
I am choosing to stay at home. I am choosing to do my work online. I am choosing to protect my friends and their families by not seeing them right now. And when I do need to go out, I am choosing good hand washing and hand sanitiser.
I’m also thinking about different ways I can help the people around me. From baking muffins for my in-laws, to seeing if any of my neighbours need help with groceries, and reaching out to friends to see how they’re doing, there are plenty of possibilities with this.
2. Find ways to stay connected with people
Social contact is extremely important for most people. That’s definitely the case for me, so figuring out how to replace the social contact I’m missing out on is going to be important. I like people. I enjoy talking to people. This is a big part of what keeps me happy, and I am now only spending time with my partner and his immediate family.
In the coming weeks, Skype, Zoom and Messenger will undoubtedly become more of a feature in my life. I will very likely even try the old fashioned method of using my phone to call people, something I don’t do much of these days. It could also be a great opportunity to reach out to people I’ve not been in touch with for a while, and I’m already considering who those people might be.
3. Find ways to keep moving
I’m much happier when I get out regularly, enjoy fresh air, and get some exercise each day.
I’m still going out for my daily walk or bike ride, and I feel completely happy about this as I’m not interacting with anyone when I do these things.
Ordinarily, I’d have other outings each week too though, and those are now gone. I’m therefore actively considering ways I can keep movement and variety in my life, even if most of it is based at home.
There is plenty I can do here. The garden needs attention. A proper spring clean would be highly beneficial. The cupboard under the sink in the kitchen is a mess. All of these things involve movement and exercise, and give variety to my day. And as an added bonus, the house could end up cleaner than it’s been for a long time, and the garden an absolute delight.
The internet can provide many opportunities for movement too. There’s a dance routine on YouTube I really enjoy and which gives me a good workout in the process, and no doubt there are plenty of exercise routines on YouTube which could do the same.
4. Use self-isolation as an opportunity
This comes back to focussing on what you can do. I’ve written myself a list of all the things I might choose to do in the coming weeks. Things for my business, things for myself, hobbies, exercise options, baking, learning new techniques for my coaching and therapeutic work, learning how to edit photos online, … the list goes on.
Having this list at hand gives me an easy way of evaluating options and choosing what to do or where to focus at any one point. It helps me feel like I have some control and gives me more variety and interest in my day.
5. Turn off the news
An area I’m finding challenging is getting away from talk about coronavirus. The news is full of it, conversations are full of it, and social media is full of it. I want to stay informed, but I know it’s not good for me to stay focussed on it all the time. I’m therefore choosing to limit my time on social media and turn the tv off after I’ve caught up with the latest developments, and I’m working hard to find other things to talk and think about.
Putting other mental stimulation in my day really helps. Things like doing sessions with people, contacting friends, writing this article and finding a short course to do online will give me something concrete to think about, and watching some light tv and some good movies will take me somewhere else for a while. I think it’s important for me to be doing that, and I encourage others to do the same.
The other thing I am actively working on is calm and relaxation. For me this means making sure I’m breathing properly, walking, sitting outside somewhere peaceful, listening to music, and doing nice, peaceful activities such as puzzles, craft or making jewellery.
6. Spread love and kindness
This is something we can all do, for the people we live with, for neighbours, and for family and friends, and we have the technology we need to do this even if we can’t see people in person.
Please, let people know that you’re thinking of them. Check in with them. Call them and have a chat. Send them a text or an email. It means a lot to people to know that others are thinking of them, and at a time when people are anxious and may be spending a lot of time alone, it can help them feel connected and give them something positive to focus on.
7. Look after your mental health
Doing all of the things above will help you to stay in a much better place mentally and emotionally.
Remember to take care of the basics and find new and inventive ways to give yourself the things you need - good food, social contact, exercise, fresh air, sunshine, mental stimulation, calm and relaxation, fun, laughter and love.