Adjusting to the new normal - how to look after your mental well-being during the COVID-19 crisis

Updated: Mar 31, 2020

These are unprecedented times we are currently living in. The current COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives in so many ways. We are all feeling worried, anxious and scared for various different reasons. We may be worrying about our health and the health of our families, or we may have financial concerns or even feel anxious about having to stay home for a prolonged period.

Whatever the cause of our worries, it's important to know that it's ok to feel like this. In fact, it's entirely normal. Our brains try to protect us from harm by instigating the survival response known more commonly as fight or flight. Its alerting us to danger so that we can stay vigilant and avoid further harm. It's there in all of us and without it, we wouldn't have survived as a species for as long as we have. Anxiety can even be helpful to us at times and can actually improve our performance in certain situations such as taking a test or competing in a race. it is certainly helps us when faced with danger that we might need to take adverse action to avoid in order to protect ourselves. However, the physical symptoms of anxiety can feel really unpleasant so here are some simple things you can do to help you calm your threat response and reduce those unpleasant physical sensations that make us feel so bad.

1. Practice Compassion

Compassion for ourselves and others has never been more important right now. However you choose to deal with these very frightening times is ok. Some are seeing this time as an opportunity for self reflection and transformation. Learning new skills and growing through education is definitely a great way to use the long days at home, stave off depression and improve our levels of well-being but it's completely fine if you feel so overwhelmed that all you can manage is to brush your teeth, put on clean pyjamas and lie in front of Netflix all day. Everyone is different and we shouldn't judge anyone for dealing with this situation in whatever way is most helpful for them.

2. Find a routine that works for you

Without a doubt, the days feel super long right now, in fact they feel endless. Getting up slightly later might feel wrong but another half an hour in bed isn't an indulgence during this time. Many of us will be struggling with sleep right now and we need to find ways of being able to rest and restore. Don't be afraid to reassess your rules around productivity. The rule book is currently out of the window! If you have kids at home then your day will revolve around home schooling but make sure you take time time out for yourself too. Sticking to a routine where you can helps us adjust to this uncertain time by creating certainty. A new normal if you will.

3. Challenge negative thoughts

Many of our thoughts right now are going to be more hypothetical 'what if?' type questions. The kind of things that can go around and around in our heads which we try to chase in trying to find answers. Of course if they are hypothetical then they are probably unanswerable right now and we should try to let them go. However, this is easier said than done so we can try to challenge them by looking at more balanced perspectives or more likely outcomes rather than the catastrophe we fear the most. We can also try to postpone our worry if we can, distracting ourselves with pleasant thoughts and activities until we can give our worries our full attention later. In this way we can learn to control our worries rather than letting our worries control us.

4. Schedule time for self care

Making time to look after ourselves is going to be crucial during this incredibly difficult time. Pampering, mindfulness, guided meditation, listening to soothing music and reading are all activities to self soothe and calm a worried mind. Equally, eating healthily, staying hydrated and physical activity are also excellent ways to ensure we are taking proper care of ourselves. That said, treating ourselves to the occasional indulgence is also important for our comfort. Now is not the time to embark on a punishing excercise or diet regime. We need to be gentle with ourselves.

5. Limit consumption of information

The amount of news and information in relation to COVID-19 is completely overwhelming and it can really increase our anxiety if we're not careful. There is however a balance to be found between informing ourselves responsibly and causing ourselves unnecessary worry. Try to stick to reputable sources of information only such the BBC, WHO and NHS websites. Take regular social media breaks and fill your time with pleasant activities as much as you possibly can.

6. Be a responsible person

Its easy to feel panicked and to act on these feelings however, panic will not help us during this stressful period in our lives. The best we can do in protecting ourselves and others is to observe the guidance around hand washing, social distancing and not panic buying. None of us want to be in this situation any longer than we have to be but by abiding by the rules and staying home, we can shorten the life span of this terrible illness, save the lives of our front-line workers and vulnerable neighbours and get back to normal as soon as possible. This situation will end, there is light at the end of the tunnel and by looking out for each other and acting as a community rather than individuals we will reach it all the sooner.

#wellbeing #covid19mentalhealth #mentalhealth #isolationsurvival

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