This is a truly strange time. We have not experienced anything like it before and it is something that none of us could have prepared for. So, right now, it’s normal and totally understandable to have a whole array of feelings. You may already be fearful of the virus and for the safety of yourself and those you care about. You are likely to be struggling, as most people are, with ‘lockdown’, and managing a different life right now. So much is unknown, which is always unsettling. If you also have to isolate yourself, you may have extra stresses and concerns. So, let’s look at some things you can do to look after your mental health and wellbeing during this very challenging time.
Expect difficult and different emotions
At times of stress, it can be tempting to try and push away your feelings. You might feel overwhelmed and scared at times by the amount of emotions that you are experiencing. These emotions can also vary hugely and can sometimes feel like being on a rollercoaster.
You may feel scared of being isolated, for lots of different reasons, and worried about being on your own, or indeed with your partner or family. You may feel anxious and unsure about how to cope and about how things will move on or change. You may feel angry and frustrated with how things are. You may feel guilty for not being in work. You may even feel relieved that you are isolating, as it might feel safer.
It is really important that you don’t give yourself a hard time for getting these feelings. They don’t mean that anything is wrong with you. It is important to develop ways of managing them in order to help your mental health and wellbeing. But please recognise that these feelings are normal and understandable.
Here are a few things to think about that might help:
Contact with others
Whilst it’s really important for most of us to make contact with others at this time, it’s also important to think about ‘who’, ‘when’ and ‘how’. We all have those friends that can be a little pessimistic, and others who tend to be more positive, and those who we turn to for support. So, make choices about when you speak to these different people in your life. You know your family and friends best, and you know who you might be in the mood for, or not! A lot of people like to use video contact at the moment, but it’s not right for everyone; you may prefer telephone calls or texts. Or it might be different with different people. Take control and decide what is right for you. Be cautious about social media. Of course it can help. But whilst it’s been used in the past to show the glossy side of people’s lives, there is currently a lot of sharing of negative and sometimes fake news. So you might want to again, pick your moments to look at it, and choose who to follow.
Don’t compare yourselves with others. We all share this difficult time, but we will all experience things differently. Sometimes you might feel like everyone is coping better than you, and at other times feel that they are dragging you down. So, remember, your feelings are not wrong, they will change and they won’t always match other peoples.
Whether you are on your own, or with family, not having a routine can make things feel more disorientating and anxiety provoking. Try to keep the basics like getting up, dressed, eating meals and going to bed, at regular times. That isn’t to say you can’t have a lie in sometimes, or a late night, but as a general rule, it can be helpful to keep some routines. If you have kids it’s also important for them to have routines. At a time with so much uncertainty, having some control and predictability can bring some comfort and security.
Balance activities and downtime
There are so many blogs and posts out there telling us that this is a time to be creative and learn new skills. That might be true, but you might not feel like it. Doing some things that distract you and give you a focus, whether it’s taking up new interests, revisiting old ones, or keeping up with established ones, are really good for your confidence and mental wellbeing. However, some days when you are anxious, tired or fed up, you may just want to curl up on the couch and watch Netflix. That’s ok too sometimes. You might need to recharge, rest, and do something comforting. Just allow yourself to do what’s right for you, and accept that each day will bring about different energies and priorities. The same will be true for your family and children, or whoever else you live with, so you will have to find ways of communicating and balancing your differing needs.
Look after your body too
Physical and mental wellbeing go hand in hand, so looking after your body right now is really important. Try and eat healthily. Give yourself treats of course, you deserve it and it’s comforting, but try to limit these. Likewise with alcohol, it can be tempting to drink more, but it will have the opposite effect of lowering your mood if you overdo it.
Exercise can be difficult to do if you are isolating, but you can do some things indoors, by creative use of space and some household objects! There are plenty of suggestions on the internet.
Sleep is also important when we are stressed, and you might find you need a little more at the moment, that’s fine. You may find it hard to sleep if you are anxious. If so, avoid watching worrying news before you go to bed, and try not to eat or drink alcohol or caffeine too late. Getting good sleep is one of the best things you can do to improve your mental wellbeing. Look at the link below for more tips
One of the difficult issues right now is that a lot of what is going on is out of our control. So thinking about what things in your life you can control, can be of help. Take control of the things we have already spoken about, our communications, routines, activities, and our bodies. You might also find it helpful, to take control of when, where and how you read the news at the moment. Some mobile phones have news apps that provide ‘pop up headlines’, which might appear at a time you are trying to relax or have a different focus. Maybe switching that off will put you more in control. Limit the time you spend looking at the news items, and avoid googling endlessly about it.
Don’t forget what you already know
Remember, before this difficult time, you got by. You had ways of dealing with difficult times. Of course, with present limitations, you might not be able to do all of the things that helped you in the past, but you may be able to adapt some of them. Don’t forget what you know, and draw on some of your previous coping strategies, they are still there.
There is plenty more information and help out there. Look at the below link for further support, particularly if you are struggling with other mental health issues. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/mental-health-helplines/
Remember, you are not alone, though isolation can make it feel that way. This is new, and we are all finding our way through it, but we are all in it together in one way or another. Connect with the world in whatever way feels best for you.
Written by Heather Dickinson RMN