Your mind matters.
We all know the physical things to do to protect ourselves against the Coronavirus pandemic. We know to wash our hands (for 20 seconds with soap and warm water), to stay at least one metre away from other people, and to avoid crowded places. We know to cover our mouths and noses with a tissue when we cough or sneeze, and to isolate if we become unwell. We've stocked up on face masks and even learnt how to make our own at home to help ward off the virus.
But what do we do about our mental health? Just the word 'pandemic' can trigger feelings of anxiety and even a brief glimpse at the news is worthy of despair with photos of overcrowded hospitals, tales of people dying and thousands being quarantined, news of flights being cancelled and entire countries being put on lockdown. We're fearful for our own health, and for loved ones who might be more vulnerable. We're worried about our livelihoods, with the virus causing huge economic instability and profits to plummet.
We are stocking up on provisions, we're scrubbing our hands until they're raw and many of us are working from home to try to avoid becoming infected with the novel virus. But what should we be doing to care for our mental health at such a volatile, unprecedented and uncertain time? GLAMOUR takes a look at the simple steps we can all take to make sure we are caring for our own mental health, as well as helping others in need.
How to avoid Panic Culture
Panic is almost inevitable in a global crisis, but it is also almost always unhelpful. Plus, if you subject yourself to the panic, it's human nature to get swept up in it and you could find yourself acting irrationally (we're looking at you, stockpilers). This, in turn, creates more panic - and the whole thing becomes a vicious circle.
"Fear is an important feeling because it appears in situations where we need to act on an immediate threat," explains Daniel Mansson, clinical psychologist and co-founder of Flow Neuroscience. "Anxiety, on the other hand, comes easily in uncertain situations where the danger is unclear and in the future. Both feelings are a stress response and make your brain and body zoom in on the problem - and it’s draining because of the focus it requires. One effective way to keep anxiety down is to give the body the best possible ability to handle a stress response."
Daniel also recommends a diet low in processed foods and full of vegetables (especially green leaves), fruit, berries, nuts and seeds; "These beneficial foods have been shown to increase your ability to handle stress, recover from illnesses and difficult life events." He also recommends exercise to release mood-boosting dopamine and serotonin and meditation to help process difficult emotions.
Other ways to try and avoid the panic is to be mindful of your sources of information - silence the WhatsApp group that's spreading fake news and don't read the sensationalist headlines. To stay up to date with any important developments, head to The World Health Organisation, GOV UK or the NHS website. These three sources will cover anything you need to know in terms of safety and any recent regulations. The rest is just noise, which can be silenced.
Another thing is to make sure your mind has relief from constant stress. Watch a light-hearted comedy series on Netflix, download a feel-good movie or go old school and start a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle - anything to focus your mind on something stable and positive.
How to Tackle Loneliness
Many of us are working from home, either because offices are shutting as a precaution or some may be self-isolating. Although it may initially sound appealing, both scenarios can be extremely lonely.
According to Daniel, there is a key difference between feeling lonely and being alone; "It is all about perception. Always remember that this is a situation created by external circumstances and you are not more lonely than before the Covid-19 happened, even though you may be more alone. Some would say that this is splitting hairs. But this different perspective could make a huge difference in your mental ability to cope with the isolation."
If you are working from home, make sure you talk to colleagues and friends on the phone regularly. Although social media has a bad rep when it comes to mental health, this is the time to prove that it can be used for good. Use it for what it was originally intended for - human connection. Once a day, go outside for a walk in the fresh air and if possible, go to a park or open field. While you may still be by yourself, simply seeing others interact and smiling at strangers can boost our mood and make us feel like part of the community.
If you are self-isolating, it's very important that you don't mix with other people for at least seven days if you have a cough or fever, and at least 14 days if you have been exposed to the virus. The lack of any physical contact can be crushing but there are certain things that can help. A weighted blanket is designed to mimic the sensation of a hug and has been proven to relieve anxiety and aid sleep. Similarly, giving yourself a facial massage or hand massage (being sure to wash your hands thoroughly beforehand) can help to reconnect mind and body, bringing you into the physical space.
How to avoid cabin fever?
According to Daniel, the best way to avoid cabin fever is to keep your mind focused on something positive and in a goal-oriented matter. It also creates opportunities for you to contact your friends and discuss positive things. "Sit down and write yourself a list of things that you always wanted to learn. Maybe some 19th-century history or the essentials of beer brewing (or whatever you are interested in). Then go on to one of the many online education sites and take a course in that specific subject. Set clear goals on what you want to achieve. Engage other people in your surroundings. Check-in with each other now and then, and plan what the next stage in your project is."
Know Where to go for Help
GP surgeries and healthcare workers will be especially strained at this time, so it's a good idea to seek support from other sources. Reach out to community support groups as well as online services such as Better Help, which offers video consultations with mental health specialists from around the world.
There are also a number of at-home treatment options, including Flow, the world's first wearable device proven to help alleviate the symptoms of clinical depression. "If you already have a diagnosis of depression and feel that you need extra help, Flow is treatment combining a brain stimulation headset and therapy app which is classified as a medical device in the UK," explains Daniel. "It has similar effects to antidepressants but has the advantage of being a medication-free treatment which means fewer side effects."
This article originally appeared on Glamour UK.