By Jacinta Jardine, Innovation Associate & Content Writer at SilverCloud Health
April 27th, 2020 - With the COVID-19 pandemic, we are living through a world crisis the likes of which hasn’t been seen in 100 years.
The enormous scale of the crisis and the impact it is having are naturally causing a lot of fear, uncertainty and anxiety across the globe. Add social isolation, disrupted work and family routines, cabin fever and economic instability, and it is understandable that our mental health is suffering. In a recent survey, more than 6 in 10 UK adults (62%) said they felt anxious or worried.
The COVID-19 situation is particularly stressful because it’s hard to predict how things will develop, and our circumstances are changing rapidly. This can leave us feeling powerless, like we’re no longer in control of our own lives. As is the case in many aspects of our lives, there are things we can’t control in this situation. These include the actions and reactions of other people, how long the situation will last, and what might happen in the future.
Although these things might leave us feeling helpless, in reality there are still a lot of things we have power over in our lives, even during these trying times. Redirecting our energy towards these things will help us deal effectively with this situation.
In this blog we share tips from SilverCloud’s new COVID-19 program, to help people manage in these unique times.
Re-direct your energy towards the things you have control over
Here is our list of things that you can control to help you to maintain good mental health and resilience during these challenging times.
Your Response to COVID-19
Following the official health guidance for your country, e.g. staying at home and washing your hands regularly, is an important action that you have control over. It allows you to maintain your own wellbeing, while also contributing to the safety of your community. By playing your part, you are helping to slow the spread of the virus and protect the most vulnerable in society.
Top Tip: Limit your media usage. The amount of information available about the pandemic can be overwhelming. Understandably you may want to stay up to date with new developments, but constant exposure to news and COVID-19 related information can make you feel more stressed or anxious. Try limiting your exposure to once or twice a day, for a set period of time.
See your local health service or government website for reliable information and guidelines, or follow those of the World Health Organisation if in doubt.
Your Thoughts & Worries
Stress and anxiety are often accompanied by an overactive mind, full of circling thoughts and worries. Writing your thoughts down in a journal is a simple, yet highly effective method for calming a frantic mind. A good place to keep this journal is beside your bed, as it’s often when we are trying to sleep that buzzing thoughts are the most troublesome.
Problem solving can also help you to manage your thoughts and worries. It allows you to define exactly what you are worrying about, and then find the best solution.
Steps to effective problem solving
- Define the problem
- Think of as many solutions as possible, no matter how silly they may seem
- Consider the pros and cons of each solution
- Choose a solution to try
- Plan how you are going to implement the chosen solution
- Carry out the solution
- Review how it went. Were there any problems? What did you learn?
- Repeat the process if your chosen solution does not solve the problem
Top Tip: Use the Worry Time technique. Telling yourself to stop worrying about something usually has the opposite effect, making you think about it more. A more useful way to manage worry is to set aside a ten minute ‘worry time’ once or twice a day, where your only task is to worry. As your worries and concerns arise during the day, quickly write them down and set them aside for your worry time.
Your Social Connections
Social isolation is one of the biggest mental health challenges we are facing with this crisis. Many people are living alone or away from their support systems, which are usually essential well-being boosters in a time of crisis. We are tactile, social creatures by nature, so a lack of physical contact can be extremely difficult for us to cope with.
Maintaining social connections is crucial to your well-being at this time. Use all the tools available to you - phone or video calls, emails, letter writing, and social media, to stay in regular contact with your friends, family and communities. Remember that this period of isolation will end, so use this time to strengthen your connections, rather than letting them fade.
Top Tip: Support others. A powerful tool that you can make use of at this time is your ability to provide support and reassurance to others. Reaching out could involve sending a card or flowers, doing someone’s shopping or calling for a quick catch-up. This is particularly important for people living alone. Think of the people you know who are alone, what small gesture could you make to let them know you’re thinking of them?
Looking after yourself is an essential part of maintaining your energy levels and your resilience to stress. Airlines advise you to put on your own oxygen mask before helping other people. The same idea goes for self-care - you need to look after yourself first, in order to be there for other people.
- Eat a healthy diet - watch out for overeating and over drinking, which are common coping mechanisms in times of stress
- Get as much fresh air and daylight as possible. Get outside if you can, but even if it’s through a window, this will give you energy and help you sleep better
- Make sure you are getting enough good quality sleep - take time to wind down before bed
- Exercise regularly - moving your body is a great antidote to stress
- Spend time doing things you enjoy – it’s important to give yourself a break and do things that boost your mood
Top Tip: Try something new. These strange times provide an opportunity for us to break out of our normal routines and try new things. You could start a new project, try a new recipe, learn a new skill or try a new form of exercise.
We are creatures of habit, so disruptions to our usual routines can add stress to what is already a challenging time. Creating a new routine can bring structure back into your life. It also breaks up your time and prevents the days from blending into each other. Try to get up at the usual time, get dressed as you normally would and stick to regular mealtimes.
It is also important to recognise that in a time of crisis, you are unlikely to fulfil all your roles and responsibilities in the way you normally would. For example, you may now find yourself parenting and working simultaneously. Prioritising your time will ensure that you make time for the important things, while being realistic about what you can achieve.
Top Tip: Divide the day. If you are working from home, it is important to create a clear distinction between work and downtime. Exercise is a great way to do this, as it gets you moving and releases tension. If you aren’t working, it is still a good idea to create blocks of time for different activities and allow yourself to wind down in the evenings.
You are more than likely spending a lot of time at home at the moment, so it is worth making your environment as comfortable as possible. Think about how you can make it a more pleasant place to be – can you clean or declutter your space, or decorate it with photos or pictures? What about the smells and sounds in your environment, how could you improve these?
This is particularly important if you are isolating yourself and are confined to just one room. If possible, assign different activities to different areas in your room – one corner for working, another for relaxing, listening to music or reading.
Top Tip: Bring nature inside. A great way to improve an indoor environment is to bring some plant life inside. You could cultivate some seeds on a sunny windowsill, get a houseplant or some potted herbs or cut fresh flowers for a vase. Not only will plants liven up your home, tending to them is a restorative practice that can boost your well-being.
Maintaining a hopeful outlook in times of fear can be difficult. You might think that the future is bleak, or that being hopeful means you are ignoring the reality of the situation. But having hope is not the same as being optimistic about everything.
The best type of optimism is one which is balanced and realistic. Balanced optimism means you can hope for the best, while being prepared for the worst.
If you are finding it difficult to feel hopeful about the future, consider the silver linings in this situation. Ask yourself - what is good about what is happening? What are the opportunities here? Perhaps it has allowed you to slow down, spend more time with family or learn and do new things.
Top Tip: Keep a gratitude journal. Take a moment every evening to write down three things from the day that you are grateful for. This could be as simple as the weather, a pleasant chat with a neighbour or a tasty meal. Research shows that actively focusing on the positive elements of your life can help to change your outlook and improve your well-being and resilience.
Keep an eye on your mental health
During these challenging times, we need to keep an eye on our mental health and look out for those closest to us. There is no doubt that this is a tough situation, and it’s understandable that you might be feeling low or missing your loved ones. Reaching out and supporting each other is the best way for us to get through this. Remind yourself that this situation will not last forever, and that although you may feel lonely, you are not alone. We are all in this together.
The Space from COVID-19 program is available to anyone using SilverCloud, including NHS and care staff and their families.