Protecting your Mental Health During the Coronavirus

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As the coronavirus (COVID-19) continues its grip on the world, many countries are encouraging people to stay in to avoid catching the virus or self-isolate when they start to show symptoms. However, this can have an effect on our mental health.

Loneliness

Social support is important for our mental health. Loneliness has also been found to affect our mental health. Having friends, family and colleagues around us to listen to us, to support and help us can improve our mental health. Being alone or feeling lonely can actually have the opposite effect. Humans are social animals and crave the contact of others.   

Loneliness can have a range of negative physical and mental effects, such as feelings of depression, suicide and stress. It can lead to antisocial behaviour, drug and alcohol misuse, increased levels of smoking and decreased memory and learning. Physical effects can include increased risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke and the progression of diseases, such as Alzheimer’s Disease.  Being lonely can also affect our brain function.

Older people are among the groups most at risk of coronavirus and the ones being encouraged to self-isolate, but they are already at more risk of being lonely. For example, if they live alone or do not see their family and friends so often. They may struggle to go out. So, add this on top of being encouraged to stay in due to the coronavirus, and we can see that older people (and others) may struggle mentally and physically.

How can we avoid this?

  • Stay in touch with others by other methods – the phone, social media, skype and so on.
  • If you do not have many close friends, there are often befriending lines and so on, where people will have a chat with you.
  • Why not consider other methods – write to someone you haven’t been in touch with for a while or don’t get in touch with often.
  • Look for penpals. There are organisations online where you can find penpals for people of any age.

Anxiety

The news is currently constantly reporting the number of cases of people with coronavirus, how many are dying and what we should do. The news changes almost by the hour and there are many conflicting and sensationalist reports. This can increase the anxiety levels of many of us, which again can lead to negative physical and emotional effects. It can particularly cause problems for people who are already experiencing anxiety.

How can we avoid this?

  • Turn off phone and news alerts. The constant pinging of alerts with more bad news can increase our anxiety levels.
  • Try to focus on something else and only look at the news when you want to. Perhaps give yourself a time frame. I will only look at the news every 3 hours or every evening, rather than constantly checking it.
  • Only look at reliable news sources, not sensationalist news or potentially false news.

Physical Exercise

Being stuck in can also reduce our levels of physical exercise. Here we are focussing on mental health, but physical exercise has been well linked to our psychological state. Exercise can increase our levels of serotonin, which improves our mood. Being outdoors in greenery has also been found to improve our mood, focus and attention. So staying indoors can make us feel sluggish and depress our mood.

How can we avoid this?

  • Research has shown that even looking at photographs or images of greenery can help to improve our mood, or simply looking out of the window onto greenery if this is possible.
  • Doing exercises in the house can also help to improve our mood.

Relationships with Family

Being at home with your family nearly 24 hours a day may be a luxury that many of us do not often experience, but this luxury can start to lead to tension if not handled well. Adults and children who are not with each other all day normally may suddenly be in close contact 24 hours a day.

How can we avoid this?

  • Spend time alone. Go to another room and spend time reading or drawing, doing homework.
  • Go out in the garden if you have one. Encourage children to go out and play, but adults can also benefit from spending time outside.
  • Try to stick to a routine. It can be easy to fall out of routines when children are not at school and adults not at work, but try to focus on a set routine of getting up and going to bed to avoid massive changes in your life and life style.
  • Don’t sit there all day watching TV or playing computer games. Encourage everyone to spend time doing constructive tasks. This is not to say that watching TV or being on the computer is banned, but don’t do it any more than you usually would.
  • Adults and children may actually socialise via computer games. Many online games can mean that children (and adults) can talk to each other, so it can be a good way for children to keep in touch with their friends.
  • Social media, the phone and so on can also be other ways to socialise without face to face contact.
  • The main tip is to keep your calm. If you feel stressed, walk away and calm down.

Working at home, self-isolating or avoiding going out can mean we are not socialising with others in the same way as normal. Our lives can feel very different, working from home, not going out, spending more time with your family than normal and so on. But the most important thing is to try and maintain a healthy routine and keep life as normal as possible.

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