The Coronavirus outbreak has created a huge amount of uncertainty, which although worrying for most of us, can have a severe impact on those already suffering from anxiety, OCD or isolation. The lack of control and desire for constant and up-to-date information can start to distort both the perception of reality, the size of the threat and the level of importance. The main problem for most is the lack of control and even the most resilient amongst us can start to experience panic in these unprecented times. If the news is increasing your levels of anxiety, limit your exposure to it. Resolve only to use trusted sources and schedule specific times of day to consume it. Look at the headlines and decide whether reading or listening to the whole article will make you feel worse of better. Accept the things you cannot control.
Proactively plan to improve your mental health
To maintain good mental health, CCC usually advocates following CLANGERS, the 8 steps to better mental health first proposed by TV's Doctor Phil Hammond. But with any limitations on public movement and the possibility of not being able to meet our basic human needs, we need to be more creative.
Connect: When many of us are being advised to distance ourselves socially (maintain a minimum distance of at least 2 metres from another person) many group gatherings are being cancelled. But in the modern world, technology allows us to connect in other ways. Apps such as Skype, FaceTime and Zoom, allow video calling, and direct messaging and text services are used by many to keep in touch with loved ones. It is not unusual to find digital natives 'double screening', enjoying social interaction with friends whilst all watching the same thing on TV or online, commenting and sharing the experience. Don't underestimate the power of the telephone in keeping in touch with loved ones. It's important to check in and maintain communication with people in a way that they are comfortable with. Perhaps sit by a front window, watching and waving to any people going by. If you are able to open your window and maintain a safe distance, you can shout to those going by walking dogs etc. Arrange for a friend to stand with pen and paper on the other side of your window and have a conversation in that way. If you are able to use sign language, communicate through glass.
Learn: The internet has a wealth of information in many different forms. Use your time in isolation to learn a new skill from YouTube or a new language, improve your musical technique or take the opportunity to read more books and expand your way of thinking. If you have a garden, try to grow new things. Many vegetables can be grown from the parts you usually throw away. Why not research and try how to grow your own food if you can? Investigate what is going on in your area that you might want to be inolved in during or after the crisis is over.
Activity: Keep active. Mental health and physical health are closely linked. Your immune system will be more effective if you are physcally fit. If you can exercise in a private space outside withouth coming into close contact with other people, do so. Try walking or jogging (even if on the spot), exercise programmes that can be completed at home or in your garden, or simple stretches such as yoga or pilates. Fresh air and exercise will help you both physically and mentally,
Notice your surroundings: It's always beneficial for mental health to be amidst nature, so if you are able to take a walk in the park, woods, other open space without risking social contact, do it. Spend time noticing the sights and sounds around you and appreciating the wonders of the natural world. If you have a garden, sit quietly and take time to notice your surroundings. Even if you are confined to an indoor space, practice meditation or mindfulness. There are lots of guided mediations and mindfulness practices available free of charge online. You may find this helps both to calm any anxiety and an enjoyable experience which you continue after your period of confinement has ended.
Give back: If you are able to help, try to benefit those less fortunate in your community. If you have stockpiled and there are others in your vicinity with greater need, find a way to pass any excess to them. At times like this, the demand for services such as foodbanks increases, but their donations dwindle. Do an audit of your cupboards and pass on anything you won't want or need. Make use of community sites online to ensure fair distribution. Even if you are not lonely, offer your services to those who are. Making a call to a lonely person once a day could be hugely beneficial both to them and to you. Nothing compares to the feeling of knowing you have done something to help someone else. If you really fear you may not survive this, make a will and ensure you give something to charity. Prioritise small local community groups who haven't got the reserves to weather the storm and many of whose volunteers will also be forced to isolate but provide vital services in the local community.
Eat well: It's easy in a crisis to head straight for the comfort food, especially at a time when some items are unavailable or limited, but a balanced diet is essential to both mental and physical health. Carry out an audit of what you have and ensure you consume any items to ensure you eat something from each food group each day and to ensure no waste. Eat the most perishable first, and investigate what foods can be frozen or pickled to make them last longer. If you are able to grow vegetables, start now. Share excesses with others and investigate things that grown naturally and locally. Source food locally from small suppliers where possible and investigate what grows in your local hedgerows that is safe to consume. Try new things if that's all that is left on the shelves, research new ways of cooking and try to increase your consumption of foods that will boost your immune system, such as fresh fruit and vegetables, garlic, ginger and turmeric.
Relax: Most of us have ways of relaxing in our own homes. Revisit things you have done in the past which have relaxed you, including watching your most loved DVDs (especially comediies), have a long warm bath, exercise, read, practice art, sing, play music, listen to the radio and just spend time talking to a loved one. There are many guided relaxtions available free of charge online, which may help you to relax.
Sleep: At times of stress, it can be particularly difficult to sleep, but practicing a good sleep routine can help. Keep to your usual sleep timetable, even if you are not going out to work, avoid stimulants like bright lights, electronic gadgets, caffeine or alcohol, spend time winding down with a warm drink and doing something you find relaxing just before bedtime, don't watch or engage in things which excite or stress you just before you try to settle, and use relaxation techniques to help you prepare your body and mind for sleep. Don't stress if you are unable to sleep and keep sleep to the bedroom where it is more likely to be of good quality.
How to avoid cabin fever
Whilst self-isolating, there are some additional things you can do to reduce the impact of being cut off from other people and surroundings:
Structure your day: Create a routine to guide you, but don't be obsessed by it. Plan activities and set goals so that you feel you have achieved something at the end of each day. Be realistic about what is possible in the time you have and use your plan as a general guide rather than fixating on what should happen at each minute. Be prepared to be flexible and readjust your plan if necessary.
Avoid conflict: Some people will be confined to a limited space with people they find challenging (even loved ones can be challenging if they have additional needs or usually lead quite separate lives). Plan to do some things together and some things apart and respect each other's space when doing things separately. Acknowledge that these are exceptional circumstances and agree to try to be more tolerant of the other's habits but find a way to be able to withdraw if conflict starts to arise. If you are in one room, this might be as simple as wearing headphones or moving behind a natural divider (like a bookcase or hanging laundry). Take deep breaths and try to focus on what's important and put aside trivial niggles for another time. Spend longer on the loo if you just need to get away.
If you feel panicked, practice self-calm
Acknowledge how you feel. Notice the uncertainty and exactly what is causing the fear
Pause. Consciously try not to react as you usually do. Try to delay any feelings of panic.
Rationalise. Tell yourself that although your feelings are valid, the way you feel won't change anything so worry won't help.
Visualise. Imagine the fear or feeling of panic as a balloon or cloud and visualise it floating away,
Notice. Try to focus on the here and now, the sights and sounds around you. Try to detach from everything as if you are observing from a distance. Notice how this may make you feel calmer. If it doesn't, after a few minutes, shift your focus onto something else. Notice your breathing. Count as you breathe and try to slow your breathing down. Notice how you feel energised by an in-breath and relaxed by an out-breath. Notice your breathing in this way until you feel calmer.
If you feel desperate, seek professional help. The Samaritans operate a constant service where possible - call 116123.
If you feel you would benefit from counselling, CCC is offering remote counselling during periods of isolation.
Contact your nearest reception to find out if this would be an appropriate option for you.
Peterborough 01733 553166 Hunts and Cambs 01223 233047