Psychotherapist Jenni Cawley shares her advice for looking after your mental health and anxiety during the Coronavirus pandemic.
Published: 22 April 2020
The lockdown is having an increasingly negative effect on our mental health and the World Health Organisation has acknowledged that it’s causing our stress levels to soar. While we can’t predict what will happen in the long term, there are strategies we can employ in the short term that can help us to cope with anxiety triggered by the Coronavirus pandemic, as psychotherapist Jenni Cawley explains.
Focus on what you can control, not what you can’t
With so much ambiguity right now, we’re all managing a state of overwhelm, with most of us just winging it to be honest. The important thing is not to be too hard on ourselves and focus on the small ways we can take back control. We can still control what happens within our domestic world – from continuing to update our calendar with digital ‘events’ to carving out a new daily routine.
This sense of structure can also help if, like many of us, you’re losing sense of time. Try to get up, go to bed and eat at roughly the same time. If you’re in quarantine alone, you can easily lose those markers in the day, so things like setting wake-up alarms and listening to the radio can really help. It’s also important to actively distinguish the weekends from the weekdays. You can do this with the clothes you wear, the foods you eat, and clearly differentiating between work time and relaxation time, rather than letting the boundaries blur.
All this can help make our days a bit more predictable during this unpredictable time.
Stay connected to your support network
As humans, we desperately need to connect with each other. This means we need to be smart with the way we communicate right now. The value of hearing someone’s voice and seeing their facial expressions is beneficial to our nervous systems, and while we can’t see each other face to face, video chats and phone calls are more powerful than you’d think.
To really combat loneliness, however, I think it’s really important to connect with just one person sometimes and have a meaningful conversation. As part of this, you could try book ending your day by touching base with a friend or family member first thing and last thing in the day.
Self-edit your news and media
It’s no surprise that our anxiety during the Coronavirus pandemic has driven our increased media consumption. A third of us are reading more newspaper content, 48% are watching more live TV and 40% are using social media more. But all this information can often just leave us feeling more overwhelmed.
Combat this by editing your news channels, switching off live alerts and sticking to a few trusted sources. Also, avoid reading the news late at night and set dedicated offline time – otherwise your stress hormones such as cortisol will spike after reading and keep you awake. A lot of us are also having vivid or upsetting dreams, and it’s important to remember that this is just our unconscious trying to process what’s going on.
Reshape your social media feed
There’s a lot of idealism and heroism out there at the moment, and we’re in danger of measuring ourselves against this – ‘am I being as good as everyone else?’ It can be demotivating, so try not to compare yourself. While I’d recommend limiting your time on social media, it can also be helpful to reshape and curate your feed to facilitate a more compassionate self view.
From positive mental health figures to the Vitality at Home wellness series on Instagram – there are plenty of helpful accounts out there. Similarly, if you find yourself feeling a bit off centre, plug into a podcast. I’ve been listening to Brené Brown’s Unlocking Us podcast, which focuses on the things that make us human and has helped me feel more connected to a community.
Focus on the tangible
One thing I suggest to clients is drawing a spidergram of your community and the groups that you’re part of – from local to work to family. Looking through old photos and surrounding yourself with the physical representations of your memories can be really helpful for reminding us that we’re part of something bigger than this space we’re in right now.
Talk to yourself (yes, really)
Finally, check in with yourself whenever you can. I find the shower or even the toilet is the best time for this! Stop and ask yourself: what’s one word that describes how I feel right now. Pay close attention. This will prevent us from falling into a purely reactive state and help us bring a consciousness to our present moment.
If you feel the panic rising, focus on some grounding activities such as a guided meditation, a short workout or a head-clearing walk. If you find yourself ruminating at 3am, rather than being hard on yourself, accept that this kind of thing will happen right now. Try to manage your own expectations and just allow yourself to feel whatever it is you’re feeling.