At the moment it may feel more challenging to take care of your mental health and wellbeing than normal.
Under normal circumstances being at home and relaxing a bit might be just what the doctor ordered. But when this leave of absence is literally enforced and out of our control, a well-earned break can become an altogether more daunting prospect.
Perhaps we thought it would be a breeze, no commute and time to chill a bit more, but with it comes a series of unexpected challenges. The work that normally gives us structure, routine, human contact, sense of a professional identity and daily challenges has suddenly changed.
The HSE recognise change as a key stressor, so it is no wonder that when faced with such radical and sudden change that many of us will start to struggle. In fact, it would be unusual if we didn’t.
Add to that the anxiety provoking circumstances; worried about our health, our loved ones, our income, how long it will continue etc and we can start to understand how all of this may impact adversely on our mental health and wellbeing.
Beyond observing the guidance, the pandemic is out of our personal control, however what is not out of our control is taking measures to mitigate the psychological impact on us and others.
THE PURPOSE HERE IS TO:
Recognise the psychological challenge
Understand anxiety (knowledge is power)
Give sound practical advice
Provide some notes on other people’s anxiety
Finish with an exercise to boost your resilience
THE PSYCHOLOGICAL CHALLENGE
Our wellbeing is not a static thing it is affected by risk and protective factors – we make a good start to acknowledge the current challenge and then take active steps to keep ourselves psychologically well.
Those with a preference for socialising (60% to 75% of us are extraverts being energised by others) will find remote working more challenging than introverts who prefer reflecting and reading.
The pandemic and isolation measures have been linked to symptoms such as anxiety, anger, confusion, fear, frustration and emotional exhaustion and this will lower our perceived state of health.
The incidence of mental health conditions will rise as a result of this situation, how could it not? Some people will develop symptoms of anxiety and depression and those with existing conditions may find these exacerbated. For example the Lancet reported on a study of twenty four Covid 19 isolation cases noting symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
One does not need to be Nostradamus to predict that those who tend towards Obsessional Compulsive Disorder (OCD) may find these times of hand washing and caution about touch tough. Nor to predict that those with underlying health anxieties will be made hyper-vigilant. That those with Claustrophobia may feel trapped and incarcerated….
This is not a negative statement, it is a positive step to recognise this reality and then take appropriate steps to increase the protective factors in our lives.
If you have attended one of training courses you will have gained an understanding of anxiety and its physical effects. In brief:our
When we experience, or perceive, a threat, we release the powerful and fast acting stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. The adrenaline gets us primed for fight or flight - muscle tension, increased heart rate, the urge to empty our bowels, hyper vigilance, jumpy etc. It also makes it hard to concentrate, our breathing may get short and sharp as our diaphragm gets tight (hyper-ventilating, leading to pins and needles and feeling faint) etc – not pleasant!
Cortisol converts blood sugars for immediate use (useful in fight or flight) but if a persistent feature it serves over time to undermine our immune system. So, if we are constantly anxious about this pandemic then over time we will become less resilient to it.
Right now, many of us are experiencing that threat response and so we need to do things that mitigate against this being a constant state. Such a heightened state makes it difficult to increase our feel good chemicals: serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine and reduces our physical and mental resilience.
If you are starting to feel overwhelmed then you need to shift your state of mind.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) urged everyone feeling anxious over coronavirus to eat and sleep well, take part in physical activity, stay in contact with loved ones and avoid using alcohol and drugs as coping mechanisms.
These strange times offer us opportunities like getting fit (physical exercise is strongly linked to mental wellbeing), learning something new (see our resources page) and getting on top of our to do lists.
We can add to this hydration, massage, sunshine, and effectively processing negative events, so that we can regain optimism, these all help to maintain a positive mindset.
While stuck at home, don’t wallow. Anxiety is ‘sticky’ and can attach itself to almost anything. Notice if the anxieties you feel about the current pandemic start to mission creep into other aspects of your life. If you found yourself checking your tyre pressures at 5am this morning you are probably in this territory already…
You don’t have to be a hippy to chill out and relax, learn techniques like meditation and mindfulness, we have provided a great guidance exercise for you here.
Also remember to regularly assess your social media activity. Tune in with yourself and ask if this needs to be adjusted. Are there particular accounts or people that are increasing your worry or anxiety? Consider muting or unfollowing accounts or hashtags that cause you to feel anxious.
Get good quality sources of information, not some conspiracy theorist or inaccurate info intended to alarm and distress, avoid the Private Frazers "We're doomed" of this world. Rumour and speculation can fuel anxiety.
Plan your next working day as the last task of the day before. Despite having some extra time in bed without a commute, seek to wake up around the same time every day. This keeps your internal clock stable and helps your sleep pattern. You’ll feel more refreshed and find it easier to concentrate throughout the day ahead.
Retain your normal morning routine if you can – get ready, washed, and dressed as if you are going to the office. This will help you get into the mindset that you are at work. Set up your separate workspace at home as this will help to prepare you for work mode and make it easier to switch off at the end of the working day.
Keep boundaries about your work time – start on time (routine), coffee and lunch breaks but finish on time too. Try going for a walk or a jog down the street before you start work for the day – this can help you to feel like you have mentally ‘arrived’ at work. Doing the same when you finish your working day can help you to leave your work mindset behind and switch off.
At the end of the day write down your successes and then do something that calms you down.
Turn off the news, it is designed to hook and be impactful, restrict yourself to catching the news and health advice perhaps once or twice a day helping to reduce those stress hormones.
CALM are advocating that we put the social into social distancing. Stay social, reach out and connect with people. Perhaps you could recreate a virtual pub environment and raise a glass with friends (and you won’t need to buy a round)!
Get some fresh air, sunlight and nature.
Learn to play the flute or paint or find other ways to relax and be creative, think about positive ways to spend your time, keeping your mind stimulated.
Do any admin tasks that you haven't got around to, for example changing your energy provider.
OCD - Set yourself limits, like only washing your hands for the recommended 20 seconds. Plan what you are going to do after washing your hands, this serves to distract your mind and change your focus.
If you feel trapped or claustrophobic look out your window or stand on your doorstep, change the room you are sitting in, open windows and let the fresh air in.
Remember that if you begin to hyper-ventilate a longer out-breath helps dispel the CO2 in your lungs. Paced breathing with a longer out-breath is called Recovery Breathing, and is especially helpful if you’re feeling panicky. Don’t forget to congratulate yourself on successfully lowering your anxiety response.
If your company has trained Mental Health First Aiders or Champions, make a note of their contact details, and don’t hesitate to get in touch with them if you need to. They can use their skills to support anyone struggling with their mental health by signposting them to the appropriate support, both in and outside of the workplace.
Would mental health coaching via video link help your resilience?
Speak to your HR or EAP If your organisation has this in place.
Help is out there; Samaritans offers free, confidential support 24 hours a day on 116 123. Find a list of national mental health services and helplines at mentalhealth.org.uk
OTHER PEOPLE’S ANXIETY
We are social animals and our connection with others is important in how we and others cope.
Try to empathise with people who may be struggling more than you, hearing a rational and kind voice can be very helpful for others who are not coping with the isolation and hysteria of the coronavirus.
Stay in touch with friends on social media without sensationalising things. If you are sharing content, use this from trusted sources, remember that your friends might be worried too, ask how they are.
Involve your family and children in how you are planning for good health. We need to be alert and ask children what they have heard about the virus and support them, without causing them more alarm.
Seek to minimise the distressing impact on our children, don’t avoid the topic and explain the facts to them in a way that is age appropriate for them. Discuss the news with them but avoid over-exposure to coverage of the virus.
The WHO also suggests we find opportunities to amplify positive, hopeful stories and images to children and each other.
Remember that everyone in your household is under pressure, which is likely to lead to tensions, try to cut each other some slack.
Finally let’s boost your resilience
We all have an inner voice that tells us that we are not able to manage, not able to complete things, not able to deliver, not able to be patient or be strong, not able to…..
To quieten this inner voice make a list of everything you have done in your life that took Persistence.
“I had the persistence to decorate my house with my own hands”
“I had the persistence to get through my relationship breakup”
“I had the persistence to get through that cancer scare”
“I had the persistence to learn how to speak Spanish”
“I had the persistence to…………….” repeat over
By doing this task you are making a rational case to your inner detracting voice that it is wrong. You do this by evidencing hard facts to the contrary.
Then read it out to yourself as and when required.
We are all in this together, all the very best to you and yours from us here