Coronavirus: How to protect your mental health during the covid-19 pandemic

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Coronavirus: The constant news about the pandemic can seem endless and this is affecting the mental health of many, particularly those already living with conditions such as anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Although worrying about the news is understandable, for many people this can make existing mental health problems worse.

All of this leads us to the question: how can we protect our mental health during the covid-19 pandemic?

Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) released tips to protect mental health during the outbreak and this was well received on social media.

As Nicky Lidbetter of the British NGO Anxiety UK explains, the fear that everything will spin out of control and that they will be unable to tolerate uncertainty are common characteristics of many anxiety disorders.

Therefore, it is understandable that many people with anxiety feel that they are facing a challenge at this time.

"A large part of anxiety cases are based on worrying about the unknown and waiting for something to happen: the coronavirus is that, on a macro scale," agrees Rosie Weatherley, spokesperson for the non-profit association of mental health Mind.

How can we protect our mental health?

Limit the flow of news and be careful what you read.

Nick is a father of two who lives in Kent, UK, and suffers from anxiety. Reading a lot of news about the coronavirus has caused you panic attacks.

"When I feel anxious, my thoughts can get out of control and I start to think of catastrophic consequences," says Nick, adding that he is also worried about his parents and other older people he knows.

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"In general, when I suffer I can walk away from a situation. This is out of my control," he explains.

Spending long periods away from news sites and social media has helped him control his anxiety. Similarly, she has found the helplines, run by mental health charities like AnxietyUK, to be very helpful.

Limit the amount of time you spend reading or looking at things that don't make you feel better. Perhaps you choose a specific time to read the news.

There is a lot of misinformation circulating, so you should stay informed through reliable sources of information, such as government websites and public health institutions.
Take a break from social media

Alison, 24, who lives in Manchester, UK, suffers from illness anxiety disorder and therefore feels an obligation to stay informed and investigate.

But at the same time you know that social media can be a trigger.

"A month ago I was clicking hashtags and seeing all these conspiracy junk (theories) that is unverified and made me really anxious. They made me feel really desperate and I was crying," she says.

Alison is now careful about the accounts she follows and avoids clicking on coronavirus-related hashtags. She is also trying to spend time away from social media, watching TV, or reading books.

Wash your hands, but not excessively

The charitable organization OCD Action has seen an increase in requests for support from people whose fears have centered on the pandemic.

For people with obsessive-compulsive disorder and some types of anxiety, it can be difficult to be constantly told to wash their hands.

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For Lily Bailey, author of Because We Are Bad, a book about living with OCD, fear of pollution was an aspect of her obsessive-compulsive disorder.

She says advice on hand washing can be a big trigger for people who have overcome the disorder.

"It's really hard because now I have to repeat some of the behaviors that I've been avoiding," says Bailey.

"I stick to the advice very rigidly, but it's difficult, considering that for me soap and sanitizer used to be something comparable to an addiction."

OCD Action says that the issue to look out for is function, for example, is washing done to reduce the risk of spreading the virus or is it done ritualistically to make it feel "right"?

Bailey notes that for many people with OCD, getting better means being able to get out of the house, so self-isolation can present another challenge.

"If we are forced to stay home, we have a lot of free time and boredom can make OCD worse," he says.
Stay connected with people

An increasing number of people will be joining those who are already self-isolating, so now might be a good time for you to make sure you have the phone numbers and email addresses of the people you care about.

"Set up regular contact hours and stay connected with the people around you," says Weatherley.

If you isolate yourself, try to strike a balance between having a routine and making sure each day is a little different.

You could end up feeling like you've just had a pretty productive two weeks. You could go through your to-do list or read the book you've been wanting to read.

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Avoid burnout

With weeks and months of the coronavirus pandemic ahead, it is important to have downtime.

Mind recommends staying in contact with nature and sunlight. Exercise, eat right, and stay hydrated.

Anxiety UK suggests practicing a recognized technique for dealing with anxiety and worry, which consists of:

Acknowledge and admit the uncertainty that comes to mind.

  • Don't react like you normally do. Don't react at all. Pause and breathe.
    Tell yourself that it is the worry that is affecting you and that an apparent need for certainty is not useful or necessary. It is just a thought or feeling. Do not believe everything you think. Thoughts are not statements or facts.
  • Say goodbye to some thoughts and feelings. They will pass. You don't have to react.
  • Explore the present moment, because now, in this moment, everything is fine. Measure your breathing and the sensations of this action. Look at the ground below you. Look around you and see what you see, what you hear, what you can touch, what you can smell. Then turn your attention to something else, to what you need to do, to what you were doing before you realized the concerns that concern you.

 

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