It’s not an easy time for anyone right now! Regardless of whether or not you struggle with your mental health, most people must be experiencing some level of anxiety and low mood right now. I’m by no means an expert in mental health, but I do feel like I’m mentally handling the current Coronavirus situation better than I expected, and far better than I would have done a year or two ago. I’m going to share my current situation with you so that you know where I’m coming from in this post, before getting into the juicy stuff.
My Current Coronavirus Situation
I’m carefully practicing social distancing as per government guidelines, but as I have no symptoms and I’m not in a high risk group, I don’t have to completely self-isolate at the moment (I know this could change any day now!). There is a point I make in this post about getting outside for a walk, but I hope it’s mostly relevant to everyone, including those fully self-isolating.
With regards to work, I run a business within the restaurant and hospitality sector (Leeds Food Tours) and supplement this with promotional marketing work, mainly at events. This means that I’ve suddenly found myself with no work, and my blog isn’t relevant at the moment with no one travelling or eating out, so I can’t use that to earn an income either. However, I’m very lucky that my boyfriend is still earning his usual salary and can support me in the short term, and my outgoings are fairly low anyway.
I’m healthy, my family are healthy, and I’d probably describe my Coronavirus situation as upsetting (I’ve worked so hard on my business the last few months, and having to rely on someone else’s income isn’t nice) but manageable. I’m grateful that I haven’t suddenly lost a job with a family to support, I’m grateful that I’ll be able to continue with my business when this is all over, and I’m grateful that I can still go outside for now.
Why It’s Important to Look After Our Mental Health During the Coronavirus Outbreak
I’ve had depression and anxiety in the past, but it hasn’t been severe for a long time now. However, I do make a conscious effort to look after my mental health, even if that’s just small things like sticking to a routine during the week, noticing and accepting anxiety and treating myself to a nice bath if I feel a bit low.
Right now, during the Coronavirus outbreak, there are so many factors which will trigger anxiety and low mood for many. The news on the radio and television is constant, and just the tone of voice alone can be enough to stress us out. It’s hard not to feel like the whole world is ending at the moment. Coronavirus is the only thing on people’s lips, both in real life and on social media – we can’t escape it!
For those with OCD or anxiety around cleanliness, I can’t begin to imagine how detrimental the constant hand washing advice must be to your mental health. For those with health anxiety, the constant talk of symptoms and ill-health but be awful for you! I spent the beginning of last week imagining Coronavirus symptoms that I didn’t have – it was just the result of looking for the signs and being told that if I developed any symptoms I wouldn’t be able to leave my home, and therefore not be able to find work.
Negative news cycles, knowing that elderly relatives are stuck indoors for at least 12 weeks, hearing the ever increasing deaths resulting from Coronavirus, panic buying, social media frenzy, lack of social contact, loneliness, not having things to look forward and a general disruption in how we live our lives means that it’s hugely important that we make the extra effort to look after our mental health during this Coronavirus pandemic.
How You Can Look After Your Mental Health During Coronavirus
I’ll start this section with a caveat that these are the things that are working for me personally, and I’m not a mental health expert. Some of these ideas might work for you, some might not, but give them a go and see what suits you.
Look for the Coronavirus positives
It’s a tough time and it can be easy to see all the negatives like people panic buying and meaning that vulnerable people can’t get the food they need, people not adhering to social distancing guidelines meaning threat of lockdown, or the shutting down of many independent pubs and restaurants.
But if you look for them, there are some positives to come out of this situation. Coronavirus seems to have created a renewed sense of community, with people looking out for their neighbours, taking food to elderly people and supporting independent business by ordering takeaways from them instead of big chains.
People have time to take up hobbies that they never would have done, or read books they wouldn’t have gotten around to. Pollution has been reduced around the world! Couples are becoming closer during periods of isolation. It’s there, you just have to try a little harder to look for it.
This brings me nicely onto my next point, which is journalling. I started a journal in November after listening to Sophie Cliff talking about it on her podcast. I kept it really simple, just bullet pointing some nice things that had brought me joy or reminded me of things I’m grateful for during the day. I journaled on and off, but over the last few weeks it’s been a huge help.
When I’m feeling sad, anxious or stressed I use one page to write down each individual thing that’s upsetting me. On the opposite page I write down two positives for every negative – the positives could be a gratitude (e.g. I’m grateful that I have a lovely flat to be practising social distancing in), something nice that happened that day (being brought a cup of tea in bed) or something that I’m looking forward to (this all being over… who’s with me?!).
Give yourself something to look forward to each day
With events being cancelled for the next few months, no afterwork drinks at the pub on a Friday and no plans to meet up with friends for dinner, it can feel like there’s nothing to look forward to. If you’re working from home and then spending the weekend at home, it can almost feel like every day is the same!
My advice is to give yourself something to look forward to every day. Maybe it’s fresh sheets on your bed, cooking a lovely dinner, an evening glass of wine, a 3pm bag of crisps, a bath with your favourite products, a dance around the kitchen or reading your book in bed at the end of the day. It’s not just daily things either – maybe you’re going to order from your favourite takeaway on Friday, or get dressed up and have a few drinks on FaceTime with your friends on Saturday.
Just because we’re social distancing doesn’t mean we can’t socialise. Call or FaceTime your friends and family, maybe even use this time to catch up with friends who you don’t see often because they live far away. Distance isn’t a deciding factor in who you socialise with anymore!
On Monday mornings I usually meet two of my friends for breakfast and a catch up, to share any self-employed worries we have. This time we’re going to do this virtually using Whatsapp video chat, and I’m looking forward to it just as much as usual. I just had a group FaceTime catch up with my family, and my mum told me that she’s hosting her book group via Zoom tomorrow.
Whatever you do, even if it’s just sending a friend a text message to say that you miss them, make sure you’re keeping in touch with loved ones for your own mental health as well as to check in on them. I promise it will make such a difference!
Make a list or two
I have a couple of Coronavirus related lists of things that I can do if I get bored during my time at home. One list features productive things such as finish painting the skirting boards, steam clean the carpets, spruce up the balcony, sort out my finances etc.
The other list is nice things such as read a book, do some yoga, have a candlelit bath, watch Netflix in my favourite PJs. I find that if I mix items from both lists throughout the day, I feel productive and also seem to enjoy the nice things even more!
I also have lists of skills I’ve always wanted to learn, books I want to read, podcasts to listen to, films to watch and meals to cook (providing I can get the ingredients!). If I’m feeling low or just bored, having lists of things to do takes out the need to think of things to do, meaning I can just get on with it.
Get some fresh air
If you can, go for a walk – obviously this doesn’t apply to those who are vulnerable or have symptoms and are self-isolating, or those in countries operating a lockdown policy. But if you can, try to start your day with a walk, run or bike ride. Please don’t overcrowd popular outdoor spaces and make sure that you stay at least two metres apart from others!
For those who are self-isolating (and possibly all of us within the next few days), still try to get some fresh air. If you have a garden walk around that, and you might even notice things that you never knew were there, like some beautiful flowers! Even if you just have a balcony (or even a front door step) make some time to sit outside and take in a few deep breaths of fresh air, listen to the sounds around you and take a moment to appreciate the outside world. If you’re in a flat with no balcony, stick your head out of the window for five minutes!
Stay healthy, but treat yourself
Finally, try your best to stay healthy. I don’t know about you, but when I’m eating junk food and not moving much, it has an adverse effect on my mental health. It can be tempting to use this enforced time at home to snack non-stop (this is coming from the girl that ate a tube of Pringles and an Easter egg as snacks between rather large meals today), and I’m definitely not saying that you shouldn’t enjoy your favourite foods.
What I am saying is to make sure you’re getting the nutrition that you need, drinking lots of water and doing some form of exercise – putting on your favourite music and dancing around the kitchen absolutely counts! Do whatever works for you, so if junk food makes you feel bad then try to limit it. If snacking gives you something to look forward to, then snack to your heart’s content but get your nutrition in around it.
If you’ve enjoyed this post, you might like this one about how to have a holiday at home when you’re self-isolating. I hope this has been useful, and my social media DMs are open if you want to chat about anything at all.