Infectious disease outbreaks, like the current Coronavirus (COVID-19), can be scary and can affect our mental health. While it is important to stay informed, there are also many things we can do to support and manage our wellbeing during uncertain times.

Click here for advice for helping children, young people and their families manage their anxiety about COVID-19

Here are some tips from members of the British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy (BACP) which we hope will help you, your friends and your family to look after your mental health.

Keep a routine

Many people are working from home for the first time in their lives, and some will now be juggling a full-time job and home-schooling their children.

Plus, there are people whose usual activities have been curtailed by self-isolation. 

“Without a routine, negative thinking and anxiety can escalate. I would suggest that people create a day to day plan of things they will need to do e.g. create a morning exercise programme, cook something different, get into an online course.” - BACP member Vasia Toxavidi

Think about restricting access to news media and social media

Have a think about how and when you access the news or social media.

This may involve choosing news sources you trust – and avoiding social media channels filled with speculation. Stick to the official government guidance and NHS advice websites.

Or limit your access to the news to a certain time of the day.

“Some people can be quite paralysed by this anxiety and may want to completely stop interacting with the news,” says BACP member Elizabeth Turp. 

Keep connected with friends and familyWoman making a call

In our new world of self-isolation and social distancing, we can’t meet up with family and  friends like we used to. 

But keeping connected to them is vital.

“Connecting online with friends and talking about other stuff, inventing new fun ways to connect. An online pub quiz among friends...learn a dance routine at home then share it? Play games online? Cook the same recipe in your own home whilst online?” – BACP member Melani Halacre 

Be present

"Take a breath and really experience where you are and how you are feeling. To take in your surroundings and thank the space/environment and people in your space - to actively be grateful is very powerful,” says BACP member Emma Brand. 

Practise gratitude

Be grateful for what you have, instead of what you do not.  Keep a gratitude diary, where you write down three things you are grateful for every day.

"These can be small things such as the sun shining, hearing your child laugh, a home-cooked meal, a cosy bed. Think about what are the things you do have and are grateful for."- BACP member Natasha Page 

Try some breathing and relaxation techniques

Take a five-second breath in through the nose, hold that breath for five seconds and then breathe out for five seconds. Do this five times, says BACP member Catherine Gallacher.  Try the STAR technique:

“Smile, take a (breath) and relax...breathing out longer than in to override fight and flight mechanism,” - BACP member Melani Halacre

BACP member Cate Campbell also recommends trying mindfulness or relaxation apps, and practising deep breathing.

Write down your anxieties, and let them go

It can help to express this anxiety in a way that you can control. That could be writing down what you feel, or keeping a journal.

“Acknowledge that you feel this way. Don’t ignore these feelings.  Allow yourself to worry, put it down in writing in a notebook, and then put that away. Let it go.” – BACP member Elizabeth Turp

Get access to natural light

Lockdown may have limited your trips to parks and for countryside walks, but it's still important to get access to natural light.  Try sitting near windows and making home environments as light and airy as possible. Window

"Our exposure to natural light is limited at the moment, and this affecst our serotonin and melatonin levels - both vital for our mental health.  If you're lucky enough to have a balcony or garden, use it regularly.” says BACP member Rakhi Chand.

Certain foods - such as walnuts, almonds or bananas - can help boost melatonin, and salmon, eggs and spinach are among the foods that can help boost serotonin.  Also try Vitamin D supplements, a light therapy lamp and limiting blue light from phones or screens as it disrupts circadian rhythm.

Look after your wellbeing

Make sure you are looking after yourself, doing what you can to help get a good night’s sleep, eating well and doing exercise.

“I always talk to my clients about a wellbeing check. Sleeping, eating, exercising. If we manage our health like this, it can help make us more robust against anxiety.” says BACP member Catherine Gallacher.

Running either on the spot, or outside, releases endorphins and fools the brain and body that they’ve run away from the danger, says BACP member Cate Campbell.

Use all your senses

One of the self-care tips recommended by BACP member Eve Menezes Cunningham is to use all your senses to notice where you are.

You might want to notice five things you can see right now, five things you can hear right now, says Eve, or any smells or tastes.  “These can help us resist the well-worn neural pathways around catastrophising and feeling helpless.” 

No expectations, no pressure

BACP member, Sarah Wheatley, who specialises in helping new parents, says that she often discusses with her clients, how “when we live in extraordinary times, all bets are off.”Pregnancy

She says, “Since expectations can be one of the things that are difficult to manage as a new parent, when there are no expectations it can be really freeing and allow people time to find their way without any pressure.  The pressure to get back into shape, the pressure to socialise, the pressure to feed certain ways, the pressure to feel calm and relaxed, the pressure to look as though you have it ‘all together’. These pressures are reduced by physical isolation, and can be helpful to some mothers.”

Positive thinking

At times, this may feel very difficult to do depending on your personal situation. But re-framing a negative situation into a positive one can be very helpful.

"I believe there are a lot of positives to be gained, which might not be apparent right now. It forces people to slow down and breathe and take stock and that is always a good thing.  We live at such a fast, frenetic pace and sometimes don't stop to think about what it's all about and where we are heading.  This is forcing us to do that.  And we will grow as a result of this.” says BACP member Indira Chima.

Ask for support

“It’s not a sign of weakness, but strength to reach out and ask for support,” says BACP member Hansa Pankhania. 

“Make a list of everyone you know, friends, family, colleagues, neighbours etc. Now tick 9 people from this list, who can provide practical, psychological and moral support.  Connect with them and sustain this support circle.” – BACP member Hansa Pankhania

Article based on, "Anxiety and coronavirus: Tips and strategies to help you cope"  

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