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Mental health issues can affect anyone, particularly at a time of heightened anxiety like we’re experiencing with this unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic.The number of queries I’m getting, particularly about anxiety issues, have risen hugely.

There is much you can do, let’s get practical:

As humans we like to believe we have choices in difficult circumstances – the classic flight or fight choices where you flee or fight.

Unfortunately, Covid-19 leaves us feeling in ‘freeze’ mode – we can’t flee, we think we can’t fight it, so we feel frozen.

This leaves us feeling out of control. Psychological research shows when you think you can’t control important situations, you’re more susceptible to issues like anxiety and depression.

We must actively try to get out of ‘freeze’ mode so you feel some control!

What can you most control? Two main areas – your thought processes and your behaviours.

Let’s start with thought processes by challenging irrational thoughts like “the world’s going to implode” and that “I’m going to go with it”. Each time you have such catastrophizing thoughts, stop and tell yourself “the world won’t stop, I just need to follow government advice” and “I’ll do my best in whatever circumstance I find myself”.

To reinforce this new ‘functional’ way of thinking, think about the last time you faced a crisis.What actually solved it? What coping skills were helpful? It might be something like: In the last crisis I faced it helped for me to keep calm and be practical.” Post this where you’ll see it regularly – your laptop, your fridge, wherever.

Visualise this new approach to your ‘thinking’ as turning off that little ‘devil’ sitting on your shoulder telling you everything’s going to be a disaster, into a softer, gentler little angel.

Watch for other triggers like watching excessive news or friends/family members who are panicking making you feel worse. Allow yourself one daily news bulletin. Tell family members/friends to please stop going over the worst of what’s happening when in your company.

Another simple technique is ‘distraction’. When you fret about, e.g., “what if I get the virus, what if my poorly mother/father gets it?” try self-comforting actions. Close your eyes andstroke the inside of your wrist or temples, rub your neck, or stretch your arms. Simply give yourself physical distraction for a few minutes.

Spoil yourself

You can enlist loved ones in your quest to keep calm. Alert them when worrying thoughts enter your mind. Chat about these so you talk yourself down from a worried state with their support.

Don’t hide upset/unhappy feelings from family/friends because you feel embarrassed. Opening up and talking about it can help defuse some anxiety.

Become your own PR and “talk yourself up” daily! Focus on the good things about you – that you’re a good friend, that you try hard, etc. Also focus on the good things in your life – that you’re really close to a family member, you have a great friend, you have a beloved pet to heap affection on, etc.

How about your behaviours and enhancing your mental health? For starters, we always hear how we need to be more spontaneous. For sure, spontaneity’s great but we’re in new times and establishing a good routine of self-care is crucial to your well-being.

Work out the framework for your day that hold you in a good routine and makes you feel secure. This includes getting dressed as if you’re going out even if you’re self -isolating. Sitting around in pyjamas has been shown to worsen your mood. Getting dressed, having breakfast and planning your day gives you purpose.

Build in any type of exercise you can even if stuck in a small flat. Also build in face-timing with a loved one every day.

Give yourself much needed ‘me time’ – spoil yourself with a face mask, doing your nails, whatever you usually don’t have time for. Catch up on box sets you haven’t seen. Start a new hobby, do some DIY.

Avoid caffeine and sugary foods – these only intensify anxiety/feeling unwell. Eat as healthily as possible.

Don’t use alcohol or ‘recreational’ drugs to ‘take the edge off’ – anxiety and/or depression and other mental health issues bounce straight back.

Definitely try relaxation techniques, yoga, etc., to physically relax. The more tense your body feels, the more anxious your mind.

Get mindful – focus on the moment at hand – the sights, sounds, feelings it gives you. What’s outside your window if your self-isolating? What about that painting/poster hanging on your wall – take in all the strokes and detail. Such mindful moments can help stop worry in its tracks.

Think about how you can help others. It can take you out of your worries to do this. Give them a call, check in on neighbours, put out some positive messaging on social media, etc.

Enjoy planning for the future when things are back to normal. Google the places you’ve wanted to visit, that city break you’ve wanted to take. Looking ahead to positive things helps keep you optimistic.

Five Point Panic Plan – if you’re out and feel panicked…

1/ Remove yourself to a quieter place.

2/ Sit down if at all possible and steady yourself.

3/ Regain control of your breathing by inhaling slowly to the count of five and exhaling slowly to the count of five.

4/ Sip water slowly (carry a water bottle with you).

5/ Distract yourself, e.g., phone a friend or think about something unrelated like a calming holiday memory.

Please contact your GP if you’re not managing any mental health issues.

Useful contacts

Twitter: @DrPamSpurr


Samaritans 116123

Anxiety Care

Depression Support

No Panic Organisation

About the author

Dr Pam Spurr

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