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STAYING SANE IN COVID TIMES #3

People are experiencing the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and various states of lockdown very differently. An large area of concern is the impact of the pandemic on mental health and how this is affecting certain people more than others. This is our third article on this topic.

Coping with Stress

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major effect on our lives. Many of us are facing challenges that can be stressful, overwhelming, and cause strong emotions in adults and children. Public health actions, such as social distancing, are necessary to reduce the spread of COVID-19, but they can make us feel isolated and lonely and can increase stress and anxiety. Learning to cope with stress in a healthy way will make you, the people you care about, and those around you become more resilient. The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in the US (CDC)  has suggested the following list:

Stress can cause the following:

  • Feelings of fear, anger, sadness, worry, numbness, or frustration
  • Changes in appetite, energy, desires, and interests
  • Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
  • Difficulty sleeping or nightmares
  • Physical reactions, such as headaches, body pains, stomach problems, and skin rashes
  • Worsening of chronic health problems
  • Worsening of mental health conditions
  • Increased use of tobacco, alcohol, and other substances

It is natural to feel stress, anxiety, grief, and worry during the COVID-19 pandemic. Below are ways that you can help yourself, others, and your community manage stress.

Healthy Ways to Cope with Stress

The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in the US (CDC)  has suggested the following list:

  • Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including those on social media. It’s good to be informed, but hearing about the pandemic constantly can be upsetting. Consider limiting news to just a couple times a day and disconnecting from phone, tv, and computer screens for a while.
  • Take care of your body.
    • Take deep breaths, stretch or meditate 
    • Continue with routine preventive measures (such as vaccinations, cancer screenings, etc.) as recommended by your healthcare provider.
    • Get vaccinated with a COVID-19 vaccine when available.
  • Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy.
  • Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.
  • Connect with your community- or faith-based organizations. While social distancing measures are in place, try connecting online, through social media, or by phone or mail.

Helping Others Cope

Taking care of yourself can better equip you to take care of others. During times of social distancing, it is especially important to stay connected with your friends and family. Helping others cope with stress through phone calls or video chats can help you and your loved ones feel less lonely or isolated.

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STAYING SANE IN COVID TIMES #2

People are experiencing the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and various states of lockdown very differently. A large area of concern is the impact of the pandemic on mental health and how this is affecting certain people more than others. This is our second article on this topic.

10 Tips to Safeguard your Mental Health during the COVID pandemic

As the coronavirus pandemic has unfolded, many around the world face measures of self-isolation, social distancing, quarantine or full ‘lockdown’. For many of us, this is the first time we’ve experienced such measures. The pandemic has also developed at an alarming rate, leaving us shocked, anxious or uncertain.

The near-universal guidance is to stay indoors, observe increased hygiene practices and only leave the house for vital tasks with only essential workers as exceptions. This is incredibly important to stop the spread of the coronavirus, but this suspension of normal life also presents a challenge for our mood, mental health and well-being.

The good news is there’s a lot you can do in your home environment to look after yourself.

Amber Cowburn, founder at Working Well and Mental Health First Aid Instructor has compiled 10 tips to get you started — we hope you can feel well even during this time of isolation.

  1. A good morning routine — Whether you’re working from home or in full isolation and not working, a good start to your day is important. Try to wake up at a regular time and get washed and dressed, just like you used to. Consider using the time that you would normally be commuting to read a chapter of your book or listen to a quick guided meditation. Routine can feel reassuring in uncertain times, so try and stick to one every morning.
  2. Fresh air — Open your windows and get fresh air moving around your home. If you’ve got a balcony or garden, spend some time sitting outside. Fresh air and natural sunlight are important for your overall health, and ventilating your house is a good start. Try and spend a few minutes outdoors each day — guidelines permitting in your area — and take some deep breaths into your tummy, filling your lungs.
  3. Set up a work area at home. — Working from home might be a new experience for you, and without the structure of the office, it can be difficult to adapt. Whilst we don’t all have spare rooms to convert into home offices, try to mark the start of the workday by setting up your work essentials in a suitable spot. All you need is a table or desk, ideally with some natural light. Clear away all work duties at the end of the day, or enjoy your downtime in a different part of your home to create that separation. 
  4. Structure your days. — It’s important to accept this period of transition as one where you might feel unsettled. Take charge of a schedule or to-do list for the day. If you are working from home, then factor in breaks, and make time for your well-being, too.
  5. Try meditation and mindfulness. — Have you always wanted to try meditation but never got around to it? Now is a great time, especially if you’re feeling anxious. Meditation is a powerful tool to quieten over-thinking brains. Download a free app or go onto YouTube, pop your headphones in and listen to a guided meditation for 10 minutes of your day. You could factor this into your morning routine or try it in the evening before sleep.
  6. Home workouts to keep you active. — Without our walk to work, nipping to the shops or gym visits, our activity levels go down. But you can still get active at home, and there are brilliant resources at your fingertips. Try YouTube, fitness apps or fitness streaming services for a huge range of exercise classes, relaxing yoga classes and at home workouts.
  7. Be kind to yourself. — Give yourself time to not feel your best during this period of extreme transition and uncertainty. You may feel worried about health, family members or financial circumstances. All of that is normal. Try to take things day by day. Don’t set massive targets or goals that put pressure on you. Do a little bit of what feels good each day. 

  8. Video call friends and families. — Stay connected with some of the brilliant video-calling and videoconferencing services. You can get your whole family or a group of friends onto a videoconference call for a big chat. Or why not play a game or take a quiz together? Make time for these check-in calls and social interaction, as they will help sustain you emotionally.
  9. Limit your news intake and focus on the positive. — The news can be overwhelming now. It comes through non-stop on our phones and is often coupled with opinions and emotions from social media. Sometimes we need to quiet the noise and focus on our priorities: Ourselves, our well-being, our families and our work. If the news is making you anxious, limit how much you take in each day. Lift your spirits by focusing on positive news stories and accounts of people helping each other on social media.
  10. Remember there is help available if you are struggling. — If you’re feeling low or worried about your mental health, please ring a mental health phone line, contact a text line, access online communities or speak to trusted friends or family. ‘You are not alone. There is help and support available.

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STAYING SANE IN COVID TIMES #1

People are experiencing the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and various states of lockdown very differently. A large area of concern is the impact of the pandemic on mental health and how this is affecting certain people more than others.

Good mental health is essential to holistic health and therefore linked to good physical health – both of which support positive social and economic outcomes for individuals and society. Mental health disorders account for roughly 25% of the total burden of ill health in society. This suggests that COVID-19, and the response to the pandemic, could have a significant impact on a nation’s mental health through increased exposure to stressors. Exacerbating this, there has been a loss of coping mechanisms for many, and limited access to mental health treatment. As we are acutely aware of the mind over body impact, we have compiled a series of articles by professionals that resonate with us:

Strategies to manage your mental health and well-being during COVID-19 from clinical psychologist Desiree Dickerson 

  1. Manage your expectations

The suggestion that periods of quarantine might bring unprecedented productivity implies we should raise the bar, rather than lower it. Do not underestimate the cognitive and emotional load that this pandemic brings, or the impact it will have on your productivity, at least in the short term. Difficulty concentrating, low motivation and a state of distraction are to be expected. Adaptation will take time. Go easy on yourself. As we settle into this new rhythm of work and a degree of isolation, we need to be realistic in the goals we set, both for ourselves and the people around us. 

  • Proactively manage your stress threshold

Try to lay a solid foundation for your mental health and well-being by prioritizing your sleep, and practise good sleep hygiene (for example, avoid blue light devices before bed, and maintain a routine around your sleep and wake times). Eat well (be conscious that you might be inclined to lean on alcohol, or other indulgences, to manage stress — this is understandable, but potentially damaging in the long run). Exercise: it will lower your stress levels, help you to better regulate your emotions and improve your sleep.

  • Know your red flags

One way to manage moments of distress is to identify key thoughts or physical sensations that tend to contribute to your cycle of distress and feelings of being overwhelmed. Our thoughts (“Why can’t I concentrate?”), feelings (frustration, worry, sadness), physical sensations (tension, upset stomach, jitters) and actions (such as compulsively checking the latest COVID statistics) each feed into and amplify these negative emotional spirals. Addressing one aspect of this loop by, for example, actively reducing the physical symptoms  can de-escalate the cycle and help you regain control.

  • Routine is your friend

It helps to manage anxiety, and will help you to adapt more quickly to this current reality. Create clear distinctions between work and non-work time, ideally in both your physical workspace and your head space. Find something to do that is not work and is not virus-related that brings you joy. Working in short bursts with clear breaks will help to maintain your clarity of thought.

  • Be compassionate with yourself and with others

There is much that we cannot control right now, but how we talk to ourselves during these challenging times can either provide a powerful buffer to these difficult circumstances or amplify our distress. Moments of feeling overwhelmed often come with big thoughts, such as “I cannot do this,” or “This is too hard.” This pandemic will cause a lot of stress for many of us, and we cannot be our best selves all the time. But we can ask for help or reach out when help is asked of us. 

  • Maintain connections

Even the most introverted of us need some sense of connection to others for our mental as well as our physical health. Many working groups have created virtual forums where you can contribute or just sit back and enjoy the chatter. Staff teams have instigated virtual coffee groups, online book clubs and co-working spaces where you can work in the (virtual) presence of others. We are in various degrees of social isolation, but we need not feel alone. Reach out to those who might be particularly isolated. 

  • Manage uncertainty by staying in the present

Take each day as it comes and focus on the things you can control. Mindfulness and meditation can be great tools.

This will probably be a stressful time for all of us, and will test the mental-health policies and practices of many research institutes, just as it is testing much else in the world. By embracing good mental-health and well-being measures, and by relying on others when necessary, we can protect ourselves and those around us.