Breakthrough Counselling

How to look after your mental health during the coronavirus outbreak

lady looking out of window

There’s no denying life is hard at the moment. Big changes have been imposed on us, and we’re living in an atmosphere of uncertainty. As the coronavirus spreads we’re worried for the safety of our loved ones, and we struggle with finances. All this anxiety teamed with the stress of being stuck indoors can impact our mental health – especially for those of us who already suffer from mental health issues.

But the good news is there are some practical things you can do to take care of your mental wellbeing during this challenging time. Doing these things will help you think more calmly, so you can look after yourself and the people you care about:

Acknowledge how you feel

We all put pressure on ourselves to be tough, even in difficult situations. But resisting an emotion will only make it stronger.

Instead, accept when you’re feeling sad, frustrated or overwhelmed. It’s perfectly natural to feel this way at the moment, especially if you’ve got a mental health condition, or a physical condition that means you may be more vulnerable to the virus. Understanding your feelings as they arise is your first step towards managing them.

Get regular exercise

If possible, it’s a good idea to exercise each day. Exercise will help keep you in good physical health, and it’ll give your mental health a boost too. Physical activity releases endorphins, brain chemicals that help relieve stress and depression. If you’re unable to leave the house for your daily walk or run, try at-home exercises such as yoga or workout videos.

Look for opportunities in your new situation

We haven’t chosen our new lifestyle – but we can choose how we respond to it. Rather than focussing on being stuck indoors, look for opportunities that your new lifestyle offers.

You might have the chance to connect with old friends, focus on your home life and at-home tasks that you’ve been putting off. Perhaps you’ve got more time for self-care, or for a new project or hobby. Maybe working from home has some unexpected perks. Reframing your attitude in this way can help you adapt for the long term.

Limit your exposure to news and social media

It can be tempting to repeatedly check the media for updates on the virus, but this constant flow of news can make you more anxious. Be wary of social media coverage too, as these sites can spread rumours and speculation about the virus which can further fuel your anxiety.

Try to limit your news intake instead – perhaps just once or twice a day – and stick to reputable sources like the NHS and government websites.

Establish a routine

Most parents know routine is important to give children a sense of stability, and if you’re home-schooling you might be looking to create a timetable your kids can stick to. But routine is important for adults, too. Our days are less structured now we no longer have to travel to work and school. That means there’s a risk of becoming lethargic and falling into unhealthy habits like sleeping late, overeating or drinking too much alcohol.

So it’s a good idea to create a routine that will keep you active and help you stay calm. Schedule any work tasks and household chores for the same time each day, and prioritise some activities that make you happy, such as going for a run, reading or connecting with friends and family. Establishing a routine now means you’ll also find the transition easier when life returns to normal.

Be open to inner change

When we feel negative or anxious, we tend to underestimate our abilities. We might assume that we won’t be able to cope with new challenges. But this just isn’t true. Human brains have ‘plasticity’, meaning the brain’s structure changes in response to a new environment. In other words, when we’re faced with a new challenge, we learn the skills to deal with it.

Look for ways that you’ve already weathered this current situation and give yourself credit. Keep in mind that as you acquire new coping skills you’ll become a more resilient person. And you’ll be more confident in your ability to overcome future obstacles.

Reach out

Ever notice that you’re more chatty when you’re anxious? That’s because we’re naturally social animals. And when we’re under stress, we instinctively reach out to others.

Though physically we must keep our distance right now, that doesn’t mean we have to shut ourselves off from other people. In fact, reaching out is now more important than ever — for your own wellbeing and for others too. Call family and friends regularly or connect via Skype. You might want to consider starting a virtual support group to help people in your community.

And if it does get too much…

Speak to someone. There’s nothing wrong with sharing your feelings – in fact, it’s been shown that naturally resilient people know when to ask for help and support. If you need to, reach out to a friend, family member or a mental health professional such as a trained counsellor. Discussing your feelings can help you gain a new perspective on them, and can help you find new solutions to problems, too.

I hope you’ve found these tips useful, and I wish you and your family all the best during this difficult time. Stay safe.

Do you need someone to talk to?

If you do need someone to talk to, you’re welcome to get in touch with me. I’m a trained, registered person-centred counsellor and hypnotherapist. I provide both telephone counselling and online counselling via Skype to people across the UK.

In these difficult times, I’m offering emotional support free of charge remotely to anyone on a low wage, on benefits or receiving a pension.

If you’d like emotional support, please contact me for more information.  

Useful links and helplines

The Samaritans – 116-123 is a helpline for anyone who’s in distress. It’s free and open 24/7. It’s run by trained volunteers.

National Counselling Society – The society for counsellors and therapists has a national database of trained, registered counsellors.

The Association for Counselling and Therapy Online (ACTO) is an association for therapists and counsellors working online therapeutically.

The NHS website have up-to-date info and advice on the coronavirus.

The mental health charity Mind has practical tips on how to cope with anxiety about the coronavirus, and how to manage your wellbeing while staying at home.