Looking after your mental health in uncertain times

Woman looking out of window

Feeling stressed, overwhelmed, bored, lonely, sad, angry or tearful? Whether you’re feeling one, all or none of the above — you’re not alone.

By Allegra Salvoni

It’s fair to say that most of us struggle to manage emotions when faced with uncertainty. 

If you’re living by yourself, it may be difficult to be alone for prolonged periods which might bring up emotions such as boredom, depression, loneliness. 

If you’re stuck indoors with your families or housemates, underlying tensions, old gripes, irritations or wounds might surface, and you might feel overwhelmed by the lack of personal space.

So, it’s vital that, in this time of physical distancing and information overload, to create good habits and practices at home that support your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. 

What can I do about my mental health right now?

It’s not uncommon to feel a spike of anxiety when watching the news or hearing troubling stories from loved ones.

Anxiety is contagious and stress levels can go up the more information you’re exposed to. It’s not uncommon to feel a spike of anxiety when watching the news or hearing troubling stories from loved ones. 

There’s an onslaught of content out there and it can feel overwhelming at times to process it all. It’s important to be mindful of this right now and find ways of managing yourself around that. 

Ideally, you should try to prevent mental health issues rather than cure them. However, focusing on the different aspects of your life and giving each of them a little bit of attention each day, will help support your wellbeing. For example:

Limit your daily exposure to the news and social media

Don’t listen to your best friend’s brother’s boss for your information. Instead, only use trusted sources and official channels. While social media websites are doing their best to stamp out fake news, it’s still out there. 

It’s easy to get swept up in speculation and sensationalist stories, but it’ll only leave you with misinformation and potentially heightened anxiety levels. 

Connect with your friends and family daily

Social distancing doesn’t mean social disconnection. Talk about how you’re feeling or have a boogie together, talk, share and celebrate your connectedness – there are plenty of free video calling apps to connect with your loved ones. 

Focus on what’s right in front of you. 

The antidote to anxiety is being present. So, if you find yourself getting anxious, bring your attention back to where you are right now, this will help alleviate any worries about the future.

Breathing exercises and mindfulness practices such as meditation can support this. There are lots of free guided meditation apps that can help you get started if you’ve never done it before. 

Create a daily plan

Certainty is settling for our nervous systems and it helps to create a sense of safety. A few questions you could ask yourself each morning are: 

  • What am I looking forward to today?
  • What am I going to do to look after myself today?
  • What can I do to look after someone else today?
  • What exercise or movement-based practice can I do this morning/lunchtime/evening? 
  • Who am I going to call at lunch or this evening?
  • What is ‘the thing’ that I never have time for?

Use your answers to create a plan for the day. Even if you don’t achieve everything, having a plan can help ease your mind. 

Connect with others online

There are lots of free online courses being offered – from yoga to dance to laughter circles. People are getting incredibly creative with their skillset and very generous in sharing them.

Take time away from your housemates and family

Make sure you allocate time each day to spend alone. You can go for a walk or run, read, meditate or whatever makes you happy. Do things that are about you and disconnect you from those around you.

It’s natural to worry about yourself or your loved ones during uncertain times. When you notice yourself in a negative thought spiral, there are some things you can do to get out of it. 

  • Remind yourself that just because you’re thinking a thought doesn’t make it true
  • Focus on what you can control rather than what you can’t
  • Acknowledge your thoughts and feelings, then spend time noticing and naming things around you like what you can smell, feel and see – you should notice yourself calming down

How can I tell if someone I know is struggling with their mental health?

Mental health issues usually begin with subtle changes in someone’s feelings, thinking and behaviour that then become an ongoing or a bigger issue. 

A useful gauge of whether someone might be struggling with their mental health is to consider how they’ve changed. If you’ve known them for a while, you’ll know their usual habits, behaviours or moods. Some common changes include:

  • Drinking too much – or more than usual – or started using other substances
  • Having emotional outbursts or displaying erratic behaviour
  • Suddenly losing weight or having a change in appetite
  • Being quieter or more withdrawn than usual
  • Criticising or blaming themselves for everything
  • Looking tired all the time and saying they’re not sleeping well
  • Turning up for work late or leaving early often
  • Becoming unreliable, missing deadlines or disappearing for long periods
  • Being secretive about their whereabouts and feelings

If a family member, colleague or friend is showing any of the above signs – don’t jump to conclusions. Check in with them. 

Ask them if they’re okay and remind them that you’ll listen if they need to speak to someone. If you don’t feel able to do that – ask someone closer to them to speak to them instead. 

People usually feel safer sharing if they think you understand their perspective. So, if you or someone you know have struggled with mental health issues, consider sharing this if you feel safe doing so. 

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