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The novel coronavirus has flung the world into a state of catastrophic uncertainty. The outbreaks of the virus worsening in many countries across the world and the constant news about the pandemic that we are being bombarded with does make us feel constantly anxious and uneasy.
And all of this is taking a toll on the mental health of people, especially those who are already living with conditions like Anxiety, panic attacks, hypochondriasis, and OCD.
As human beings, we want to feel certain about our safety and can’t help but pay attention to things that we feel are threatening to us. Although it is quite normal to feel stressed, this may sometimes create all sorts of havoc when we are surrounded by conflicting and threatening information.
A large part of anxiety is rooted in the fear of being out of control. At the present moment, many of us are worried about the coronavirus, which is also called COVID-19.
We may feel powerless and vulnerable about what is going to happen and how we can prevent further stress. Besides, the uncertainty may relate to other aspects of our lives and remind us of times when we didn’t feel certain about our safety.
This can take a toll on our mental health. You might be feeling more anger, helplessness or sadness than usual. For those of us, who are already struggling with mental health issues, it is understandable that they might feel low or dispirited to carry out daily activities.
However, it is essential to note that we are not completely helpless in the current circumstance of news events. It is always up to us to choose how we respond to our fear. So, what can we do to stay strong and protect our mental health?
Here are a few things that you can do to take care of your mental well-being in this coronavirus pandemic.
Limit the News and Selectively Choose What You Read
It is important to watch the news as it can give you information regarding the precautions and prevention. However, watching and reading lots of news compulsively about coronavirus can be detrimental to mental health. It can lead to panic attacks and people living with anxiety may have a tough time coping with it.
What you can instead do is limit your sources. Just follow one or two reliable sources of news and also choose a specific time to check in with the progress. This will ensure that you stay away from the misinformation that is swirling around while also avoiding potentially triggering content throughout the day. It is recommended to follow only the trusted sources of information such as government and NHS websites.
Stay Connected but Take Breaks from Social Media
Rumours and speculations can worsen anxiety. Also, you may feel compelled to stay informed on the subject and research more about it by checking your social media feed. But be aware that social media can have certain content that can be triggering.
You need to care about which accounts you follow, and for the time being, try to avoid clicking on hashtags with coronavirus in it. You can mute keywords on Twitter that you feel may induce panic in you. Also, mute WhatsApp groups and stay away from Facebook posts and feeds, if they overwhelm you.
Wash Your Hands and Follow General Hygiene
It is necessary to follow general hygiene advice like washing your hands, covering your mouth and nose while sneezing or coughing, etc. Try washing your hands more often than usual now. Use soap and hot water to properly rinse your hands.
Remind yourself to do this whenever you are done with some work, came back home from somewhere, coughed, sneezed, ate or handled food. In case, you can’t wash your hands right away, use a hand sanitiser and wash your hands at the next opportunity. Make sure that the tissues you use while sneezing or coughing are disposed of as quickly as possible.
Stay Connected with People
As people are advised to stay in self-isolation now, it is better to have all the right phone numbers and email addresses of your family, friends and people you care about with you. Call them up or start a video conversation with them, but try not to sensationalise things.
If you are sharing news or content about coronavirus, make sure that it is from a trusted source and is meant to educate them. Understand that they might be as worried as you too.
If you are staying in self-isolation, try to find a balance between your daily routine and adding something different to your tasks every day. Prepare a to-do list and find things that can help you distract from the current events. Here are a few ideas that you can try out:
· Read a new book
· Learn a musical instrument that you had always wanted
· Indulge yourself in household chores. They will give you a sense of purpose and accomplishment when completed.
· Take up a new online course. Coursera and Udemy are some options.
· Take some time out to watch movies.
Eventually, you might end up feeling quite productive by the end of the day.
It is good to have some downtime now. Pay attention to eating a balanced diet, staying hydrated, exercise and ensure adequate sleep.
Anxiety UK, a registered charity for anxiety disorders, recommends implementing the “APPLE” technique to cope up with anxiety and worries.
· Acknowledge: As uncertainty comes to your mind, try to observe and acknowledge them.
· Pause: Now, pause and breathe. Calm yourself and try not to react at all.
· Pull back: Affirm to yourself that the need for certainty is not at all necessary and certainly not helpful. It’s the worry talking, and it’s nothing but just a thought or feeling. Your thoughts are not facts, so there’s no point in believing that everything you think is true.
· Let go: Let go of the thoughts or feelings that make you restless. You can choose to not respond to them. Your negative feelings will pass. Try imagining them floating away in a bubble or a cloud.
· Explore: Explore the moment that you have right now because, at this moment, everything is fine. Turn your attention inwards. Focus on your breathing and notice things that are around you. Pay attention to what you hear, what you smell and what you touch.
Now shift your focus to something else – on what you need to do or what you were doing before you started worrying.
Taking Care of Yourself While at Home
It is recommended to ensure social distancing and avoid all but essential contact. Most of us will have to spend a lot of time at home and stay away from our regular social activities. But this doesn’t have to be completely horrid.
This time will help us introspect, see and understand things in a different light. It will also mean a new rhythm of life and the chance to spend more time with family instead of spending a lot of time outside.
You can still be in touch with people who are close to you regularly on phone, social media and e-mail. Although this is an unusual experience for you, it has some benefits after all.
All you need to do is understand that staying in self-isolation at this time is essential for you as well as for the health of the wider population.
Accept the uncertainty
If you suffer from Anxiety or any other mental health illness, it can be triggering to be exposed to a constant negative news cycle. However, the best way forward is to accept that some factors are within your control while some are not.
You can do all that you can to boost your immunity such as maintaining hygiene, focussing on diet, avoiding toxins and getting enough sleep and exercise, however, this does not mean you won’t contract the illness.
It’s important to be mindful of this uncertainty and accept it. If you stick to a clear routine and focus on what you can do instead of worrying about what you have no control over, it will help you deal with the stress of this harrowing situation.
It’s important to not beat yourself up about the situation and instead focus on using this time to introspect, develop new skills, take up hobbies and focus on fitness all of which will have a compounding positive effect on your mental health.