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March 20, 2020, by Kate

Coronavirus – coping with stress and mental health

Coronavirus, or COVID-19, has had a significant impact on everyone’s day-to-day life. It’s hard to avoid the word unprecedented, given the shocking effects on the way we all live our lives. The stress of the situation will also have an impact on people’s mental well-being. Here at the Centre for Forensic and Family Psychology, our staff want to offer some suggestions to help people cope and to protect their mental health.

Coronavirus – tips for coping with stress and mental health

Get coronavirus information from reputable sources

Fake news about the coronavirus is rife and has the potential to spread panic rapidly. Both the UK g

government and NHS websites are updated regularly, and have the most up to date and accurate information for those of us in the UK.

Take a break from coronavirus news

Of course everyone is talking about the coronavirus, and broadcasters are providing us all with regular updates. We need to be informed, but this can make it hard to stop thinking about! Everyone needs a break from distressing information. So take some time to do something that you enjoy and can be engrossed in. Things like: painting; reading; having a long hot bath; meditation etc. can help to have a little mental break from stressful topics, and a break from screens as well.

Have good self-care

When we are stressed, we tend not to look after ourselves well, and the coronavirus has undoubtedly caused extreme stress. The bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is our physiological need. So things like maintaining a healthy diet, exercising well, getting enough sleep and showering regular not only protect our physical health, but also our mental health. This is even more challenging when the gym may be closed and we cannot gather in groups. However there are some great exercises that can be done in the house, the NHS has a useful cardio workout. More and more online classes are starting up as well.

Don’t beat yourself up for not being able to do everything perfectly during the coronavirus pandemic

It is sadly true that we tend to be hardest on ourselves. Our reaction to the coronavirus is no different. I know personally: parents who are worried that they can’t teach their children well enough; students who are stressed that they can’t complete placements or exams; NHS staff who are beating themselves up because they have to isolate themselves and cannot be at work. We are all doing our best to try and manage through this crisis, some things might not be perfect when we suddenly have a whole new world of unexpected worries. That’s fine, if you’re following the government’s advice and doing your best to look after yourself and others, then you’re doing brilliantly.

Stay emotionally connected even if you are physically apart

One of the most challenging things about social distancing and self-isolation is that it risks loneliness or people becoming disconnected from friends and family. We know how important it is to stay connected to others to maintain mental well-being. Human beings evolved to work together, we are the dominant species on the planet because we co-operate (I would have no chance against a wild animal on my own!) So we have to find new ways to stay connected, there are hundreds of options for this online, via telephone and even (at a distance) in local communities. Talk to people, check in on people who might feel isolated or vulnerable, even though we may be physically apart we are in this together.

Notice the positives as well as the negatives

With so much frightening news it can become overwhelming. Human brains have evolved to pay more attention to threat or frightening things than positive, because that once helped us to survive. However, even in the midst of all the coronavirus fear there are still acts of basic human kindness every day. People are: buying groceries for more vulnerable neighbours; sharing teaching materials to help parents with children at home; sharing the humour of the clunky transition to working at home with pets and still working in vital services every day, despite the risk to self. It tends to be the people behaving worst that make the news, so actively seek out positive news and you will start to find it.

Be extra kind

When people are under extreme stress, sometimes they will act their worst. We go into survival modes when we are threatened, people might be more short-tempered, less communicative or more selfish under extreme stress. The impact of the coronavirus means that people are worried about their finances, their families and their own health. Little acts of kindness can not only improve your own mood, but other peoples. Remember that everyone is under stress at the moment, lots of people are scared, and people will cope in different ways. People working in shops have had to manage panic buying, as well as the knowledge that they will be exposed to a lot of people during a pandemic. Ask them how they are, show that you care. Support more vulnerable people if you are able, support small businesses or even just ask people how they are doing. Share things that have helped you, laugh and smile when you can, it draws us together.

The impact that the coronavirus will have on society will be profound. The uncertainty of the future is stressful in itself. But although some things might change, we will adapt and get through this together as a society. Remember to follow most up to date government guidance about the coronavirus.

This post was authored by Dr Kathleen (Kate) Green, assistant professor and HCPC registered forensic psychologist.

Posted in Mental Health