Managing Mental Health during the Coronavirus Pandemic
The outbreak of COVID-19 has effected many aspects of all of our lives and the bad news can seem never-ending. The lockdowns and social distancing measures that governments across the world have introduced are paramount to stopping the spread of the virus, but can have a negative impact on us psychologically and many are concerned for their mental health during the coronavirus pandemic.
Government guidelines and potential drawbacks
On 23rd March the UK Government declared a state of national emergency and announced strict lockdown measures to manage the spread of COVID-19. Despite passing the three week deadline originally stated, the lockdown continues to be in place indefinitely until the government instructs otherwise.
During the lockdown period, the public are allowed out of their homes only in limited circumstances, including to:
- Exercise once per day;
- Travel to and from work, but only where absolutely necessary;
- To shop once a week for essential items only and;
- To fulfil any medical or care needs.
We are currently in an unprecedented situation and whilst the enforcement of isolation is necessary in order to protect the most vulnerable in our society, it does not come without drawbacks. There are many facets to the widespread fear and anxiety surrounding COVID-19 that may lead or contribute to the deterioration of mental health during this period. The most obvious of these concerns is the fear of infection of not only oneself, but also of family members, particularly the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.
However, the health implications are not the only cause of stress during this time. It is predicted that the lockdown may grind the economy to a halt, with KPMG predicting that the forced closure of all non-essential businesses set to plunge the UK into a deep recession. Some analysts, such as the Centre for Economics and Business Research, suggest that the outbreak of the coronavirus in the UK could lead to a stunning drop in economic output of around 15% (dwarfing the contraction of the economy during the 2008 financial crisis), with unemployment potentially doubling. This creates further uncertainty around the livelihoods of society’s most vulnerable. There is a multitude of evidence to suggest that it is people living in poverty who are most likely to suffer during a crisis, including suffering from mental health disorders such as depression and the closure of key services upon which they rely, such as food banks. Thus, the lockdown due to coronavirus may further compound the issues faced by the poor and increase incidences of mental ill health.
Finally, another of the biggest concerns is the drastic and complete change in lifestyle for a large number of people. For the coming period many will be spending a considerable amount of time at home with their regular social activities coming to an abrupt stop. This change comes as a result of the social distancing measures. However, there is a fear that as a result many people may suffer from feelings such as isolation and boredom.
Tips for managing mental health during lockdown
There are methods to managing mental health during the coronavirus pandemic which can offset the risks caused by the lockdown restrictions.
Develop a new Routine:
As a result of the disruption to our normal daily life, it may be a good idea to develop a new routine. This routine may be based around dedicating time to more of your personal interests and focussing on things that you enjoy. Alternatively, if you are working from home, this routine may involve getting up and getting ready as if you were physically going to work, dedicating a certain time during the day to exercise ordo the household chores and relaxing, as well as keeping regular sleep patterns.
Take care of physical health:
Taking care of your physical health is also very important. Our physical and mental health are closely interconnected, so it is equally important to take care of both. Eating a balanced diet and drinking plenty of water, whilst avoiding things like smoking, alcohol and drugs is recommended.
Exercise is also incredibly important during this time. When we exercise, our brains release a group of hormones called endorphins. Endorphins are regularly described as the body’s natural “feel-good” chemical as they often provide pain relief as well as increasing the feeling of pleasure. If you have ever heard of the “runners high”, this is the chemical that causes this feeling. However, if you do leave the house make sure to stay at least 2 metres apart from anybody not in your household!
Another tip is to watch something that really makes you laugh. Similarly to exercise, laughing releases endorphins in your brain. Watching your favourite comedy for 20 minutes can have a very positive effect on your overall mood.
During this time, it is also good to check on family members, friends and neighbours, particularly those who are living alone. Even though government restrictions prevent us from meeting or visiting family and friends, this does not mean we cannot stay in contact. This is an unprecedented and challenging time for us all, and staying in contact is as important as ever. For those working from home, it may also be beneficial to make use of the technology available to us and keep in regular contact via Skype or Zoom, as a replacement for the classic “water cooler” chat.
During this uncertain time, it is natural to feel worried. If the news in particular is a source of anxiety, try to limit exposure to certain times of the day and use trusted sources such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) or local health authorities. Finally, and I cannot stress this enough, if you are feeling worried and having negative feelings talk to somebody, whether they are a family member or a trusted friend. In doing so, you may not only be helping yourself, but them too! If you feel unable to do so, below is a list of NHS-recommended helplines that can be contacted if you are worried about yourself, a family member or a friend: