COVID-19 virus has brought much panic and disruption, dramatically changing normal life in a very short space of time. We are in uncharted territory and if the outbreak has left you feeling scared, anxious, confused, overwhelmed, angry, sad and/or hopeless, it’s okay, these are all normal and expected reactions to the uncertainty around the virus and its potential for harm. You may be experiencing fear for your own health or your loved ones, difficulties with sleep and/or concentrating, changes to your appetite and worsening of chronic health conditions, as well as more reliance on substances like alcohol or nicotine. These are understandable effects of the current health crisis we are facing.
As part of the critical steps of social distancing and isolation, to try to slow the spread of the virus , we are now having to spend the vast majority of our time at home. For some this can also be an enormous challenge, for example, if you live on your own, in a confined space, or unable to access social support and the connections that you would ordinarily have. Furthermore, with constant updates available on news and social media, it can be really challenging to stay calm, and the negative impact the current situation may be having on our mental health is unfortunately, unsurprising.
As a member of our community, we want to let you know that we are in this with you. Like many other organisations, our Food For the Brain family is working from home and we want to provide some tips on how you can look after your mental health, whilst social distancing and in isolation, in this undoubtedly challenging time.
1. Stick to a routine
It’s completely understandable that your appetite may have changed (up or down) due to the anxiety around COVID-19, and the disruption to your normal routine. Disrupted sleep-wake patterns (i.e. less active in the day, and more active in the night) are well recognised in mood disorders and may lead to an increased susceptibility to these conditions. Furthermore, by being more active in the day compared to at night is associated with healthier sleeping cycles and therefore may contribute to better mental health. Therefore, now, more than ever, keeping to a routine can be really helpful in giving your day some more structure and meaning. Try some of the following:
- Start by thinking about activities you do on a daily basis and allocating time for each of these. For example, if you enjoy a morning cup of coffee, set aside 15 to 20 minutes for this.
- Find time to incorporate 30 minutes for exercise if you can. Exercise is hugely important for good mental health. If exercise is not currently part of your routine, start small with walking and low impact exercise for short periods, and build up to 30 minutes at a time.
- Practice good sleep hygiene to give yourself the best chance of getting a good night’s rest. This can include dimming the lights before your bedtime, having a warm (but not hot) bath or shower before bed, and staying off your electronic devices for at least 30 minutes before bed
2. Limit your consumption of the news and social media, and stay reliably informed
The amount of information currently available from official organisations, news and media outlets and social media can be completely overwhelming and at times confusing. Messages received through email and other communication channels can be overwhelming, allowing for inaccurate or mis-information to spread like wildfire. All of this serves to increase anxiety around COVID-19. Here are our tips for managing anxiety caused by the influx of media:
- Use trusted sources: including www.gov.uk and https://www.nhs.uk to ensure you’re getting the most up-to-date, current advice.
- Consider limiting your reading of sensationalist news headlines if it makes you feel more anxious.
- Consider turning off the ‘breaking news’ notifications on your phone (through your settings on your phone).
- Limit social media if you find the wealth of information, opinions and posts on COVID-19 overwhelming.
3. Try enjoying some brain-stimulating exercises
The COVID-19 lockdown, as hard as it is, offers a great opportunity to practice exercises that help your brain health. Research has shown that playing games may help preserve cognitive functions in people vulnerable to Alzheimer’s Disease and may prevent disease onset. Activities such as jigsaw puzzles, card games, checkers or crosswords and reading magazines, journals and/or books, learning a new language, all count as cognitive activities so try incorporating this into your daily routine.
4. Connect with your loved ones, remotely if necessary
Social connection is really important for our mental health and general sense of wellbeing. Despite current social distancing guidelines being absolutely vital, it can take its toll on your mental wellbeing. Although it’s not quite the same, luckily we have the benefit of technology to help us connect with others, without leaving your home. Here’s some tips on how to connect with others online:
- Consider holding pub quizzes or online dinner parties with your friends to keep you occupied, entertained and connected during the COVID-19 lockdown.
- Consider starting or joining an online book club. Many are appearing online and are being run through private messaging groups.
- Workout online with friends. Many fitness clubs and trainers are holding ‘live’ sessions online through social media channels and some are offering free online fitness workouts.
- Check in with your friends, colleagues and family to see how they are and share what you’ve also been up to.
- Watch a film and/or cook a meal with a friend online.
If you do share your home with others, remember to also connect with those at home. A great way to do this is through shared activities such as cooking and also through playing games.
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