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Looking after your mental wellbeing during COVID-19

Meera Phull, Clinical Collaboration Lead, Bupa Group Clinical
31 March 2020

As measures increase to protect the population from the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), we find ourselves with more restrictions in place. This will likely present challenges for many of us who are having to establish and adjust to new routines. The ‘five ways to wellbeing’ guidance (from the Government Office for Science) is a simple but effective framework we can use to remind us of some key areas to focus on to help with our mental wellbeing.

Connect

In the absence of physical contact with family and friends, it’s more important than ever to make a conscious effort to stay connected with others. What’s vital to remember during this time, is that while you may experience difficult feelings, you’re not alone. And there are likely to be many people feeling the same way.

While you’re social distancing, working from home and self-isolating, try to focus on maintaining a sense of social contact. You might try to substitute face-to-face contact with virtual contact by scheduling regular phone and video calls, or keeping in touch by message or email.

As well as connecting with family and friends you can’t see in person, acknowledge that relationships may feel strained with those you live with. You can ease this by being considerate and respectful of each other’s space and communicating your needs. Work together to ensure that you get through this time as best you can.

Not everyone may have someone to call regularly. If you’re older, live alone and would like to talk to someone, Age UK has a number you can call for a chat on 0800 169 65 65. Here are some other organisations that may help.

  • The Samaritans are there to support you if you’re struggling. You can contact them via phone or email, and their website has lots of helpful resources.
  • Relate is another resource you may want to turn to for relationship worries.
  • Citizen’s Advice has information on organisations that can offer help and support for domestic abuse.

Be active

You might have previously got your daily exercise as part of your journey to work, or at a gym or fitness class you attend. But with many of us unable to go to work, gyms being closed and fitness classes stopped, we need to remain active in different ways.

With current restrictions on leaving our homes, it’s especially important to keep up your physical activity levels and movement. Physical activity is really important for your mental wellbeing because it releases feel-good hormones, as well as cortisol (which helps manage stress). It can help you sleep better too.

The Government has said you can leave your house once a day for exercise, which may include a walk, run or bike ride. Make sure you do this if you can. The benefits of being outdoors include getting some vitamin D, being in nature and lifting your mood. Feeling the sun on your face and listening to the birds singing can give you a real boost.

Find ways to be active at home though too. There are lots of virtual fitness classes or programmes that are available online or through fitness apps. You can try our easy-to-follow HIIT workout or rise and shine yoga routine to get started.

Take notice

This is a very unusual and unsettling time, and COVID-19 is likely to be at the forefront of your mind a lot of the time. The more attention you give things, the more they can affect the way you think and feel. At the moment, with a huge amount of global attention on COVID-19, you may find yourself feeling overwhelmed or overloaded with information. It’s therefore important to take notice of positive and pleasant – or even neutral – things.

One way to do this is to focus on the present moment. This can help you feel calmer and cope better with difficult thoughts. Try it by taking a few minutes out of your day to sit quietly and focus on your breath. Notice what it feels like to pause and really pay attention to the sensation of breathing in and out. Another option might be to take notice of the sounds around you. As the weather improves, you might like to sit outside if you’re able to or open the windows and notice what you can hear.

A third option is to practise gratitude – to take some time out to think of what you’re grateful for each day, however big or small.

The Oxford Centre for Mindfulness is running free online mindfulness sessions for anyone who would like to try these techniques during this uncertain time.

While you think about the things you would like to take notice of, you may also want to consider the things you’d like to take less notice of. If you find that exposure to the news or social media is negatively affecting the way you feel, you may wish to limit your access to this. The World Health Organization advises only looking at updates at specific times of the day, once or twice. And be selective about which sources you use to access credible information. The NHS and GOV UK sites have reliable and up-to-date information that you can access as and when you wish.

Keep learning

Many people are unable to work or go about their activities in the same way as normal. The usual sense of purpose or routine that you can gain from your daily life may feel off kilter at the moment. The good news is, learning can help with self-confidence and provide a sense of purpose and achievement.

If you have children at home, you may wish to learn together. This could be through supporting them with their schoolwork or learning a new activity together, such as cooking, baking or drawing. The avenues to learn now are broader than ever with the availability of books, audio books, podcasts, documentaries and online learning. Try thinking of something that interests you and explore ways to learn more about that topic or skill.

Give

Giving can make us feel good and helps us feel connected to others. Now, more than ever, it’s so important that we work together to get through this challenging time. There are many ways you can give to others in the absence of being able to meet with or see people. Just by following the Government’s guidelines, you’re helping people by preventing the spread of the virus.

You can also volunteer to help the NHS via Good Sam. You can sign up and offer various services such as phoning people who may be alone or vulnerable for a check in and chat. Think of ways you can give to the people in your household and do something nice for them. Or give your time and attention by calling someone you know who may really benefit from the company.

Final thoughts

As a first step towards looking after your mental wellbeing, it might be helpful to consider these five areas. Think about what steps you can take within each to help you manage over the next few weeks and months. You might want to consider what resources you have available, what interests you, what motivates you, what you value and who else you might involve.

Meera Phull
Meera Phull, Clinical Collaboration Lead, Bupa Group Clinical

    • Five ways to mental wellbeing. Government Office for Science. GOV UK. www.gov.uk, published 22 October 2008
    • Practical ways to help older people. Age UK. www.ageuk.org.uk, last updated 24 March 2020
    • If you're worried about your mental health during the coronavirus outbreak. The Samaritans. www.samaritans.org, accessed 25 March 2020
    • Physical activity and your mental health. Mind. www.mind.org.uk, published March 2019
    • UK Chief Medical Officers' Physical Activity Guidelines. GOV UK. www.gov.uk, published 7 September 2019
    • Vitamin D and health. SACN. www.gov.uk, published 2016
    • Connection to nature: evidence briefing. Natural England access to evidence information note EIN015. publications.naturalengland.org.uk, published 14 July 2016
    • Nature and mental health. Mind. www.mind.org.uk, last reviewed May 2018
    • Coronavirus and your wellbeing. Mind. www.mind.org.uk, published March 2020
    • Mindfulness. Mental Health Foundation. www.mentalhealth.org.uk, accessed 25 March 2020

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