New and challenging circumstances call for proactive measures to ensure you are looking after your mental health during lockdown and social isolation as a result of the coronavirus. Here are some of the most reported difficulties that might have affected you:
- Do I or don’t I have COVID-19? Being trapped in a cycle of anxiety and relying on unhelpful ways to manage it.
- Repetitive, spiralling and catastrophic thoughts about the future that cause anxiety:
- What will happen to my family? Will they be safe? Can they cope with Corona Virus? What if they become ill and I can’t be there to look after them?
- What if I respond badly to the virus and have to go into hospital alone?
- Will I still have a job and an income when things get started again? How will I survive?
- How will my children’s education be affected?
- Will I be in negative equity with my mortgage if my house loses value?
- How can my partner and I separate if we can’t sell the house?
- How can we have a baby now?
- How am I ever going to feel safe to leave the house after lockdown when I could still catch the virus
- Finding it difficult to motivate yourself to do things and feeling lethargic where days melt into one another. Procrastinating on jobs that need to be done, inactivity and the dilemma of spending more time on your phone, tablet, computer or watching TV.
- Disrupted sleep-wake cycles, going to sleep later, laying in for longer and restless nights of sleep.
- Preoccupation with food and eating. Snacking on junk food, comfort eating and thinking about food more than usual… Waiting in anticipation for the next meal.
- Drinking more alcohol than usual; starting early and finishing late.
- Extreme self-imposed isolation. Finding yourself withdrawing further into your shell than might be necessary. Spending more time in bed or in your bedroom.
- Arguing with those you’re sharing a house with. Feeling angrier towards your partner or family than normal. Considering ways to escape and leave the relationship, or ways to move out of home but feeling trapped and unable to get away.
- Whether you’re living alone or living in a busy house, sometimes even when you’re surrounded by people loneliness can set in.
- Accessing healthcare support for other illnesses. Experiencing physical symptoms of a possible illness but reluctant to make contact with the GP. Worried you might be told to wait and worry.
- Separation anxiety. Being away from the people you love the most and unable to get to them.
So what can you do to improve these challenging circumstances and help yourself feel better? Here are seven of many ideas we would suggest considering for looking after your mental health. This method is drawn from dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT):
IMPROVE The Moment
The IMPROVE skill is a collection of seven useful ways of responding to immediate challenging events with positive ways of coping, making the difficult time easier to cope with.
Use your imagination to visualise a better situation than the one you’re currently in. Imagine you’re in a place where everything is nicer, or a place you have been before and felt safe and content. Imagine a beautiful scene on the beach or in the mountains, or a time where you have felt that warm rush of satisfaction. Spend ten minutes doing this at the start or end of the day, or when you are finding things most difficult throughout the day. Imagine what you plan to do once lockdown is over – dare to dream.
Seek purpose or meaning either through the tasks and activities you take part in each day or find other things you could do that will give you a sense of meaning. If you’re struggling to do anything in the day, set yourself five simple and achievable tasks to accomplish and review your progress at the end of the day. Or if you want to inspire connection with others, drop a note through your neighbour’s letterbox and offer to pick something up for them when you’re next doing your supermarket shop.
Whether you’re spiritual or not, this is still a skill you can use. It requires us to consider something greater than ourselves and invite perspective or guidance through asking it for strength. While for some people this might be a God, for others it might be a connection with nature or with the memory of a loved one who has passed away. Connect with it through a letter or through a silent or spoken conversation.
Improve the moment with relaxation and mindfulness. Spend ten minutes alone sitting in the garden with a cold drink and listen to the sounds surrounding you while breathing deeply, or download a YouTube relaxation script to listen to, or listen to a calming piece of music.
One thing in the moment:
Spend some time each day focusing on only one thing, one simple task or activity and check in on all your senses to fully activate your experience. For example, making a cup of coffee, doing the washing up or eating your breakfast. Really attend to the thing you’re doing noticing the micro detail of everything you can see, hear, feel, smell and taste. Value the moment.
Take a holiday from being a responsible adult who worries about the difficult things. Go for a walk in the rain and jump in some puddles, put your hands in mud, do something messy… pack up a picnic and sit on the grass in the garden to eat it. Build a den using the washing line. Be playful.
Offer yourself encouragement, praise and positive affirmation. If you set yourself goals and accomplish them or get part way towards them, be sure to stop and offer yourself some acceptance for what has been achieved. The evidence is clear that we respond better to encouragement and self-compassion than we do to self-punishment. While it can be hard to celebrate the small accomplishments, it’s very important when looking after your mental health to practice self-respect. The research is clear that doing this will increase your chances of making sustainable changes.
This is just one of very many ideas you could gain to support yourself to improve the situation while in lockdown, and to be proactive in looking after your mental health. To access a therapist who can support you with any problems you may be experiencing, contact Serendipity Psychology today.