mental health in the time of covid-19

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I was planning a different post but to not write about the new coronavirus felt a little like ignoring the elephant in the corner.

My thoughts won’t shut up about it. At a time in my life when I rarely dream, it is creeping in when I am asleep. The precarious balancing act of living with anxiety and depression is harder than normal.

I find myself torn. My generalised anxiety is telling to stay home, to shut the door on the world. Backed up by my health anxiety screaming at me that, not only am I going to get covid-19 but I will get it bad. Probably the worst-case scenario. Or I will lose someone I love. Right now, my body feels primed for fight or flight. Every base instinct telling me I am under threat.

And then I have the voice reminding me I already spend too much time on my own. That hiding away isn’t healthy for my mental health. Everyone is talking about checking on the elderly and making sure they are not lonely. But what about the rest of us? Those of us with depression and anxiety who already live a lonely life. I can go days without talking to people face to face if I don’t go out. That trip to the coffee shop is sometimes what gets me through the day. Going to gigs makes me feel alive. Take going out away from me and what do I have left? Other than the worryingly real possibility of deteriorating mental health.

I worry covid-19 will set me back. Undo all that I have put so much energy into over the last year or so. If I stop doing things, meeting people, pushing myself out of my comfort zone. If I stay at home more. If I let the fear overwhelm me again. If I listen to that voice saying to me that the world is a scary place.

I worry that as my physical world shrinks, so will my mental world and I will have to start all over again

And I worry beyond myself. About the people in my life who are in the higher risk groups. About the ones who aren’t. The ones whose physical health puts them at risk. The ones who are also struggling with the effect on their mental health. The small businesses I support, the musicians I follow, the people I’ve never met but talk to or follow on social media. I worry about the world.

There is uncertainty piling on top of my existing uncertainty, and I am struggling to cope. My focus – the little I had – has gone.

Logically I know the odds are in my favour in terms of the virus itself. I mean yes, I’m classed as immune suppressed. But I am far enough away from my transplant and have had enough illnesses to have built (I hope) a sturdy immune system back up. I am not in the elderly category, even if some days my body feels like I’m not far off. I don’t go out to work (something tells me the hunt for a real-world job might have just become even more challenging), I spend most of my time at home on my own already.

But logic doesn’t mean a single thing to anxiety.

Isolation isn’t so bad. I remind myself I have isolated before and survived. At least this time I am in my own home and not in a hospital bed with no view. I have my own things and my own food.

But I didn’t have significant mental health issues before.

This is challenging for us all. It will affect every single one of us in some way. Some physically. Some mentally. Some both. Please follow the official medical advice for how to look after yourself physically, do your best to reduce the strain on our already damaged health system.

But what can we do to look after our mental health?
  • Accept the uncertainty. That much of this is beyond your control. You can’t be certain you will or won’t get it, that you won’t pass it on. How long it will last. There is so much unknown right now.
  • Focus on what you can control. Take care of your physical and mental health. Wash your hands. Eat well and keep fluids up. Take your medication. Keep your home tidy and clean as best you can. Stay indoors if you are told to.
  • Try to stick to a routine if self-isolating. Plan some activities. Start that new hobby or learn that language you always wanted to but never had the time for. Have a clear-out or tackle that to-do list. Keep physically active as best you can – the NHS site has some good free exercise routines you can do at home.
  • Stop checking the news and social media so much. It doesn’t help. The constant streaming of updates, videos and information is overwhelming and just feeds the fear. Knowing the current stats won’t change things. Choose a couple of times a day to check so you know the important facts.
  • And whilst we’re on the subject, stick to reliable sources. Not some viral post your friend has shared on Facebook by someone who is not a health professional. Or an expert on the situation. There is too much information out there and so much of it is sensationalist or fake. Stick to official sources in your country e.g. the NHS in the UK, factual publications like the New Scientist, and the independent fact-checking site Full Fact
  • Reach out to others. Losing physical contact doesn’t mean losing all contact. We have phones. We can text, message, WhatsApp. Skype allows us to see faces. Listen to podcasts and the radio to hear other people’s voices. Find online communities.
  • If you can and you’re not self-isolating, get some fresh air and a change of scene. Avoid busy and crowded places indoors. Head to the park.
  • Be kind to yourself. These are overwhelming times. It is going to have an impact on you, it’s going to affect your mental health in some shape or form. Accept that and allow for it. Allow for others.
  • If you’re struggling, there is support out there. Check out sites like Mind, Anxiety UK etc.

Look after yourselves. Look after each other.

Me. I’m going to continue working on accepting my anxiety. And I’m going to try and take my own advice.


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