Coping in a time of uncertainty and disruption with the coronavirus outbreak
Many of us will currently be feeling anxious, on edge and down about the coronavirus outbreak. This is understandable, as everything is very uncertain and some of the advice can be confusing. We’re also all facing a significant disruption to our normal routines and plans; we’re creatures of habit, so this is unsettling!
Even if we hate our daily commute, the normal routine we follow helps to provide a structure to our day. At this time many of us are working from home, and we’re also unable to do our usual activities outside, with the exception of a daily dog walk, run or cycle perhaps.
It’s important for our mental and emotional wellbeing that we try to create some kind of new routine for ourselves. This may involve doing an online exercise class in the time we’d have spent commuting, and then taking a walk after work. Stick to having lunch breaks where possible. If you have children and they’re at home with you, figure out a timetable for the day that works for your whole household. This might include ‘work/education’ time, relaxation time, physical exercise time, as well as regular mealtimes.
Setting goals can be helpful, too. There are examples of people setting themselves huge challenges, for example running a marathon in their living rooms! Most of us don’t need to aim for anything that extreme, but it can help with our state of mind to set ourselves some goals. We’re more likely to keep to them if they’re SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-limited. For example, a SMART goal might be “I will do 15 minutes of gardening at lunchtime every day, starting from tomorrow, for the next three weeks.” We’re also more likely to achieve our goals if we share them and our progress with others.
Alongside routine and goal setting, there are lots of other ways we can help ourselves.
Look for the helpers. It’s easy to focus on the negative impact the coronavirus is having on society, but there are plenty of examples of people helping others and acting on kindness. You could make a conscious choice to follow these stories – and get involved yourself if you’re able to. Many communities now have Facebook groups where people are sharing ideas and the ways they can help and support each other.
Keep in touch. Now that many of us are in isolation, make sure you reach out to others through social media, phone calls, messaging apps, Skype – whatever works for you. It’s important that we don’t lose contact with friends and family. Make sure you balance this with time away from your phone and computer screens, however.
If you’re working from home and missing your colleagues, suggest setting up a group online so you can say “hello” and chat, a bit like you might do at lunchtime.
Look for the positive news. There’s much more focus on reporting the number of people who’ve died from the virus than the stories of recoveries If you feel you have to search for information, try to look for positive news stories and always check the source, as there’s some ‘fake news’ around.
Don’t focus on what you can’t control. Cancelled events, holidays, parties and health appointments are extremely disappointing – but try not to concentrate on these. Make plans in the areas of your life you can control, whether that’s work, activities at home with the family, deciding what to binge watch on TV, or books you want to read.
Adapt your activities. If in the past you’ve enjoyed meals out, or going to concerts, for example, think how you can recreate these experiences – cooking your favourite meal from scratch or listening to a classical concert on the radio for instance.
Look after yourself. Self-care is important at this time, especially if we’re taking care of others. It’s particularly vital for people working in the medical or healthcare profession to make sure they have breaks and get rest in between shifts.
Build exercise into to your temporary routine – even if you’re staying exclusively at home there are ways you can do this. There are routines and programmes you can follow on YouTube, and plenty of online classes, or you could dig out your old exercise DVDs! Exercise is good for our physical and mental wellbeing, and helps to remove the build-up of adrenaline we can experience when we’re anxious.
Get as much fresh air and natural light as possible. If you’re self-isolating, have the window open or get into the garden or onto the balcony when you can, and move around from one room to another to create some variety in your environment. If you’re not self-isolating, go for a daily walk. Nature can alleviate the symptoms of anxiety and depression, and watching the change of the seasons can help with getting perspective.
Resist the temptation to constantly check the news, online forums or social media feeds. Checking developments or symptoms may feel helpful initially, but doing this excessively can make us feel worse. If you have push notifications, consider turning these off. Perhaps just check a trustworthy news source twice a day to keep up with the latest updates and advice.
Remember that this situation won’t last forever. Acknowledge that things are going to be difficult, but we’re all experiencing this situation together – and it will pass.
Be kind to yourself. What you’re feeling is absolutely normal, and many others are feeling it, too.
Seek support if you need it. If you have an existing mental health problem such as depression, anxiety or OCD, for example, and the current situation is having a significant impact on your life then please reach out for support. This also goes for people who may be experiencing symptoms for the first time.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can help – and through online therapy you can quickly access support without needing to leave your house.