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There’s nothing quite like uncertainty and sudden changes to rile up anxiety. When even those that aren’t normally prone to stress are getting affected by the feeling of general panic, those that do struggle with mental health issues on a day to day basis are even more vulnerable. Babylon takes a look on how to help yourself in times when outside support may not be available as usual.
Over the past few weeks, we have all been bombarded with practical advice from health services on how to protect the most vulnerable and prevent the spread of Coronavirus. While the avoidance of public places and social distancing are necessary measures, being suddenly thrown off our usual routines can be a very difficult thing to deal with for people with anxiety. Here’s our advice on how to preserve your mental health as much as your physical one and how to make this transition to a new unexpected lifestyle as easy as possible.
Be picky with your news and social media exposure
There’s no arguing that staying informed is essential right now. However, that doesn’t mean that you have to read fear-mongering headlines all day long to do your duty as a citizen. Consider having a designated time in the day to check news (for example, once in the morning and once in the evening) and keeping away from it the rest of the time. As for sources, stick to a few official institutions like the HSE. And if you do decide to check a wider range of news, keep in mind that fear is what sells, and to take everything you read with a pinch of salt.
Same thing goes for social media. While it would be unrealistic to advise completely staying away from it, especially considering that it might be the most common way to keep in touch with friends and family over the course of the day, making an effort to use it more mindfully would be beneficial to anyone’s mental health. If someone’s content is making you feel panicked, remember that your sanity comes before anything else, and use your favourite social media’s mute and unfollow buttons in a way you see fit. We’re not telling you to unfriend your grandmother or block a childhood friend, but taking a few minutes to evaluate how essential a post is to your already saturated feeds can’t hurt. And if removing negative content isn’t an option, consider at least spreading it out by diversifying your feed and including positive accounts as well such as Coronavirus Good News or Upworthy.
Build your own new sense of normality
While there are people out there who thrive on surprises and unexpected events, those that struggle with anxiety tend to do better with a routine. It’s no surprise that getting thrown off into a completely different context, such as having to work from home or giving up going to your favourite dance class for a few weeks, can be difficult to deal with. Rather than letting go completely of your old habits, try to see this time as a temporary situation and keep as much as your preferred lifestyle in your daily life as you can. Wake up at the same time as you usually would, put on some clothes (although no one will blame you if you’d like to ditch the suit or heels and go for leggings or sneakers instead – you can be responsible and comfortable too), stick to your usual meal routine. Start and end your work day at the same time as you usually would: being at home doesn’t mean that you’re working any less, and there is no reason to overwork to compensate not being in your usual settings.
Some habits may have to be adapted or discarded for the moment: for example, you might have to replace your usual gym routine with a home workout or say goodbye to your usual Friday night pub outings. Once again, the main thing is to do the best you can with what you have and remember that this is far from permanent. Make sure to set aside a few moments in your day to check in with yourself and completely relax. Think of implementing some meditation or deep breathing into your routine if that isn’t something you do already. It may not feel like it right now, but this will pass.
Take advantage of your time at home… But don’t get overwhelmed
Being stuck at home can be an opportunity to catch up on things we thought we’d never have the time to do. Is there a book you’ve always had the itch to write ? Have you been constantly looking for excuses to avoid decluttering your wardrobe ? Would you like to learn a new language, or maybe a new skill you never had the chance to look into ? If “I don’t have the time” used to be your excuse for everything, now is the moment to change that. As a bonus, having a clear objective in mind will give you more structure and purpose, something that is much needed in such uncertain times.
On the other hand, don’t let messages that you need to be productive all the time bring you down. We are surrounded by news that are hard to wrap our heads around, and it is totally understandable if you’re not in the right headspace to take on all the ambitious projects at once. Life tends to be pretty hectic, and being suddenly thrown out of our daily routine can make our minds and bodies realize how much rest they are truly missing out on. The current climate is hard enough to deal with: don’t make it harder by putting unrealistic expectations on yourself. Sure, it sounds great to use all this extra time to do amazing things, but there will also be days when all you’re going to want will be to take a nap and watch some television, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
And before anything else, keep it simple
In times when everything seems overly complicated and confusing, the best thing to do is to keep focused on the things that matter the most. We are all responding in different ways to Covid-19, as it is a situation that few of us thought we would ever encounter in our lifetime. However, we are all human beings, and our basic needs remain the same. So if you’re not in quarantine, go out for a walk in nature, or at least make a point to get some fresh air every day, even if only for a few minutes. Have regular, balanced meals, and don’t stress over the occasional treat: there is enough stress about panic buying and food insecurity right now to add any kind of food guilt to your lists of worry. Incorporate some form of movement to your day. It may come in the form of a super intense home workout session, but if you’d rather do some light yoga or simply dance around your house, that’s great too. As said earlier, there is already a lot of pressure associated with the situation, and the last thing naturally anxious people need is even more unnecessary constraints from themselves.
Finally, whether you are self-isolating by yourself or sharing accommodation with other people, make some time in day to keep in contact with those that matter the most to you, especially the most vulnerable. Make phone calls to family members, facetime your friends, have casual conversations on social media, play online games… We live in an incredibly connected world, and the only limit to the way you can connect with other people through technology is the one you give to yourself. This may be even harder if you live far away from home, but don’t let your worries take over and instead enjoy the opportunities you have to connect with them. And for those that don’t live on their own, don’t feel guilty if you ever need some “me time”: sharing a same restricted space with the same people 24/7 is enough to make anyone a little bit on edge, and says nothing about your value as a partner, parent, child or housemate. Use the time together to learn more about each other and get closer if you want, but don’t beat yourself up for needing some alone time once in a while.
- An Taoiseach Varadkar on St Patrick’s Day: Come together as a nation by staying apart from each other
It is hard to make any kind of conclusion about an issue as ongoing as this one. Managing anxiety on a daily basis can already be a burden in normal circumstances, and there is nothing to be ashamed of if the sudden consequences of the Coronavirus pandemic has negatively affected your mental health. Let us know if our strategies helped and if you have any more advice of your own, and don’t hesitate to call or write to one of Ireland’s many helplines if things get too hard to deal with on your own.