Minding your mental health during the Coronavirus pandemic

It is perfectly normal to be finding life stressful at the moment. We are living in extraordinary times and so it is really important to look after ourselves. Here are some good tips from the HSE website  https://www2.hse.ie/wellbeing/mental-health/covid-19/minding-your-mental-health-during-the-coronavirus-outbreak.html about minding our mental health.

Minding your mental health during the coronavirus pandemic

Infectious disease pandemics like coronavirus (COVID-19) can be worrying. This can affect your mental health. But there are many things you can do to mind your mental health during times like this.

How it might affect your mental health

The spread of coronavirus is a new and challenging event. Some people might find it more worrying than others. Medical, scientific and public health experts are working hard to contain the virus. Try to remember this when you feel worried.

Most people’s lives will change in some way over a period of days, weeks or months. But in time, it will pass.

You may notice some of the following:

  • increased anxiety
  • feeling stressed
  • finding yourself excessively checking for symptoms, in yourself, or others
  • becoming irritable more easily
  • feeling insecure or unsettled
  • fearing that normal aches and pains might be the virus
  • having trouble sleeping
  • feeling helpless or a lack of control
  • having irrational thoughts

If you are taking any prescription medications, make sure you have enough.

How to mind your mental health during this time

Keeping a realistic perspective of the situation based on facts is important. Here are some ways you can do this.

We also have guides on:

Stay informed but set limits for news and social media

The constant stream of social media updates and news reports about coronavirus could cause you to feel worried. Sometimes it can be difficult to separate facts from rumours. Use trustworthy and reliable sources to get your news.

Read up-to-date, factual information on coronavirus in Ireland here.

On social media, people may talk about their own worries or beliefs. You don’t need to make them your own. Too much time on social media may increase your worry and levels of anxiety. Consider limiting how much time you spend on social media.

If you find the coverage on coronavirus is too intense for you, talk it through with someone close or get support.

Keep up your healthy routines

Your routine may be affected by the coronavirus outbreak in different ways. But during difficult times like this, it’s best if you can keep some structure in your day.

It’s important to pay attention to your needs and feelings, especially during times of stress. You may still be able to do some of the things you enjoy and find relaxing.

For example, you could try to:

Stay connected to others

During times of stress, friends and families can be a good source of support. It is important to keep in touch with them and other people in your life.

If you need to restrict your movements or self-isolate, try to stay connected to people in other ways, for example:

  • e-mail
  • social media
  • video calls
  • phone calls
  • text messages

Many video calling apps allow you to have video calls with multiple people at the same time.

Remember that talking things through with someone can help lessen worry or anxiety. You don’t have to appear to be strong or to try to cope with things by yourself.

Try to anticipate distress and support each other

It is understandable to feel vulnerable or overwhelmed reading or hearing news about the outbreak.

Acknowledge these feelings. Remind yourself and others to look after your physical and mental health. If you smoke or drink, try to avoid doing this any more than usual. It won’t help in the long-term.

Don’t make assumptions

Don’t judge people or make assumptions about who is responsible for the spread of the disease. The coronavirus can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, nationality or ethnicity. We are all in this together.

Online and phone supports

Face-to-face services are limited at the moment because of the coronavirus outbreak. But some services are providing online and phone services.

Find mental health supports and services that can help during COVID-19 outbreak

If you are using mental health services for an existing mental health condition

If things get difficult, it can be helpful to have a plan to help you get through.

Things you can do:

  • have a list of numbers of mental health service and relatives or friends you can call if you need support
  • keep taking any medication and continue to fill your prescription with support from your GP or psychiatrist
  • continue with any counselling or psychotherapy session you have
  • limit your news intake and only use trusted sources of information
  • practice relaxation techniques and breathing exercises

If your condition gets worse, contact your mental health team or GP.

If you have an intellectual disability

If you have an intellectual disability, you may feel more worried or sad because of coronavirus. Staying at home could be difficult for you. You could also be worried about your family or those close to you.

It is important to take care of yourself. Try to keep a routine, shower every day and eat healthy food

Follow the advice to stay at home. You can keep in touch with people you trust over the phone or the internet.

Read advice about supporting someone with special needs during the coronavirus pandemic.

For more advice on minding your mental health visit inclusionireland.ie

It is also important to prevent spreading the virus. For information on how to do this, read the HSE Coronavirus Easy-Read Information Booklet.

OCD and coronavirus

If you have OCD, you may develop an intense fear of:

  • catching coronavirus
  • causing harm to others
  • things not being in order

Fear of being infected by the virus may mean you become obsessed with:

  • hand hygiene
  • cleanliness
  • avoiding certain situations, such as using public transport

Washing your hands

The compulsion to wash your hands or clean may get stronger. If you have recovered from this type of compulsion in the past, it may return.

Follow the advice above. Wash your hands properly and often, but you do not need to do more than recommended.

Read more about obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) symptoms, treatment and getting help.

How families can cope with pandemic stress

Here is an interesting article from the University of Alberta in Canada

How families can cope with pandemic stress

We can’t control our negative thoughts and feelings, but we can choose how we respond to them, says U of A expert.

By BEV BETKOWSKI

How do families cope with the emotional upheaval caused by COVID-19 without falling apart?

It is possible to keep personal relationships from crumbling under stress by choosing how to react, said Adam Galovan, a University of Alberta expert in family dynamics.

“Many people are going to be upset or angry because of job losses or cutbacks and all that that might mean. Most social engagements are also being cancelled. Unfortunately, we don’t have a clear picture of when this will end, which can lead to a lot of anxiety. Because of this, it’s important for people to acknowledge how they feel, whether it’s angry, fearful or sad.

“They can’t control their negative feelings, but they can control how they respond to those feelings.”

That means working to avoid “ineffective coping” like eating a whole bucket of ice cream or an entire pizza, or snapping at the kids or each other, Galovan advised.

“If we can recognize and understand our feelings, we will likely be able to think of other, more healthy ways to cope.”

Galovan said that when we’re stressed, we tend to go to our baseline coping tendencies; some get agitated, others shut down.

And there’s often a pursuer-avoider pattern in relationships, he added.

“One person wants to address an issue and tackle it head-on, while the other partner wants to ignore it. During stressful times, this can become more pronounced.”

Pursuers should monitor their feelings and consider outlets for reducing their anxiety and tendency to seek control, like exercise or meditation, Galovan suggested.

Avoiders may need to ask themselves if they can be coping more effectively.

“It can be helpful to journal their feelings, and then talk with their partner about how they’re feeling.

“Often, just voicing our feelings, having that conversation, helps relieve the tension and helps us feel less stressed. It also opens up dialogue to get a better perspective on what’s going on with one another,” said Galovan.

And when partners can’t agree on how to handle something like a money issue, having some empathy for the other person is a good place to start to address the issue, Galovan said.

“It’s key to say it’s us against this problem, rather than me versus you. For instance, if one person wants to keep a cable TV subscription because they find it helps ease their stress, then maybe they can find another way to cut costs. If we can put ourselves in our partner’s shoes and have some empathy for what they’re experiencing, then we can talk through it and find another solution.”

Even though work and school have been upended by COVID-19 lockdowns, Galovan said establishing a routine at home eases stress.

“Get up at the normal hour you did before, eat meals at a set time. We are creatures of habit, especially kids, so if we can do some things consistently when other things are up in the air, it helps us all feel more grounded.”

Don’t forget about the kids

It’s important that parents not allow their own stress to spill over to their children.

Galovan said being aware of our own stress is also helpful so we don’t react to those feelings by treating our children in a harsher way. For example, he said, parents might have less patience and snap at their children, or spank them when we usually don’t.

Instead, parents can take a timeout.

“Most situations with a child don’t need to be handled right away, so take a break and calm down, then come back to it,” he said.

“And if you have responded more negatively than you should have, apologize. It might be helpful to explain some of your stresses. Kids are usually very understanding.”

It’s important to really listen to your kids and try to understand them, he added.

Children’s routines have been disrupted, and they are likely to experience higher stress as they adjust, Galovan said, adding that it’s key for parents to allow their children to share their feelings without being criticized.

“Some of the fears and worries kids have might seem trivial to adults, but their feelings are real. Simply acknowledging that something is difficult, frustrating, or scary can help a child feel heard and understood. That reduces the likelihood that they’ll react negatively to their feelings of stress,” said Galovan.

He suggested parents talk to their kids about how to deal with stress in healthy ways.

“It’s OK for a child to be angry, upset or frustrated, but it’s not OK for them to hit a sibling or break something. So parents can talk about what their kids can do when they feel that way. Maybe they need to hit a pillow. Maybe they need to go exercise or play a game.”

Hold on to hope; seek help

Galovan said it helps to recognize the big things in life like having good health and loved ones, and also focus on the small positive things that bring happiness into our lives, like listening to a favourite song, sharing a story with a child, appreciating a sunset or connecting with a family member over the phone.

“Recognizing these small enjoyments keeps us going and gives us more energy to tackle the big challenges,” he said.

And if you need to, get help from available community support resources like phone or online counselling, he advised.

“If you’re suffering, know that you are not alone and that there are people who are willing and waiting to help.”

People are resilient, he added.

“Change is hard, but we do have immense capacity to adapt.”