Your Psychological Coronavirus Survival Kit
Therapist Gemma Grainger offers her coronavirus mental health survival kit as the UK continues with Covid-19 lockdown procedures
At this time, therapists have switched to working online – find your online therapist here
It is vital that we become more actively aware of our psychological state and wellbeing when everything in our environment evokes the fight or flight response.
‘During these uncertain and unprecedented times’ is the phrase we are hearing all too often during the current Covid-19 pandemic. Doctors and nurses are on the frontline, the government is feverishly working away to get some control, and we are all trying to keep our businesses running, earn some income, pay our rent, avoid the sickness itself and do the right thing. There is an element of fire-fighting going on within all of us, it is fuelling us with adrenaline, anxiety and fear.
We don’t know what is going to happen but we are anticipating stuff, lots of stuff, lot’s of scary indefinite loss, change and even catastrophe.
not able to be relied on; not known or definite.
never done or known before.
Interestingly, this landscape is familiar, it is the landscape of an anxious mind, and with an anxious mind there are things we can do to calm it down and to understand it. Our brains are unfortunately trained to look for danger and so we all need help to regulate at the moment. It is vital that we more actively aware of our psychological state and wellbeing when everything in our environment evokes the fight or flight response.
I have collected some thoughts, tips and important points to be aware of in order to help us through this. Thanks to some of my clients, colleagues and friends who have shared some really insightful and incredibly useful points and suggestions. Please take a look, please take note, please share, and do please get in touch with thoughts.
When living in quarantine it is very easy to treat it as one long excuse to not engage properly in the world, stay in our pj’s, binge on Netflix and eat junk food. One day a week for us this is enjoyable and helpful, but if we do this for any longer we will begin to fester. Avoid festering.
1) Recreate your routine – but have fun with it – do it your way
You decide your wakeup time, wash and get dressed, have set meal and break times. While you can, someone even suggested walking round the block so you actively take yourself mentally out of ‘morning state of mind’ to your work ‘place’. Routine can create some channel for certainty, readdressing the balance between the certain and the uncertain.
2) Be mindful of introversion – it breeds!
We sit on a spectrum and we can slide up and down the scale depending on our roles and situational variables. Being at home for many people is safe, secure and comfortable meaning it can really fuel the introverts within us. Being an introvert means you turn inward mentally for energy. It is important to occasionally remind yourself that you also get energy from others, especially if you know you can get sucked into your introvert self! Be mindful of this, as we are going to have to venture into the world again at some point. It will also be helpful to be considerate of others' needs. If your friend is an introvert, don’t bombard them with FaceTime invites, do reach out though, we all need our friends.
3) Remember that you are a person in the real world with purpose
You offer something to the world. It may not be your job, it may be to do with your relationships- being a son, being a friend for example. We all have our special and unique offerings even if you don’t believe it, but like anything related to this- fake it til you make it. You are a purposeful human beyond your front door and your phone screens.
4) Do things to bring you joy
Whether that be cooking, spending time with family, being creative. We need to give ourselves time for these things always, but especially now. They bring us back up when mood starts to dip even if we aren’t aware of it.
5) Remember that you are good at things, and do them
Remind yourself of your talents or skills or abilities. It may just be that you are really good at being a wife, or really good at remembering things or organising things. We need to buffer our ego’s a bit.
6) Limit media intake
It can be very tempting to maximise exposure to the headlines and the constant stream of information and updates that come through our various channels. Instagram stories, gossip and The News itself can keep us up to date with fact as well as fiction, and much of it comes with drama and frenzy and is emotionally charged. It may be helpful to limit your exposure to news to certain times of day, or dedicated amounts of time only. Creating some boundaries here can protect us and our emotional worlds.
7) Remember people will respond differently
Some will worry more and some will worry less. Watch out for people who catastrophise because it can be damaging to our own sense of stability. Catastrophising when there is nothing you can do about it is not helpful! It can also be very inviting. It invites anxiety yes, but also drama and excitement and adrenaline. We don’t need to create our own soap opera and we need to be able to put space between catastrophic voices and your self soothing voice. Protect yourself and your mental wellbeing. Additionally, for those with children, they are going to look at your responses to this. Children fill gaps of information left out- don’t let them fill the gaps with catastrophe and disaster, it can have a lasting impact.
We look at this time we are stuck indoors unknowing of it’s duration and how its form changes as time goes by, but we do know there are now limits on what we can and can’t do. Humans need variety, as well as some of those things mentioned above (purpose, joy, sociability). Here is a list of things we can do to nurture that need for variety, and maybe even grow areas of our life we usually neglect!
- As most of you probably are thinking about already- exercise. Youtube videos, Yoga, whatever it is- keep some activity and don’t fester. This is time to get creative and try something new.
- Diet will also be important, when the panic buying calms down, try and recreate a normal or even more nutritious diet than you had before all of this started. The link between body and mind is real.
- Find a hobby. Simple.
- Having everyone in the same boat interacting behind screens actually means our whole world opens up. We have more time to put into friendships and distance is no longer a barrier. Grow those friendships you’ve not had time for, reach out to that old school friend maybe.
- Lots of people have unfortunately lost jobs, but there will be a rise in new jobs as our needs change and grow. Keep an eye out. Hospitals are likely to need more staff, we already need new delivery drivers for example and supermarkets need workers. Children are going to need childcare and maybe tutoring now schools are shut, and the dogs of the elderly need walks. Volunteering often can serve an internal need to help others which is also helpful in numerous ways.
- The stuff that you are good at may be helpful to others. Online concerts if you are a musician can be arranged, hosting online house parties, if you are into fitness maybe you can run a daily online fitness class. I was recommended a weekly drag aerobics class you can stream right to your living room earlier, which sounds brilliant.
- Journaling can be really helpful at the best of times, but remember that this is a moment in history! We may want to record this for our grandchildren or just for yourself in time to come.
- Apps like Next Door and Houseparty can be really great at keeping us connected, so check them out and see what you can do.
In summary, these times truly are uncertain and unprecedented, but there are things that we can do and there are things that we can be careful of in aid of our psychological wellbeing. I would like to finish this article on the positive notes. Primarily, observing communities come together, admiring the enduring battle our NHS staff are putting in running the hospitals with minimal and no allocated time off, seeing the kindness and durability of our nation is inspiring and heartwarming. If we can give a bit back it can also help our own feelings of fulfilment.
As the UK goes into this dark ominous tunnel, we can keep our eyes on those countries coming out of the worst and the amazing science to develop new drugs and vaccines to treat the disease. There is some light there, and use those stories to hold onto hope. ‘Don’t get your hopes up’ is such a useless phrase, because while it helps protect us from disappointment, at some point we are going to feel disappointment anyway. Why stamp all over that nice hopeful feeling when it shows up for us?
We are physically and emotionally a bit trapped right now but we also now have a sea of opportunity- opportunity to sculpt our days in our own ways. We will all get more sleep; the language we started learning last summer we now have time to come back to; that design project we wanted to do but never got round to we maybe can now! It is a time to kick old habits and develop new positive ones. I for one am going to try and kick my sugar addiction!