What you can do if the Coronavirus outbreak is affecting your mental health
Anxiety caused by the Corona virus is rising by the minute – headlines focus on the most sensational part of stories, often missing important information that provides context, increasing the fear and leaving us feeling out of control, vulnerable and scared. We worry about ourselves; we worry about our parents, our children, our friends and our colleagues – our physical health is under threat and we want to make sure that we do everything that we can to protect ourselves! Should we isolate or not? What will happen next? … all questions we don’t currently have the answers to. It feels as if everywhere we turn, we are confronted with the effects of the outbreak, whether it’s blanket media coverage or empty shelves in the supermarkets.
So what can we do? The most important thing is to identify what we can actually control. Often when things like this happen we are drawn to the things that we can’t control, the things we can’t do anything about and this makes us feel more and more anxious and upset. These things that we can’t control aren’t going to magically disappear no matter how hard we focus on them and they distract us from the things that we can still do. Taking time to refocus attention back to the things that can be done is a really valuable way of giving ourselves back a measure of control … actually doing something about those things leaves us feeling accomplished and positive. If you’re struggling with this as an idea, write a list of all the things that concern you or that are on your mind. Go down the list and write C (for control) against all the things that you CAN do, that are YOUR responsibility and that you CAN control; Now go down the list again and see if there are any that you can influence and write an I next to them – these might be things where you can ask other people to do things for you, for example. The rest is out of your control. Get a big black marker pen and cross them through – they won’t disappear, but right now you don’t need to focus on them. Most importantly, decide what you are actually going to do about the ones that you’ve written a C against, and whether it’s worth trying to do anything about the ones you can influence.
Next is to appreciate that this isn’t PERSONAL – we are all in this situation; we are all experiencing a similar degree of uncertainty and in this sense are all in it together. And it’s also not your fault! This may sound silly but actually if we can separate ourselves from the situation, we will feel less fearful!
It also isn’t PERMANENT – right now we don’t know how long this will last and to what extent special measures will be taken, but it will come to an end at some point. Yes, it’s probably going to bring a good deal of disruption along the way, holidays could well be on a smaller scale and we will have to do some things differently for a while. But it won’t’ last forever!
And finally, it isn’t PERVASSIVE – whilst it may feel as though the Corona virus has infected every last aspect of our lives, the reality is that it hasn’t. There are still lots of things that we can do that are unaffected by the virus. We can still connect with people, get fresh air and find enjoyment even if we have to do it in a more limited way. Read books, set yourself a goal to learn a new language, dig out those board games that you haven’t played for years! And if we all find ourselves socially distancing, why not get creative with how you meet up – what about a virtual night out … we have access to some really amazing technology – I wonder what we could do with it?
Most importantly is to recognise that anxiety and fear are both emotional states that prevent us from seeing the bigger picture – they focus our attention on immediate survival (and rightly so) but in situations like this, that level of focus can become deeply unhelpful. So finding ways to relax and stay calm are also vital. It’s probably a good idea to limit how much time you spend looking at breaking news (because the reality is there isn’t a great deal of it … most news is just the same thing being repeated, which only serves to build our sense of fear); look into relaxation techniques to help give you a greater sense of calm and if you feel overwhelmed, contact a counsellor – it can be really helpful to have a single conversation and explore what you can do to help yourself stay calm and relaxed and chances are, you’ll be able to do this online if you don’t want to or can’t meet face to face.
The World Health Organisation have put together these easy to understand guidelines regarding coping with stress during the Corona Virus outbreak. If you feel that you’d benefit from a conversation with a trained mental health professional, you can contact me for further details and we could very quickly be exploring strategies to help you make the most of the days and weeks to come in a way that supports both your physical and emotional health!
Is Positive Change still providing counselling during the outbreak?
Yes, it would be irresponsible to deny people such a service in these difficult times. You have two options for counselling sessions, video counselling offers you complete social-distancing and one-to-one sessions are conducted in a clean environment with zero personal contact and safe distance practice.