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Managing your mental health during the Coronavirus outbreak

Nov 2020 update – This post was originally return in March 2020, before the first lockdown was announced. While much of the content and suggestions ring just as true now, we’ve amended some parts to reflect the current situation and advice.

The thing on everyone’s mind right now is Coronavirus. 

There’s a lot of information flying around and it’s understandably causing a great deal of panic.

With events like this, and all of the rumours and misinformation that comes with it, how people are feeling with their mental health is heightened. 

I’m not here to add fuel to that fire and none of us at Sanctus are scientists or virus experts, so we don’t have all the answers.

But, what we can do is provide some simple tips for managing your mental health during this period.

Your anxiety is normal

If you’re feeling anxious, nervous, scared or uncertain about the Coronavirus, then that’s okay. It’s pretty normal in fact. 

It’s a new thing that we don’t have all the answers to yet, and that’s bound to cause some anxiety.

Don’t beat yourself up or be hard on yourself.

However, it is important to be aware of it.

If you are feeling any of the above, then you’ll want to make sure you do what you can to not inflame those feelings, just like you would at any other time.  

The rest of the article will talk through how best to do that.

Be careful what information you consume

There’s a lot of information out there. It’s the biggest news story for media outlets at the moment, and they know that many are looking to consume as much as they can.

So if (some) media sources can find an angle that no-one else has (confirmed or not) or they can run with a sensationalist headline to draw in more readership, then they probably will.

Without naming names, some sources are obviously worse than others and turn the screw on people’s fears and negative emotions.

It’s best to stay informed on how you can stay protected, rather than diving deep into the wonderful world of misinformation and fear-mongering about what’s happening elsewhere in the world.

As a general rule of thumb, any news sources that write articles like they’re describing a film plot are probably best avoided. Think those that use big shouty capitalised letters and dramatic or emotive words – i.e “KILLER virus runs RAMPANT around the globe”.

You want to keep the emotion out of this as much as possible and stick to factual-based language.

This is just as true for social media, where people’s opinions and beliefs can run wild.

If you genuinely enjoy reading these pieces and they don’t emotionally impact you, then that’s fine and there’s no judgement here. 

But it’s important you are aware of how reading these things leaves you feeling.

If you come away feeling informed, great. If it’s making you panic, think whether these sources are healthy for you. 

Look for the facts – which right now is that the illness that the majority of people will experience from Coronavirus is mild. Sensationalist headlines that say otherwise are doing what they can to sell their story, not to inform the public. 

More in the next section on what the best sources to follow are. 

I’m not saying CNN is necessarily the best news source to follow. However, these screenshots highlight responsible journalism, and a piece that reliably informs the public and lessens anxiety. 

Follow recommended guidelines and reliable sources

On the flip side of that, there are plenty of sources that are reliable sources of information. A quick Google of “Coronavirus” will return the main news stories at the top, but beneath that are the most trusted and reliable sources of help and information, pinned by the search engine.

There is:

The basic health guidelines you need to follow at the moment are:

  • Try to avoid close contact with people who may be sick
  • Try to avoid touching your face, eyes, mouth or nose
  • Wash your hands regularly with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitiser, especially after going to the bathroom, before and after eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing
  • Nov 2020 update – in the UK, we’re currently in the middle of a month-long lockdown, so of course, follow any relevant rules and restrictions in your area

Try to avoid rapid, breaking news

Whatever information you want to consume, it’s best to avoid in-the-moment pieces. 

The current situation with the Coronavirus is not like a natural disaster or act of war where things can change very rapidly in a short space of time. Nothing too drastic will change over a 12-hour period, or even a 24-hour period. 

It’s unlikely that consuming the breaking news bulletins or live feed updates will tell you anything that you need to know in that moment that you can’t learn the next day. 

Instead, it can help to read up on a breakdown of that day’s events in one news article the following day.

This will help prevent the rushed and panicked nature of breaking news, and the stories themselves are likely to be more well-informed once the news has had a chance to settle and be fact checked. 

Be mindful of others 

Try to be mindful of others during this time and avoid making any assumptions or jumping to conclusions. 

Someone who has a cough or a bit of a sniffly nose doesn’t necessarily have Coronavirus, and it’s important that we don’t shame or judge others – this only contributes to the heightened sense of anxiety.

Imagine how you’d like to be treated if you were in their shoes – that’s the best way to treat someone else. 

Stay connected 

Whether you end up working remotely or you just feel a bit anxious, connection can play a great role in helping to reduce our stress levels.

Try to stay in touch with friends and family. If this can’t be done in person, then over social media, messaging or a phone call. 

Maintaining our social networks can also help to maintain a sense of normality at a time when things ain’t as normal as usual.

Look after yourself and assess your own situation 

Make sure you look after yourself in whatever way that you need, just as you do at any other time throughout the year.

It’s a good idea to continue following basic health advice – things like getting your 6-8 hours of sleep a night, exercising regularly, washing your hands with soap and water etc. 

You can read more on the Government’s physical activity recommendations here, and the NHS healthy eating guidelines here.

But don’t be afraid to go further than this if you need extra support during this period. You can take control of your own worries with Coronavirus by assessing your own needs and risk.

This isn’t to heighten any anxiety, but instead to put you firmly in the driving seat for doing what you need for yourself. 

Feeling anxious about coming into work? Speak to your manager about working from home more.

Your health is more important than any project or meeting you have booked in. 

If you have a health condition and that’s playing into any anxieties, keep yourself reliably informed about best practice. This article from the BBC is helpful for that.  

It’s also important to pay attention to your mental health needs and if you might need extra support. If you have a general feeling of unease right now, that’s pretty normal. If this feeling is preventing you from being able to work or sleep, then it could be worth seeking extra help.

We’ve put together a Directory for a list of free and paid services for mental health where you can get started. 

You don’t need to drastically change your habits 

There’s not too much from the above that presents a drastic change in how we should live our lives every single day.

Staying connected, avoiding harmful information, looking after ourselves, keeping good hygiene, avoiding assumptions of others…these are things that are good to be thinking about every single day, not only during this period. 

Sure, there may be some disruption to our normal working lives at the moment but, for the most part, there’s no need to panic and stray from good and healthy daily habits which apply all year round. 

Back in March, when I originally wrote this, I said “So, in many ways, it’s still life as normal. That’s not to downplay the Coronavirus, but to remind everyone that a lot of what’s happening right now – it’s not a virus problem, it’s an anxiety problem.”

While that last part particularly definitely still rings true, the situation has obviously developed to the point where it’s not so much life as normal anymore.

However, that’s why it’s more important than ever that we prioritise our mental health – at a time of uncertainty and of change, keeping up self-care is paramount.

We can all weather this storm together ?