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Mental Health in a Pandemic

I remember a long time ago seeing, perhaps on a poster, the words “Happiness is having something to do, someone to love and something to hope for.”  This would also suggest a formula for good mental health.

According to the World Health Organization, Mental health is “a state of well-being in which the individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”

At the best of times many struggle with mental health issues and it is good that our awareness of this has developed greatly since the days when such topics were taboo. However, in lots of different ways, it does seem that we are now living in the worst of times.  Covid -19 has affected all of us in some area of our lives, but undoubtedly for those who suffer from anxiety or depression, these days will pose greater difficulties.  Isolation and loneliness contribute to widespread anxiety and increased evidence of mental illness.  Important sources of support such as friends and teachers are less available at present.

Good Routines

All of us have lost many things we took for granted and habitual behaviour is no longer the same.  We are experiencing the new realities of working from home, temporary unemployment, and social distancing from family and friends.  All this has upset our routines but it is very important that we create new ones and try to stick with them.

Routines keep us focused and provide us with a framework for the day.  It may be going for a walk at a certain time and anyway regular exercise is always advisable.  It is important too to keep to regular sleep routines, especially when there may be temptations to watch television or stay longer playing video games. Too much time spent watching the screen is of little long-term benefit and can lead to addictive behaviour.

This applies also of course to alcohol. When people feel afraid, bored, anxious, or lonely alcohol may seem like it is filling a gap or fulfilling a need, but in fact, it only adds to the problems and can cause more feelings of depression, as well as leading to painful after-effects and issues with loss of memory and diminished responsibility.  It is better to limit the amount of alcohol taken and not to begin drinking if you have never done so before.  Likewise, long-term comfort eating can lead to weight gain and also affect health negatively.

It is essential for mental well-being to attend properly to personal hygiene even when we are not meeting others.

Keeping in Touch

We are living in a world where staying connected with other people has become a lot easier.  There are so many ways in which we can keep in touch even though we have to remain physically apart.  Maintain contact with family and friends via email, social media, video calls, phone calls, and text messages.

Video calling apps, like Zoom, allow you to engage with multiple people at the same time.  This can be helpful for activities like Quiz Nights which challenge us intellectually while providing us with the comfort of other peoples’ company at the same time.

Helping others makes us feel better in ourselves.  If you are able to, offer support to people in your community who may need it, such as helping them with food shopping. Likewise, never be afraid to ask for help.  Talking things through with others can help lessen worry or anxiety. However, do avoid talking about the virus with people who tend to be negative or who reinforce and ramp up fears about the Pandemic and its consequences.


Limiting the fear

It is understandable to feel vulnerable or overwhelmed reading or hearing news about the coronavirus.  Sometimes it is wiser to take a break from watching, and reading or listening to news stories, including those on social media.  Hearing about covid-19 repeatedly can be upsetting.  It is important to ensure that you source your information from trustworthy and reliable sources.  If anxiety is an ongoing issue consider limiting your media consumption to a specific time and time of day e.g. 15 minutes each evening at 6 pm.

Feeling overwhelmed by the situation we find ourselves in is not uncommon.   Therefore, it is better to focus on concrete things we can solve rather than circumstances beyond our control.

Relinquishing our desire for control and certainty is of course easier to say than to put into practice.  If you find yourself starting to panic, grounding yourself in the present moment can stop the negative spiral from taking hold, giving you a chance to restore your equilibrium. The following technique is simple, yet effective:

Bring your attention to your breath and your body.  Focus all your attention on the here and now; notice the sights, sounds and smells around you and what you are feeling in your body.  Continue to breathe slowly in and out – gently bringing your mind back to your body and breathe every time it drifts until you feel calm.

Also, please do remember that all this will pass;

‘Lord, remind me that this is only a Season,

And I will not be in this storm forever.’

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Written by Marie – Therese Cryan

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