Managing stress during the coronavirus pandemic

Disclaimer: this post was written just prior to the UK entering lockdown.

It’s needless to say that the world is currently, collectively facing an incredibly stressful time as cases of Covid-19 increase daily. Fears and tensions are running high, raising anxiety levels, and the governments advise to self isolate has only exacerbated this for many of us.

However, self isolation doesn’t have to be something disruptive and lonely. By following the government advice, you are not only keeping you and the people you live with from contracting the virus, but protecting society’s most vulnerable. That’s an extremely good thing for which you should feel happy with yourself, knowing you did your part in nipping this outbreak in the bud.

The key to responding appropriately in this kind of situation is having just the right amount of concern, without exceeding this – though I recognise this is often easier said than done. Although symptoms are mild in most cases, the danger of this novel virus according to WHO is that nobody has natural immunity to it. Much as introducing the common cold to an uncontacted, isolated Amazonian tribe would ravage their immune systems, this virus has the potential to spread indefinitely if it isn’t controlled, posing a particularly worrying threat to those among us who already have a diminished immune response.

Speaking as someone who has spent a night on a coronavirus quarantine ward being tested after showing symptoms – Covid-19 isn’t to be taken lightly in those who are most vulnerable, and nor are the young and healthy safe from it. It’s more than worth following the rules and staying away from others, if not for yourself then for your grandma, for your diabetic friend, for your next door neighbour fighting cancer or the asthmatic child down the street. I thought of it as all quite over-dramatic until I was trying to get to sleep in the ward at Gwynedd hospital, watching nurses rushing from bed to bed at all hours to check our vitals – changing scrubs between each patient to prevent cross contamination – all while an elderly man moaned in pain down the hall for hours, until eventually the sounds became those of a respirator breathing for him.

This might sound scary, and truthfully it is, however seeing this on a wide and overwhelming scale doesn’t need to be inevitable, and the first concern on your mind has to be what you yourself can control. Your own self isolation; not that of others.
It might be tempting to break this and go to that house party at your friends flat, but keeping our hard working health service workers safe and unburdened during a crisis of this scale sometimes requires compromise.

In spite of this, self isolation and/or lockdown doesn’t have to constitute wasted time and boredom. There are plenty of ways to spend your time and help maintain a good mental health while the pandemic is contained in a measured and calculated manner.

1) Keep a routine in place. Set your alarm at a regular time each day to maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle. Practice your regular hygiene routine, and continue to plan 3 meals a day, even in the event of school closure and being left out of work. Here in the UK we are now in total lockdown, and although tackling work from home opens up the possibility of completely dismissing a regular schedule, sticking as closely as possible to regular meal times has been shown to promote health, productivity, and provide a sense of normality.

2) Live in the present; if you aren’t required to make changes by government instructions, then they probably aren’t necessary. This includes not stockpiling unnecessarily. Remember what you’ve always been taught about staying healthy, and consider this as no different. So long as you self isolate whenever possible, wash your hands, don’t touch your face and avoid unnecessary contact with others, you will still be able to visit supermarkets as much as necessary while maintaining a safe distance from other people and keeping to the rule that only one member of your household shops at one time. If nobody panic buys, then nobody else is forced to, and there will be more than enough pasta and loo roll to go around; especially for those who desperately need it.

3) Keep your home space clean and organised. This might be an excellent time to finally clear out that one miscellaneous drawer everyone has in their kitchen, or decorate your desk space to make working from home a little cheerier.

4) Keep to one trusted news source and limit your time viewing it to a set amount each day, at intervals so that you can stay informed while not becoming consumed by media hysteria. Remember that panic sells, but calm saves, so try to rely on sources that aren’t funded by ads. As well as this, when it comes to information, remember that social media is essentially the untamed badlands. Even if people are quoting reliable sources, their comments often detract from the usefulness of the content, causing conflict and sometimes discrimination to run rampant. (Basically, if you see anyone using the term ‘China virus,’ you probably shouldn’t consider them a reliable source of information.)

5) Consider creating ‘free zones’ where you don’t consume any information about the virus, as understandably it’s become all anyone is talking about, which isn’t necessarily healthy while trying to retain some sense of normalcy. It’s on every channel and every station, and part of every conversation, so we’re essentially mentally marinating in it because of our consumption of the media. Maybe just agree that while in the kitchen, conversation shouldn’t regard the virus, or turn off the radio in the car to have peace and quiet while heading to do your groceries instead.

6) Keep yourself busy and your mind occupied, but don’t succumb to the pressure to do something profound and life changing with all of this empty time. Our society is good at making us feel guilty for just existing without making ourselves ‘useful,’ but in reality just getting out of bed when you don’t have to is a real accomplishment. With that said, isolation can be damaging to a person’s mental health without providing mental stimulation, so here are some things I recommend trying out during this time!

  • Play board games with somebody you live with and start a score board! Of course, this only applies if you aren’t isolating individually, but for those who live together and aren’t immunocompromised it’s recommended to isolate as a group. Together, you can take care of each other, prevent loneliness, and enjoy group activities.
  • Download duolingo and start learning a language. Maybe start an xp competition with friends. Loser pays for the first night out after this is all over!
  • Bingewatch a light hearted show. I currently recommend grace & frankie, friday night dinner, the good place and disenchantment to take your mind off the current situation.
  • Finally finish that book you’ve been struggling to get through. (Mine is the book thief; I’ve almost defeated that beautiful beast.)
  • Teach an elderly relative how to use facetime and keep in touch with them that way, as face to face communication can be much more comforting than a phone call.
  • Write something creatively. Maybe start a blog or try to share your experience through poetry! Documenting what is happening in a diary can also be an excellent outlet, and may end up being a useful historical source one day.
  • Try learning an instrument. For me, the ukelele is an excellent starting point which can be taught using YouTube or online resources. Amazon has plenty of cheap options, while depop is a great place to find second hand instruments too.
  • Create some playlists for yourself to spice up your different household chores, like a cleaning playlist or a home-working playlist. Spotify also has plenty of great cultivated playlists to check out, as well as interesting podcasts to fill the quiet time. I personally recommend ‘welcome to night vale,’ a witty and unique listen that should immerse you in another place entirely.
  • Say thankyou to those who are still at work to keep everything functioning. Thank your nurse, and your delivery driver, and your bin-man. They could be self isolating, but they’re continuing to go to work each day knowing the risks, and it can be very rewarding to recieve acknowledgement for that. Research even suggests that supporting others can benefit your own mental health!

If anyone has any other tips, ideas or resources, feel free to share them here or at my Instagram page behindtheminddd!

Stay safe out there, and remember that the world has been through this before, and we will get through this again if we come together as an international community, and agree to do our best to protect ourselves and the most vulnerable members of our society. Nobody is disposable, but everybody is capable of committing to saving lives simply by staying home.

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