Coronavirus: looking after your mental health during the outbreak

April 3, 2020

Image created by Angela Mascolo. Credits to congerdesign and artpolka from Pixabay.

Angela Mascolo shares her experiences with anxiety and explores ways to take care of your mind during challenging times

I could never have imagined that 2020 would begin with a pandemic. The spread of coronavirus to the UK has led to lockdown measures including the closure of schools and shops, working from home, and going out only if you’re a key worker or for basic necessities, medication and an hour of exercise.

With the need to mitigate potential threats to our physical health from the coronavirus, we may ignore the effects that the crisis is having on our mental health; thousands of people are mourning the deaths of loved ones, vulnerable groups are living with more stress and anxiety, and lockdown has impacted people’s routines and even livelihoods.

For people with pre-existing mental health difficulties such as anxiety, depression and OCD, the outbreak of coronavirus has also exacerbated their symptoms.

Although I live in London, the fear of coronavirus for me began when it started to spread rapidly in northern Italy.

I have Italian roots and for weeks now my family and I have been keeping up with Italian news almost all day.

Italy has been the worst affected country in Europe. There have been over 7,500 deaths and Italy has been on lockdown since the beginning of March. Many victims in Italy die in hospital isolation without any family or friends and are buried in hospital gowns.

I now realise more than ever how important it is to look after our minds

It has been extremely distressing reading about the increasing number of deaths in Italy each day and knowing that people cannot properly mourn their loved ones. Lack of space in cemeteries means that many victims have had to be cremated.

As I am someone who suffers with anxiety, the constant advice on handwashing in the UK has also taken a toll on my mental health. I already followed rigorous handwashing and cleaning routines, but the pandemic has certainly heightened my fears around staying healthy.

Having recently begun the journey to better my mental health I now realise more than ever how important it is to look after our minds. A few of the crucial things which have helped my anxiety around coronavirus and lockdown are:

  • Limiting the amount of time I spend reading/watching the news
    There is a channel on Italian TV called Rai News24, which shows the news 24/7. I now just leave the room when my parents switch to that channel and I limit my time reading the news to once in the morning and once in the evening. I also make sure that I stick to trusted sources of information for news updates, such as the government and NHS websites.
  • Calling/video calling friends and family
    My friend is training as a midwife and is still having to go into work, so I video call her to check on how she’s doing. I also often call my grandma, who lives alone in southern Italy, to make sure she is keeping well at this difficult time for Italy. Actively making plans to video call people you’d normally see in person gives you something to look forward to.
  • Establishing a routine
    I still try to wake up and go to sleep around the same time every day, as I would if I was working or volunteering, and write a to-do list for the day. This is also especially helpful if you’re studying for coursework/exams.
  • Exercising
    I was expecting a lockdown to happen in the UK as it did in Italy. However, I began to feel more claustrophobic as the days went by. I run or walk in the park several days a week and also do exercises at home by following routines on YouTube. Going outside also gives me a change of scenery and helps me to feel more relaxed.
  • Hobbies
    Being at home has given me more time to catch up with hobbies. I’ve been doing more reading, cooking and baking which has significantly helped my stress levels. I’ve also been learning more Photoshop and was able to create the accompanying image to this article!

Lockdown has helped me reflect on what more I can do to help vulnerable people in my everyday life

Whilst it’s vital to look after ourselves, we also need to look out for others who have been impacted by the pandemic, such as those who are elderly, immunocompromised people, the self-employed and homeless people.

I was very moved by watching videos of neighbours in Italy singing together on balconies and playing music to boost morale. Even in London, where people tend to mind their own business, communities have come together to help each other out.

My neighbours have been sharing food and essential supplies. Young Barnet Foundation is providing young people with online resources for mental health advice and enrichment activities, and there are also mutual aid Facebook groups for residents in Haringey, Islington and Barnet. You can find a full list of mutual aid groups here.

Although lockdown is challenging, it has also helped me reflect on what I’m grateful for and what more I can do to help vulnerable people in my everyday life.

[authquote text=”It’s important that we support our mental health so that we can better cope with this confusing period of our lives”]

Here are a few things you can do for your community:

  • Donate to food banks, homeless charities and mental health charities
  • Don’t panic buy!
  • Buy from independent businesses online where you can
  • If you know vulnerable neighbours, help them with their food shopping and leave it outside their door
  • You can donate blood if you are aged between 17 and 66, are fit and healthy and weigh between 50kg and 158kg

We cannot deny that the pandemic has affected all areas of our lives, and for many the consequences have been detrimental. Whilst it’s important to be informed and acknowledge the challenges that the coronavirus outbreak poses, it’s equally important that we support our mental health and wellbeing so that we can better cope with this confusing period of our lives.

Check out these useful links on more ways to look after your mental health during this time:

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