• Sophie Coulthard

Looking after your wellbeing during Coronavirus

Even the most calm, rational people are experiencing higher levels of stress and anxiety during this time. There is a huge range of things that could be causing stress right now besides the fear of actually contracting the virus. You could be worrying about finances and whether your job is secure, there could be some feelings of helplessness for family members who are isolated, and there could be a general feeling of uncertainty as all of us attempt to adjust to a new normal for the foreseeable future.

Photo by Roberto Nickson from Pexels

I’m sure there are people who have never particularly struggled with their mental health who have suddenly found that they can’t sleep properly, struggle to concentrate or feel their heart rate racing for no apparent reason. I know that I feel that way and even as someone who works in wellbeing and has researched stress I’m having moments where I’m struggling to cope with my emotions.

So for myself as much as anything, I’ve compiled some simple tips to manage wellbeing during this time. Even when Coronavirus is behind us, they may come in useful or help build in habits that will last.

Tip 1 - Create a routine

After the initial rebellious Netflix binge and spending days in your pyjamas it’s good to get into some kind of routine. It’s been proven that routine can help us to feel more in control which can reduce stress and anxiety levels.

Your routine might include setting an alarm for weekday mornings, having breakfast at the usual time and setting hours aside for work and regular exercise. Try to keep it up during the week, but relax it at the weekend so there is a disconnect between the working week and the weekend. I think many of us will struggle to feel that with the amount of time we will be spending at home in the same four walls, so this tip should help.

A routine acts as an anchor and gives us control of how we spend our time. An active daytime routine will also result in better sleep, again supporting reduced stress.

Tip 2 - Try to get some work done

As a homeworker, I have to emphasise that this is NOT normal working from home times. Even the most experienced home workers have no doubt struggled with the urge to check BBC news ten times a day and are taking hours to construct a simple email.

With things changing daily, it’s not easy to focus, but it will help to try to at least get some work done, even if it’s just enough to keep your manager satisfied - remember they are probably struggling with this too.

I recommend checking your emails once first thing in the morning and then again towards the end of the day. Respond to anything that can be done quickly and then close out of emails altogether. If a lengthy response to an email is required, make it an item on your agenda or list and order the list into priorities. If you do have a manager you can tag your list into items that will satisfy your manager and items that will satisfy you. Try to do a few of each per day.

Set aside an hour of uninterrupted time in the morning and afternoon to work through the list, getting done what you can. Put your phone on ‘do not disturb’ and communicate your plan with anyone in your house. Even two hours of solid work a day will help you to feel more on top of things and less pressure from work. You’ll probably find that those hours will be really productive, and wonder how you get as much done as when you spend eight hours in an office!

Tip 3 - Identify the cause of your anxiety

My counsellor once said to me that "anxiety is when we try to know things that we cannot know or control things that we cannot control", which I thought was a really useful way of thinking about it, and even just understanding that helps me to recognise it and deal with it - Adam Alton (my co-founder!)

We can get into blind panic mode without really thinking about what is causing it, and that can easily be hyped up by the media or comments from friends or family. So if you are feeling your heart racing and a sense of panic then ask yourself:

“What am I actually worried about?”

Are you worried about contracting the virus? If so it might help to find some stats on how many people have recovered and how mild the symptoms can often be.

Are you anxious about running out of food? It might help to go through your cupboards and jot a quick list of potential meals you could make. You’ll probably find you’ve got enough to keep you going for quite some time. It can be anxiety inducing to see pictures of empty supermarket aisles, but most smaller shops are still very well stocked and Italy is experiencing no problem with food shortages, even on full lockdown.

Are you feeling lonely? Even if you’re self-isolating with a partner or family, it’s still possible to feel lonely and trapped. Organise a coffee time with friends through FaceTime or Zoom, or a Friday night drink with a couple you’d normally double date with. It may feel strange, but you can still have fun and it will make you feel more connected through seeing people’s smiles.

Do you feel helpless and upset for older/vulnerable people? It’s hard not to be devastated seeing images of older people trying to find food in an empty supermarket. If this feeling of helplessness is upsetting you then you can do something about it. Which leads me on to my next tip…

Tip 4 - Find a way to help others

Helping others has been proven to decrease stress levels and improve emotional wellbeing, and if we all chip in we can make a difference. Whatever your situation, an almost guaranteed way to feel better is to find someone less fortunate and help them.

Although with the recent lockdown announcement this may be more tricky to do in person, you could still contact the independent Italian restaurant down the road and buy a voucher to use in the future, or reach out to the local care home to see if you can help in any way. Even offering to be on the other end of the phone for someone who is isolated could be really appreciated by someone in need.

Facebook is seeing a surge in local groups being set up and charities are collecting essentials to distribute to people in need. Even my local coffee shop became an Age UK drop off point. Pick something that you can get involved in and do what you can to help.

Tip 5 - Do a financial audit

There’s no time like the present, and even if the answer is scary, it’s better than not knowing. If you’re generally on top of your finances then this shouldn’t be too much trouble, and I’m not trying to suggest we all stop spending money altogether, but if you’re someone who doesn’t like checking your balance, throws statements straight in the bin and you’re concerned about your finances for the coming months, then this might be difficult to face.

The best time to do this will be in the evening when your work is done for the day and you’re less likely to be interrupted. A glass of wine might also help. Start by writing down all the things you pay every month including rent or mortgage, bills and direct debits. Go through all your regular payments to see what you’ve got going out that could be potentially cancelled.

Then create a budget of all the payments you need to make, along with an estimate for food. You can probably write off anything you spend on travel or going out socialising, just try to get to a figure which is the minimum you can get by on.

Now you can look at any savings and estimates around salary to calculate worst case scenarios, and I’d recommend any spare money outside of your budget going into an easy access savings pot in case it’s needed. Stop all overpayments on any debts or utilities, get down to the minimum while we ride this thing out.

You might find now is a good time to look at a bank account with Monzo. They help with budgeting by organising payments into different categories and allow you to separate money into pots for savings which can be accessed easily if needed.

I know that this can seem like a very daunting task, but it’s like pulling off the band-aid; you will feel better after.

Tip 6 - Find out what brings you comfort

Although there will be times during each day when anxiety can begin to be felt, there are also things that can bring comfort during this time. Perhaps it’s taking time out to use Pinterest for house decorating ideas or a playlist that can transport you to a different place in your mind.

People who work in social care or health care often have a dark sense of humour, which can work as a coping mechanism when things are difficult. Find and save anything that can make you chuckle, whether that’s a meme someone has sent you or a good comedy movie. The Hangover was on TV last night and even though I’ve seen it many times, I still enjoyed laughing at the silliness of it all and temporarily forgot what was happening in the outside world.

Laughter decreases the heart rate and blood pressure, stimulates your organs and in the long term, improves your immune system. So don’t feel guilty for laughing or finding the humour in things right now, it can improve your mood and the mood of those around you.

Tip 7 - Talk to someone you trust

This might sound obvious, but as they say a problem shared is a problem halved. If you can share your thoughts with someone you trust then they may be able to help rationalise some of your thoughts and feelings. Even if that thought is that your throat is feeling scratchy and you need someone to talk you through irrational fears and heightened sensitivity - sharing it with someone can help.

I explained to my partner that I would feel much better if we made lists of what potential meals we could make from what we had in the house, which made me feel less panicky about having to go out to the supermarket. Once he understood that was important to me it took a weight off my shoulder as I realised we had enough to get by and my anxiety subsided.

Remember you might be able to be there for someone else too - by talking about how we are feeling we get a sense that we are in it together and can help change our perspective or outlook. Do you know someone self isolating on their own? Reach out to them and it could help their mental wellbeing as much as your own.

Honorary mentions

Someone sent me a link to Melbourne Zoo in Australia, who have set up cameras in a few of the enclosures to live stream the animals, bringing the zoo to you! Remember that Australia’s timezone is ahead of the UK so you might be able to catch them before you go to bed, as they are just having their breakfast.

If reading a physical book before bed (which is proven to help improve sleep quality) is not something that you can get on board with, then watching penguins play and lions start their day will be far better for any pre-sleep anxiety than scrolling through the news channels or social media, so be sure to check them out here.

I know how I’ll be spending my evenings for the foreseeable future!

And finally, Yale University’s most popular class of all time, is now available online and for free.

'The Science of Well-Being' will take around 20 hours to complete, and they suggest a few hours a week which should be plenty to work through while we are on lockdown.

The course will engage you in a series of challenges designed to increase your own happiness and build more productive habits. If there’s one thing we will need to be armed with when we venture back out into the new world it will be resilience and wellbeing, so this course couldn’t come at a better time.

I hope all of these tips and suggestions will help you to feel better. I know that I’ve felt calmer since I’ve started to implement them as I’ve been writing this blog over the last few days. It’s important to remember that different strategies work for different people and these are unusual times, so try what you think might work for you, but don’t be afraid to explore something you’ve never thought about before.

Stay safe and well.

Find out more about our online workplace wellbeing platform at FidlLeaf.com

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