A strange and uneasy feeling of discontent is settling over many people at this stage of the pandemic. Most of us have been restricting our movements for a few weeks now and the novelty of the new rules has worn off and been replaced with boredom and general tetchiness.
The following steps might help you to maintain your mental health over the coming weeks.
Establish your priorities and lower the bar. These are extraordinary times where you might need to prioritise your physical and mental health and let other standards slip.
It can be helpful to get out a piece of paper and write down the three essentials that you need to have at the end of this crisis. Some people might prioritise their health, job stability and positive family relationships while others might prioritise financial stability over other considerations.
Once you have ascertained what is most important for you then you are freer to have lowered expectations about other issues– and perhaps let go of the desire to maintain a tidy house or your children’s school work.
We need to stay focused on what is important to us – you’re not “working from home”; you’re trying to get some work done while confined to your home during a crisis. Nor are you “home-schooling” your children; you are keeping your children and others safe during a pandemic.
Plan your day; some people enjoy the consistency of the same routine every day while others prefer to mix things up a little. It doesn’t really matter which way you choose as long as you forward plan each day with attention to the needs of each member in the household.
This might mean taking the time to share a morning cup of tea with your partner as you plan the day ahead. Some parents who are working from home find it helpful if one parent is the main caretaker in the morning while the other parent takes that role in the evening.
Delegation of tasks can be shared more than usual and this is the perfect opportunity to finally teach children how to do certain household chores that they have previously evaded.
Create a mantra and say it three times in a row, three times a day. Repeating affirmations are often used as an important part of recovery from mental illness and they are also often used as a way to create a habit of positive self-talk within a person.
Take some time to find a couple of sayings or affirmations that are perfectly attuned to your needs right now and have them ready to use when the going gets tough.
Some people respond well to phrases such as “Keep Calm and Carry On” (not, as is often presumed, a phrase that was used during the Second World War, but a phrase that was proposed during this era and then swapped for the more strident, “Your courage, your cheerfulness, your resolution, will bring us victory”).
As many of us are more alone at the moment than usual, we need to be particularly aware of our self-talk, and so phrases such as, “I’m coping well so far” or “I’ve survived before and I’ll survive now” can provide us with the courage to keep going.
Practice compassion, as both self-compassion and other-compassion will be needed during the coming weeks. Forgive yourself if you’re eating and drinking too much – this is a crisis and it might have come at exactly the wrong time for you. You might feel like a prisoner in your own home and, for some, this can lead to a desire to erupt at whoever is nearest.
But this longing to lance the boil often leads to crazy arguments and it is much more helpful if you can find somewhere quiet and practice compassion during these heightened moments. Taking some time in nature works as a way to calm down while others might prefer meditation or yoga.
If the restrictions mean that you cannot use your usual coping mechanisms, then it is essential you find other strategies that provide even a small level of relief. Gentle and compassionate self-talk might even become a newly formed habit that arises out of this crisis.
Beware of toxic thoughts; just because you have a thought doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true. These days, with the timbre and tone of every cough leading to deep analysis, it is too easy to fall into a state of ‘hyper-vigilance’, an enhanced state of sensitivity that is accompanied by an exaggerated intensity of behaviour.
The reason why many of us feel hyper-vigilant is that we feel under continuous attack with the threat of the coronavirus hanging over our every movement. Consequently many people are constantly scanning their environment for further threats, leaving them exhausted, irritable and chronically anxious.
Slow breathing and focusing on today’s problems rather than allowing yourself to be carried away into the unknowable future can be a helpful strategy to combat racing or negative thoughts.
Stay safe and if you don’t feel safe, leave the household. Some people are living in toxic relationships and, in these circumstances, with emotions running high, rows can become dangerous.
It is notable that in the UK, as the country entered their second week of quarantine, nine people died in domestic killings.
Women in particular are vulnerable to domestic violence and it is imperative that if you feel that you are living with a pressure cooker, then now is the time to act, before it is too late.