COVID-19: taking care of your mental health
In January 2020 the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak of a new coronavirus disease in Hubei Province, China to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. WHO stated there is a high risk of the 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) spreading to other countries around the world.
Since, coronavirus has plunged the world into uncertainty and the constant and changing nature of the news about the pandemic can feel relentless. Understandably therefore, there is an inherent risk to mental health as well as physical health; especially for those perhaps already living with conditions such as Generalised Anxiety Disorder or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.
Below are some mental health considerations which you may wish to keep in mind and use as you see fit. These could also be implemented within club settings whether amateur or professional.
1. Limit news viewing and social media – set times of day and from a specific source
The sudden and near-constant stream of news reports about an outbreak can cause anyone to feel worried. As much as possible, try to avoid watching, reading or listening to news that cause you to feel anxious or distressed. Seek information updates at specific times during the day (maximum three times as a guideline) from factual sources in order to avoid speculations and rumours. E.g. morning and early evening, access the World Health Organisation web site (https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019) which will provide useful updates and practical steps to help you and family members through this challenging period. Set alarms on your phones to action this and stick to it as best you can.
2. Understand the actions you can control and focus on these
As much as we would like to be, we are not in a position to find a cure and fix the current pandemic. There are a limited number of effective and helpful actions we can do on a daily basis to ensure we are contributing to our own and everyone else’s long-term health. Ensure you are clear on these: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public and create your own action processes to help these become habitual. If you are able to take care of your process, you are doing all that can be reasonably expected of you.
The above site also provides ‘myth busters’, which can also ease anxiety that may be felt around the coronavirus. The more factual knowledge we have, the less room for anxiety to fester.
3. APPLE Technique
AnxietyUK has provided some extremely useful information on how to manage your experience in the wake of the coronavirus. Another useful strategy which can help if you find yourself overwhelmed with anxiety in this situation is the APPLE technique:
Acknowledge: Notice and acknowledge the uncertainty as it comes to mind, like a balloon which has just entered your field of vision.
Pause: Pause and take a breath…allow the balloon to be there without instantly reacting to it.
Pull back: Mentally “step back” and see the balloon for what it is: uncertainty; not an imminent threat in reality which must be reacted to.
Let it be: The balloon will float away without you needing to force it or pop it. After time, it will just deflate on its own anyway.
Explore: Bring your focus into the present moment and explore it: notice your breathing, notice how the ground feels beneath your feet. Then describe 3 things you can see, 2 things you can hear and 1 thing you are going to go and do right now with your full attention.
4. Communicate and stay connected
It is an obvious point; however, we can very quickly slip into self-isolation in these situations even if we do not need to do it from a medical viewpoint! Keep connected with friends and family often and be mindful of those in the group who you perhaps haven’t heard from for a while. FaceTime / Skype and dare I say it, even online gaming platforms, can provide a source of community and connections.
5. Balance routine and variety
Our routines are important as it creates a sense of normality during what is a very abnormal time. If possible, add some variety to this as well in order to avoid feelings of ‘groundhog day’ and to keep yourselves energised. E.g. ‘can I do my fitness session in a park nearby instead of at home today?'
6. Keep the mind challenged
Much like muscles change depending on whether they are challenged or not, your brain will remain sharp depending on the stimulus given to it. Can you keep challenging your Striatum – the decision-making part of the brain?
Lumosity app – a really good and fun app for problem solving, reasoning and pattern recognition (https://www.lumosity.com/en/brain-games/problem-solving-games/)
Sources: AnxietyUK and Journal of Health Psychology