The Mental Health Challenges of a Pandemic

Carolyn Barber of Portsmouth’s Good Mental Health Cooperative, and local researcher and social entrepreneur, shares advice and resources on how to manage your mental health in lockdown.

If you said that you planned to run a marathon, you might expect to put in place regular fitness training and running practice. You would try to eat more healthily, stop smoking and drinking alcohol, all to prepare yourself physically for the experience. You might not do it all but you would know that this is what you’re supposed to do. When it comes to a challenge to our mental health on the other hand, we often don’t know how to prepare for a big challenge – even one we can see approaching.

How can we build our mental resilience as we would our physical strength?

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay 

What are the risks to mental health?

In China, research has shown that a severe epidemic, such as Covid-19, has a profound impact on many people’s mental health, causing anxiety and depression, and exacerbating already existing mental distress. The World Health Organisation has produced comprehensive mental health strategies to help governments, local authorities and individuals address our mental health given the loss of ‘life as we know it’.

This Change Curve (pictured below), based on the work of Elizabeth Kubler Ross around dying, grief and loss, demonstrates how normal it is to go through different stages of emotional and mental distress when faced with change, let alone the extraordinary events which have unfolded in the past couple of weeks.

How can we take care of our mental health?

Last weekend I had to remind myself again about this question!

Fear, anxiety, anger and depression are all very normal responses to what’s happening around us. You may be experiencing disorientation, lack of motivation, inability to concentrate, disrupted sleep, uncontrollable tears, even panic attacks.

Click here for advice on coping with some common signs of emotional distress.

Over the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing a range of strategies and resources to help you build mental and emotional resilience. Just like our physical health, taking care of our mental health is about establishing good habits as part of our regular routine.

Image by Constanze Riechert-Kurtze from Pixabay 

Daily breathing exercises have to be the number one priority!

If you can practice breathing for just 5 minutes, twice a day, morning and evening, this will reduce stress and anxiety, and help increase energy. Not immediately, but over a 2 to 3 week period, you will see a noticeable effect.

The great thing about breathing is that the exercises can be done anywhere – the main thing is that you’re focused just on the breathing.

Here are three exercises you can use:

– Inhale in to the count of 2, exhale to the count of 4 – do this 10 times.

– Inhale to the count of 1, exhale to the count of 2, inhale to the count of 2, exhale to the count of 3, inhale to the count of 3, exhale to the count of 4, inhale to the count of 4, exhale to the count of 5. Repeat exercise 3 times

– This box breathing exercise is helpful if you’re feeling particularly anxious: Inhale for a count of 4, hold your breath for a count of 4, exhale for a count of 4, wait at the very end of the exhale for a count of 4, and repeat 5 times

Finally, click here to view online resources over at the Good Mental Health Coop website that will help you take care of your mental health. We’re in the process of updating these to signpost you to resources to support mental health during the Coronavirus pandemic. All our projects and workshops will resume once life returns to a degree of normality.

Check out the Good Mental Health Coop website, where you can sign up to receive Carolyn’s weekly mental health updates in a newsletter, and find out more about the amazing work the Coop do. You can also follow them on Twitter and Facebook

Image by Anja🤗#helpinghands#stayathome #solidarity#stays healthy🙏 (yes, we promise that’s her actual user name) from Pixabay.


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