Keep Calm and Carry On: Mental Health in 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.

We’ve all had to cope with dramatic changes in our daily lives in the last few weeks. Restrictions on our movements, threats to livelihoods, fear of illness, actual illness, loss of purpose – these all impact on our emotional health and psychological wellbeing. Do you ever find that you’re reacting very emotionally in a way that feels out of control? You might lose your temper at quite minor irritations, or become very upset when things go wrong even in a small way. It’s all too easy to get caught up in a kind of vicious circle, where we have negative thoughts which trigger emotional reactions (or maybe the other way round) which leads to behaviour which in one way or another aggravates the situation, and leaves us feeling even worse!

There are many ways we can learn to distance ourselves from our thoughts and reduce the intensity of our feelings.  One way is to practice specific exercises to help us relax, breathe more healthily, and notice what’s happening in the here and now. These and other valuable mindfulness tools help to still the mind and relieve anxiety and other symptoms of stress.

Here are some links to explore:

Professor Mark Williams, former director of the Oxford Centre for Mindfulness, says:

It’s easy to stop noticing the world around us. It’s also easy to lose touch with the way our bodies are feeling and to end up living ‘in our heads’ – caught up in our thoughts without stopping to notice how those thoughts are driving our emotions and behaviour…

Click here for NHS advice on how mindfulness can help you take care of your mental health

Click here for more mindfulness resources from the Mental Health Foundation

We’ve been hard at work updating the Resources section of the Good Mental Health Coop website – these are resources you can use to build your mental and emotional resilience during these testing times. The Resources are divided under 4 themes – Meet, Relax, Learn, and Create – please take some time to browse and check them out.

Click here for Resources for Resilience – Relax

I shared these breathing exercises in last week’s blog, but they seemed so relevant to this week’s theme, I’ve left them in again! Have you been practising?

Daily breathing exercises has 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 is that the exercises can be done anywhere – the main thing is that you’re focused just on the breathing.

Image by Constanze Riechert-Kurtze from Pixabay

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.

Over the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing a range of strategies and resources to help you build mental and emotional resilience during the Covid19 crisis.

This is just as important as our physical strength if we were planning to run a marathon! And just like our physical health, taking care of our mental health is about establishing good habits as part of our regular routine. 


This article was originally published as a newsletter. 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 Алина Осипова from Pixabay.


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