The first effect of the pandemic was physical,but a secondary effect was psychological and emotional writes Ruadhán Jones
The spread of the coronavirus is a new and a challenging event and can be worrying. It can affect our mental health, leading to a number of different outcomes such as increased anxiety, stress, and loneliness.
But there are many things we can do to mind our mental health during times like this. While we can’t get rid of the stress entirely, here are just a few tips to help ease the effects
Stay informed but set limits
We all want to know what’s going on, and that’s natural. Some of our anxiety comes from the fact that we don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s important if we want to have a realistic grasp of the situation that we seek out the facts.
However, although helpful, this can quickly become overwhelming. The constant stream of social media updates and news reports about coronavirus can cause us to feel worried. On top of this, rumours can muddy the waters, so it is important to seek out reliable information. If the coverage is proving too intense for you, then talk it through with someone close or seek support.
Equally, while the merits of social media have come to the fore during the crisis, too much time spent on them may increase our levels of worry or anxiety. This is because people sometimes talk about their worries or beliefs about the virus. However, we don’t need to make these our own, so if gets too much, consider limiting your time on social media.
Stay connected, keep talking
During times of stress, friends and family can be a good source of support. It is important to keep in touch with them and other people in your life. For some, our time in isolation is spent with our family and friends, so this is easy. We have an untold amount time to spend with each other, whether it be eating, playing, praying or relaxing. This can be a good opportunity for precious family time.
The difficulty here is the pressure cooker effect. Given the added stresses, we can become irritable and anxious. This can lead to tempers flaring and sparks flying. It’s important to make time for yourself, but also to be aware of other people’s needs. It is understandable to feel vulnerable or overwhelmed. By acknowledging these feelings and talking about them, it will help you to look after your health and the health of others.
For others, it’s a case of getting used to time spent alone. If you need to restrict your movements or self-isolate, try to stay connected to people in other ways. Technology offers multifarious means to keep up contact, whether it is the ubiquitous Zoom call or old-fashioned ways, like email and text! Many video calling apps allow you to have group calls with multiple people at the same time, bringing families and friends together.
Whatever your situation, remember that talking things through with someone can help lessen worry or anxiety. You don’t have to appear to be strong or to try to cope with things by yourself.
Sit down and relax
We have to give our minds and bodies a real chance to recover from and process the ups and downs of the day. While this might seem obvious when we are busy or surrounded by other people, it’s still important when on your own or with little to do. We still need to take time and relax.
There’s a story about Bjorn Borg, the famously robotic, workaholic tennis player. An interviewer asked him “Bjorn, I hear you’ve been told you need to relax more, how’s that going for you”? Borg is said to have responded “I’m working very hard at it”.
Though it may be apocryphal, there’s a grain of truth in it; we sometimes need to work on relaxing. We have to set aside time, to practice and try different methods. There are many different ways to go about it.
For you, going for a walk, listening to music, watching TV, or playing sports could be your way to unwind. For someone else, it could be breathing exercises, meditation or focusing on being present.
For Christians, prayer can be an opportunity to relax. The purpose of prayer is to focus our attention on God, making it simultaneously an interior and an exterior process. God draws us out of ourselves, but also helps us to understand ourselves better.
There are many different ways we can incorporate it into our lives – grace before meals, the angelus, the rosary, or the liturgy of the hours to name just a few. By incorporating them into our day, we can create a rhythm of prayer and relaxation.
The thing is to find something that relaxes you and make a conscious effort to do it every day. Even 10 minutes of downtime can help you manage stress and anxiety better. The more pauses you can build into your day the calmer you will feel.
While we deal with staying at home, it’s important to maintain an active and enjoyable sense of creativity and purpose. Doing something creative can help improve your mood, allowing you to express yourself in a playful manner. This is a great way of looking after your mental wellbeing.
That could involve learning a new language, picking up an old hobby, or reading a good book. Coronavirus may have deprived us of opportunities to take part in cultural and creative activities, such as visiting museums and galleries, or playing sports. But even under lockdown, the virtual and physical worlds offer a wide array of choices, from dancing to reading, touring the Holy Land or visiting some of Ireland’s own heritage sites.
Creative Ireland has developed a number of good resources to get the creative juices flowing, mainly aimed at children and teenagers. In partnership with Fighting Words, they offer online resources to facilitate creative writing in Irish and English. They also run an online anthology, Analecta, which include poems, drama, short fiction, graphic fiction, plays and more by children aged from 13-17.
Initiatives such as Get Ireland Making offer a variety of courses and tutorials for all age groups. Driven by Design and Crafts Council of Ireland (DCCI), a team of makers and designers have developed a series of online workshops ranging from how to make musical instruments from recycled materials to a series on jewellery making. They are fun and engaging, ideal for children, but also for those who want to take up a new hobby.
There are many other activities which are open to all age groups, such as The National Gallery of Ireland’s virtual tours, eBooks from your local library, and much more.
Control the controllable
Life is about balance, and that has been upset by the coronavirus. To look after your mental health and wellbeing it’s important to seek out that balance in the midst of all the chaos, between activity and rest, creativity and reflection, work and play and time together and time apart.
The main thing is to control the controllable and leave the rest to God; “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34)