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COVID-19 and mental health

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Published: 6 April 2020

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Health and Wellbeing Manager Alisa Tsykhotsky is back with advice and tools for helping you cope with anxiety and mental health during the coronavirus.

Each person’s reaction to COVID-19 has been unique. How you’re affected by isolation and the lockdown will depend on your own experiences, especially those around your health, both physical and mental. The worry of not knowing what the future holds, I would argue, is at the very centre of anxiety and may cause you to experience poorer mental health.

For people that have already suffered anxiety, the lockdown can increase a wide range of feelings, including fear, worry, stress, upset, confusion, tiredness and disorientation. In particular, OCD and eating disorders can be difficult to manage as it becomes harder to continue with the daily habits we’ve become used to. It’s worth pointing out too that some COVID-19 symptoms mimic those of anxiety. A panic attack, for example, also affects your breathing and can even cause your body temperature to fluctuate.

But it’s important to remember that it’s OK to not feel OK sometimes. You can have an off day or an off week during a pandemic. Despite feeling like you’re not doing much throughout the day, it’s very normal to feel tired during this time, which has a real impact on your ability to study or work. There are plenty of ways to find the support you need if you’re feeling overwhelmed.

I have taken some time to put together a list of areas, which can support your mental health as well as those you care for, during the pandemic. Take a look through the list of things to support your mental health at this time:

  • Limit your smoking and drinking: Hangovers can trigger anxiety or panic and make you more on edge. 
  • Exercise: If you can, go for a walk or a run once a day (always following NHS/Public Health guidelines), even if you are self-isolating. You could also exercise at home through YouTube or Instagram. Exercise is good for your circulation and your heart. It also releases endorphins, the chemical in charge of positive feeling, that help your mental health. Make sure you're drinking plenty of water if you're exercising! 
  • Get accurate news: It’s tempting to want to find out more about the pandemic to feel ‘in control’. But untrustworthy sources can increase panic so make sure you’re looking at accurate information, for example on major news networks and the government website.
  • Track your mood: Try keeping a ‘reflection diary’. Each day at the same time, write down how you’re feeling. What have been your daily highlights? What are you grateful for? 
  • Talking Therapies: Sign up for a free 20-minute therapy session through Helphub if you need to share your thoughts and worries with a qualified counsellor or trainee therapist. 
  • Silvercloud: The University of Sunderland has its own free online counselling service, Silvercloud.
  • NHS support: If you work for the NHS you can get free support and therapy through the Relational School.

There are plenty of other groups dedicated to helping you or your children’s mental health. 

  • The Mental Health Foundation is constantly updating their tips
  • OCD-UK: OCD and Coronavirus Top Tips 
  • Beat Eating Disorders: Eating Disorders and Coronavirus 
  • The Sanctuary: A chat room and safe space for people with an eating disorder to share concerns and advice on how they are coping with the pandemic. 
  • Papyrus: A suicide helpline for young people
  • Bipolar UK: Bipolar disorder and coronavirus
  • The Stay Alive App: An app for people at risk of suicide and those worried about someone
  • CALM: Helpline for everyone, but particularly men. Also includes tips on coping with social isolation
  • Mind: Coronavirus and your wellbeing
  • Anxiety UK: self-help resources for anxiety-related conditions
  • The Samaritans: If you're worried about your mental health during the coronavirus outbreak 
  • Government website: Support for victims of domestic or sexual violence and abuse

You can contact Alisa on londonhealth@sunderland.ac.uk for a confidential chat about wellbeing. She can also refer you on to various different places/organisations. Visit the Health and Wellbeing pages for more information.

Find out more by following #WeAreSunLon on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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