Mental Health Awareness Week 2020 takes place between 18th – 24th May, and this year’s theme for the annual event is kindness. With this in mind BA (Hons) Fashion Communication student, Alice Morey offers her own tips on how to look after our mental health and each other during these difficult times.
Life in the time of Corona
You cannot leave, you don’t know how long this will last, and you’re not in control. Elements which all have contributed to and been part of the core triggers of my anxiety for years. Now at a time of global uncertainty, we are being asked to tackle triggers of mental health head-on, with no preparation.
As someone who lives with a panic disorder and experiences anxiety, this challenging and mad time has been both the source of panic and an opportunity for growth. But, I am not alone. In the UK 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem each year, with 1 in 6 experiencing a common mental health problem weekly. Yet Natasha Devon MBE mental health writer and activist notes “whilst 1 in 4 of us will experience a mental health issue which falls within diagnostics criteria each year, 4 in 4 of us have a head with a brain in it. We all have a status of mental health and it’s something we can understand, monitor, and nurture – just like we do our physical health”.
For myself and so many of those around me, a time of great change, irrespective of the broader external contributing factors, can be destabilising – and then you add in a global pandemic. With the decision to go into lockdown occurring in late March, 25 million people in the UK noted high levels of anxiety with fear centred around health concerns, job security, and making ends meet. Two months down the line, as we enter stage 2 in the relaxing of lockdown, we tentatively take our first socially-distanced steps back into the outside world. This brings with it its own challenges and fears of how to re-engage with society.
Top Tips for dealing with Mental Health as lockdown eases
This sudden surge in mental health difficulties is hard to cope with when we are faced with finding solutions within our own home environment. So, what can we do? These are simple tips designed to help; I am not a mental health professional, but I wanted to share my own tips and experiences on how best to face this together.
You are not alone
A message that is resonating across social media and shared by all is that you are not alone in this feeling and it will get better.
It is okay to acknowledge that this is a challenging time, this is not a normal situation and it can be difficult. Be kind to yourself and allow yourself to feel emotions and process what is going on around you. I find being aware of how I feel is, although initially intimidating, less daunting than being afraid to admit that I am not okay or may be struggling.
It is okay to talk to someone you trust about how you are feeling. Reach out whether that be over text, phone call, Zoom or even make it “old school” and write a letter. It can sometimes be difficult to know who you can talk to when it comes to friends and family, but remember there are many different NHS services and charities which can offer a comforting ear. Whilst social media has become an oasis of community spirit, networks such as Gurls Talk and the Condé Nast College initiative, CNC Hive aims to keep community spirit alive; with talking and sharing at the heart of these platforms.
The incredible thing about talking is you never know how someone else might be feeling and by opening up, you are not only connecting with others, but they may also appreciate your time and be experiencing the same thoughts or feelings as you. Isolation can fuel and feed into anxiety. By reaching out you are engaging in human contact and breaking that bubble of isolation. After all, we as humans are social beings and it is a vital need in order for us to thrive.
Try something new or learn a new skill
Rarely in life are we given the gift of time an unexpected break from the treadmill monotony of the day-to-day routine, so let’s make the most of it. What skills do you wish you could harness? Is there a hobby you have always wanted to try? This is your moment.
Examples could be coding, learning a foreign language, taking an online short course, or learning how to use Photoshop. You could even start that blog you’ve always wanted to do. Not only is this a productive and interesting way to fill your time, but you may also gain valuable skills that you can add to your CV as well as applying them to your professional development. These new skills could well come in handy especially at this time where economic insecurity is rife alongside unemployment and uncertain furlough schemes.
According to figures published by YouGov on the 24th March, in a survey of 1,619 adults in the UK, seven in ten 18 to 24-year-olds say they worry that the coronavirus will cause higher unemployment for a long time, which causes the highest levels of anxiety. So, could this be the time to invest in yourself and tailor your skills to a new passion and career path?
Take the time to be present and catch up with the people in your life you care about. Call the aunt you have not spoken to in a while, or your childhood bestie and reminiscence over life pre-isolation and plan your next big adventures together when everything is over.
Exercise is a must to focus both your mind and your body. As part of the new government guidelines we now have unlimited time access to the outdoors. The benefits of exercise include improved mood, a reduction in stress, improved capability to cope with worry as well as satisfaction and pride in your own self-achievement. So, dust off those trainers, whether you do 9am wake up P.E. sessions with the trainer of the nation Joe Wicks, or start with the Couch to 5k App the key is to move. Release those positive endorphins and ground yourself in the here and now.
I have a love/hate relationship with cooking. I really like the idea of cooking however, when I have had a long day and come in the last thing I want to do is cook. But now with added hours in my day and my commute gone, I have made a commitment to try a new recipe once a week. I find this fun, social, and it takes enormous concentration to get right. Food is now less about convenience and an opportunity for you to take care of yourself, experiment and try something new, and to make do with what you can get.
My final tip is journaling and writing down what is going on around you. At a time where the thoughts can be vast and my mood can fluctuate regularly, having one place to come back to and to write down my thoughts, feelings and what I have done that day is incredibly therapeutic.
When having a down day it helps to refer back and read the positives which have happened during the isolation period, of which there are many. I am grateful for the additional time I get to spend with my family. To still have the ability to study and learn, reconnect with friends whom I may have lost contact with over time, and to rediscover hobbies and passions I thought I would never have time to try again. This can help put the bad days into perspective and recognise they will come to an end and things will be brighter again.
You’ve got this!
This is such a challenging time, but we are all in this together. Take it day by day, do things you enjoy, take a moment to appreciate how well you are doing. Never be afraid to reach out for help if you need it as there is always someone there to listen.
And remember, you’ve got this!
By Alice Morey