As well as impacting our physical health the Coronavirus Pandemic can impact on our mental health. However, there are many things we can do to support and manage our wellbeing during this unprecedented situation.
We wanted to share some help and advice to help you look after your mental health during this time.
Psychologists report that most of the population is largely optimistic. Research has shown that higher levels of optimism are associated with better mental health, more effective pain management, improved immune and cardiovascular function, and greater physical functioning overall. It is also associated with better health outcomes after physical illness as well as increased life expectancy. It has even been shown to be connected to increased success in sports and work. Optimism is designed to give us the energy, enthusiasm, determination, and positive attitude to move forward in our lives. It helps us to appreciate the glass as half-full. Optimists tend to apply better coping strategies when faced with adversity and look for meaning in that adversity, which can make them more resilient. The good news is that, while optimism may be part of our character, it can also be learned.
A simple visualisation exercise can boost our optimism – it’s called the “best possible self” visualisation. See this YouTube video for more information: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XNbaR54Gpj4
Take 10 minutes or more out of your day and imagine yourself in a future, say 5 years from now, that has turned out to be the rosiest that is possible (but also realistic). In this future, you have achieved all the things that you wanted to, whether that’s being at the height of your dream career, living with the love of your life, being in peak physical shape, having a small circle of close and supportive friends, etc. You get the picture. Visualise what such a future will be like and feel like to you in as much detail as possible (see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G_jEsnDEIa0). The more vividly your imagination can conjure up your best possible self, the more successful this exercise is. Even if you perform the best possible self exercise just once, your optimism will get a temporary boost. And if you perform it repeatedly, say every night, or a few times a week, there will be a persistent spike in your optimism. What is more, your mood will also improve, and you will feel happier.
Whole Wellbeing and Resilience
The 5 ways to wellbeing (Connect, Be Active, Take Notice, Keep Learning and Give: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/improve-mental-wellbeing/) are the foundations for resilience. The walls and the roof of our resilience ‘house’ are constructed from additional skills/behaviours. In briefing number 11 we covered ‘building and maintaining high quality connections’ – this week we’re talking about having meaning and purpose.
As humans we need to find purpose in what we do. Imagine being on holiday (one day soon!), relaxing with your favourite food and drink to hand, feeling the warmth of the sun on your face, listening to the waves breaking gently on the beach – you’re feeling pretty good right? How good would it feel after being sat there all day? Maybe still good. What about after a week, a month, or a year? As much as we might hate to admit it, this same pleasurable situation will gradually become less enjoyable over time and not have nearly the same effect on us as it did at the beginning. So, what’s missing? Purpose – beyond feeling good, we need to find purpose in what we do.
Resilient people have a strong sense of purpose – they know what they are doing and why. And here’s the science bit – having a sense of purpose in life has been shown to improve overall wellbeing and life satisfaction, to be good for our health and even to reduce the risk of death. What’s not to like?
Studies have found that people who carry out acts of kindness experience greater wellbeing, increased feelings of happiness, and improved life satisfaction. It does not seem to matter whether we show kindness to our friends and family, our communities or even ourselves – the effect is the same. Not only that but, just reflecting on and remembering kind things we have done in the past may also increase our wellbeing. ‘Give’ is one of the 5 ways to wellbeing that we have covered before in our previous briefings.
“Kindness is a gift everyone can afford to give”
The 5 ways to wellbeing are the foundations for resilience.
“Resilience enables us to function effectively, deal with the ups and downs of everyday life, adapt to change, bounce back from adversity and even grow as a result”.
Some researchers have termed resilience ‘ordinary magic’ because we all have it to varying degrees and we can all learn to strengthen it over time. Have a look at this video – the power of resilience with Dr Sam Goldstein, Neuropsychologist: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=isfw8JJ-eWM
One of the other important building blocks of resilience is developing and maintaining high quality connections (‘Connect’). Now that in NI we are permitted to be outside at a social distance with up to 6 people, we have an increased opportunity to enhance those connections. Resilient people are resourceful, and friends and family are among their most important resources. Resilient people have strong social networks, close connections to family and friends, can self-disclose about their troubles to people close to them, and ask for help when they need it
We all need to actively build and maintain our own resilience; act early on any warning signs that our resilience is under strain; and, mobilise support when our resilience is threatened. The Action for Happiness ‘10 days of Happiness’ online coaching programme will help: https://10daysofhappiness.org/
As human beings, we seek security. We all want to feel safe and have a sense of control over our lives and well-being. Research shows that fear and uncertainty can leave us feeling stressed and anxious. It can drain us emotionally and trap us in a downward spiral of negativity. But it doesn’t have to be like that – there are steps we can all take to better deal with the impact of uncontrollable circumstances and manage our anxiety.
Uncertainty is often centred on worries about the future and all the bad things we anticipate happening. It can make things feel worse than they are and even paralyse us from taking action to overcome a problem.
Worrying won’t give us more control over uncontrollable events – it just takes away our enjoyment in the present, drains our energy, and keeps us awake at night! But there are healthier ways to cope with uncertainty, for example creating a ‘safe space’ in your imagination.
A ‘safe space’ is somewhere we can go to regardless of what is happening around us. Imagine a place that has a lot of positive associations, where you feel safe, comfortable, peaceful, or calm. Give it a name such as ‘home’, ‘woods’, ‘beach’ etc. Really focus on the image and describe the positive emotions it creates and notice where in your body you feel any pleasant physical sensations. Notice the sounds, smells, textures associated with the image. Make the image as vivid in your mind as you can. Identify a single word or phrase that fits the picture, e.g. “relax”, “safe”, “in control”, “at peace”. When your mind wanders back to worrying or the feelings of uncertainty return, refocus your mind on the image and your own slow, steady, deep breathing. The more practice you put into this, the more effective it will be at helping you to manage anxiety and worry.
And, without some uncertainty and unpredictability, we would never have any surprises. As we have seen during this pandemic, good things do sometimes happen unexpectedly – the rise of volunteering and acts of kindness for instance. Facing uncertainty in life can also help us learn to adapt, overcome challenges, and increase our resiliency. It can help us to grow.
“Tomorrow will be a good day” – Captain Tom Moore
This week our focus is on Hope. The Rainbow of Hope has become a national symbol for supporting the NHS and getting through the coronavirus pandemic together.
Hope has been shown to be connected to mental health, happiness, satisfaction with life, and psychological well-being across all age groups. There is an association between high hope and lower levels of depression, while low hope is associated with a reduction in well-being. Research has also shown that hope acts as a protective factor during life crises. People who have high levels of hope view barriers as challenges to overcome and can more easily find another way to achieve their goals.
If we can value the positive things in life and be thankful for all the good, instead of worrying about what we don’t have or can’t change, our hope will grow. Like a virus, hope can also be transmitted to others but, unlike a virus, providing hope to others makes us feel happier and makes our lives feel more meaningful.
Here’s an example of someone who did just that: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-leicestershire-52355122
Action for Happiness have produced a ‘Coping Calendar’ with 30 suggested actions to look after ourselves and each other as we face this global crisis together. You can download it as a PDF for printing, or pass it on to others and help spread the word.
To sum up, hope can protect us against negativity and despair. It helps us keep in sight a better future in times of adversity, uncertainty, and crises.
Hope is like a road in the country; there was never a road, but when many people walk on it, the road comes into existence
These are simple things that you can do wherever you are that can bring calm to your mind and body. The most effective techniques involve one or more of our five senses – touch, taste, smell, sight, and sound. Here are some examples:
- Touch – soak in a warm bath, sit (with sunscreen!) in the warmth of the sun, stretch your muscles, stroke your cat or dog.
- Taste – sip a cup of soothing herbal tea, suck a mint, treat yourself to an ice lolly from the freezer.
- Smell – take a sniff of the flowers in your garden, take a deep breath of fresh air, light a scented candle.
- Sight – read a good book, watch the clouds pass by, watch an entertaining TV programme/film, picture your loved ones.
- Sound – listen to relaxing music, sing to yourself (or your neighbours!), try some positive statements out loud like I choose hope over fear, Positivity is a choice that I choose to make, I am grateful for the things I have, I can go with the flow.
When trying these techniques focus completely on the task. If you get distracted simply bring your focus back. The more you practice the more effective they will be.
In these unusual times many of us are rediscovering the joy of the written word. Not only is reading pleasurable, but research has shown that it can help to reduce stress. Reading as little as six minutes a day can reduce stress levels by 60% by slowing your heart rate, easing muscle tension and altering your state of mind. It often provides an ‘escape’ from the worries of the day, has been shown to slow memory loss and is good for our mental health.
In case you are not aware, thousands of eBooks and Audiobooks are available to download for free from Libraries NI. You can borrow up to eighteen at a time for three weeks. To make use of this great free service you need to have a Libraries NI membership number. If you have a smartphone or tablet device download the Libby App or Overdrive App and create an account (Choose Libraries NI as your library). For PCs and laptops you need to install Adobe Digital Editions (ADE) software. So, get reading!
This week we’re focussing on gratitude – a thankful appreciation for what we receive and an acknowledgement of the goodness in our lives. Gratitude helps us connect to something larger than ourselves, be that other people, nature, or a higher power. In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness and higher overall wellbeing. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships. We can all cultivate gratitude on a regular basis and, although it may feel contrived at first, this mental state grows stronger with use and practice. You could write a thank-you note, thank someone mentally, or keep a gratitude journal, reflecting on what you are grateful for. See Action for Happiness’ 3 good things exercise: https://www.actionforhappiness.org/take-action/find-three-good-things-each-day
Health and Social Care in NI have produced a leaflet based on the Take 5 steps to wellbeing. This leaflet offers tips on supporting your mental and emotional wellbeing while staying at home during the current coronavirus outbreak. You can find it here: Take 5 Steps
Another good resource from NHS Scotland ‘Tips on how to cope if you are worried about Coronavirus and in isolation’ can be accessed from here.
For more information about the current pandemic and how to look after you health and wellbeing please check out the links below:
Specialist helplines providing a variety of vital support services including information, advice, counselling, a listening ear, and befriending are available through the Helplines Network NI.
Helplines are confidential, non-judgemental, and accessible sources of information, advice, and support. The Helplines Network NI website provides a single point of access to NI Helplines telephone numbers and websites. For further information visit www.helplinesnetworkni.com.
Lifeline is a free, confidential telephone helpline available anytime every day on 0808 808 8000. Counsellors answer all telephone calls. They listen, help, and support you in confidence. They do not judge you. They can deal with different concerns including depression, anxiety, self-harm, suicide, trauma, sexual violence, and abuse. Lifeline can arrange an appointment for face-to-face counselling or other therapies in your area within seven days. They can put you in touch with follow-up services, so you get the best possible response.
If you have any queries or need additional advice/support you can call us on 028 8953 1223 or email us on firstname.lastname@example.org
If you or a family member needs immediate support please contact your local GP, your GP out of hours service, or the accident and emergency department at your local hospital.