Looking After Your Mental Health During Covid-19

As you’re probably aware, the world is facing ever growing problems, from climate change, to the recent coronavirus that is impacting people all across the globe. This is extremely overwhelming and with media headlines contributing to our stress levels and anxiety levels, it’s easy to feel as though you’re powerless. 

This article is designed to help us all reduce our stress and anxiety levels as we battle a virus that is impacting our lives at a significant level. We all experience racing thoughts that we can’t control, and our worried minds can take us down a rabbit hole of negative emotions that we find difficult to come back from. Throughout this article are tips to help ease your mind, help you breathe and manage potential panic and anxiety attacks. 

It’s so important that we look after our mental health during this trying time, and I cannot stress this enough. Although the state of the world currently isn’t where we’d like it to be, we can emerge stronger together and help others in this trying time. Please note that tips listed below will work differently on everyone, but see which is most impactful and try anyway, and share with friends, family and loved ones if you know they’re struggling with their mental health. 

Meditation 

Meditation is one of many treatments that helps manage feelings of anxiety. It can essentially help soften feelings of anxiousness and stress. To slow down racing thoughts and let go of any negativity, it’s a powerful technique that helps many of us across the world.

There’s a common misconception with meditation, and that many people think it’s as easy as purposely making a shit cup of tea for your co-workers so they don’t accept your polite invitation next time you offer hot beverages. However, it can be quite challenging for new comers, and it was for me too.

You have to practice the art of sitting still, and connecting with your mind in total silence. As an introvert, this is pretty much a dream of mine. There are times when the world feels too heavy, and this is when you need to take time for yourself.  Now meditation can be practiced in a few ways, but all are designed with the same purpose.

  • Focuses your mind – It’s perfectly normal to experience rapid thoughts while you’re meditating, you’re quite literally focusing on the mind. Meditation is designed to train the mind and teach compassion and kindness to our thoughts, while bringing the focus back to our breath.
  • Focuses on the present – Many of us have the tendency to hold on to the past and to overthink about the future, while this takes quite a lot of our time and energy, we seem to forget to focus on the present, and being in the now. 
  • New state of consciousness – Meditation doesn’t allow you to enter a sleeping state, but it’s not particularly a wakeful state, it’s somewhere in between. This happens within time, so if you don’t experience this in the first two minutes of your first session, don’t be surprised.

Meditation increases brain activity in an area of the brain which is linked to positive thoughts, emotions and happiness. Right now, we all need something to calm the chaos and help us focus on what’s important.

There are a few different meditation types, see below.

  • Basic
  • Focused
  • Activity orientated
  • Mindfulness
  • Spiritual

Basic meditation is designed for beginners. All you have to do is get yourself in a comfortable position and use your breath as a point of focus. Because our minds are powerful in distracting us, the basic technique enables you to practice coming back to your breath and therefore coming away from negative thoughts that are trying to pull you.

Focused meditation is designed for the more experienced as it’s the practice of focusing on something intentionally, but without engaging your thoughts on it. For some of us, we prefer this method rather than focusing on nothing. 

Activity orientated meditation again is for those who have already mastered basic meditation, however this method combines meditation with activities you like. With this type of meditation you participate in a repetitive activity that enables you to get in the zone. This is especially helpful if you’re looking to make meditation a bit more fun and interactive.

Mindfulness meditation is the act of purposely focusing on things and experiences that are happening in the present moment. It involves a breathing practice, mental imagery, awareness of the mind and body, and relaxation.

Spiritual meditation allows you to explore the depths of who you are. 

Try basic meditation first, and follow the steps below to get you started.

  • Get in a comfortable position, bear in mind you’ll need to be in this position for however long you choose to meditate for. This can be from 5 minutes to 30 minutes. As a beginner start with 5 minutes, then 10 minutes and so on to work yourself up.
  • Close your eyes and begin a simple breathing exercise. This involves paying attention to your breathing pattern, if you’re anxious and you feel as though your heart is beating too fast, by noticing this you can then focus on your breath to slow your heartbeat gradually. It’s important to note that you shouldn’t try to change your breathing pattern. The goal of the breathing exercise is to bring your awareness to the present.
  • Once you’ve acknowledged your breathing pattern, the next step is to acknowledge your thoughts. You shouldn’t try to suppress your thoughts and feelings, this technique isn’t designed for you to suppress your inner dialogue. Recognise your thoughts, and let them pass. That is all. Over time, this activity will help you deal with overcoming thoughts that are overwhelming your mind.
  • When you feel as though your meditation time is up, slowly open your eyes and take a few minutes to reflect.

Try to get into a routine of meditating each day, and if it helps, create reminders at the same time to make it a little easier. 

Try using Headspace, Calm or Simple Habit. Simple habit is especially helpful for those who live busy lives, as they’re only 5 minute meditation exercises!

Yoga

Yoga essentially combines mental and physical exercise. While it’s important to look after yourself mentally, you should prioritise your physical health too. And with yoga being able to calm the mind and strengthen the body, I think it might be time to roll out your yoga mat, and if you don’t have one, roll out your hypothetical one (or order one online seeming as most of us are self isolating). 

As most of us have a bit of spare time on our hands, we might as well test the waters with various yoga poses. Throughout yoga exercises, you should use your breathing techniques learned through meditation. The idea with each yoga pose, is to hold it for a few, slow breaths before you move on to a new one. And by a few slow breaths,  this means around 30 seconds. 

I’m not a yoga goddess, but some poses require a bit of core strength and concentration (like the bridge pose, which is DIFFICULT) so make sure you’re in the zone before you start or else you’ll end up accidentally jamming out to the jonas brothers and a Spotify advert because you refuse to pay for Spotify premium. 

Try these top 10 yoga poses.

  • Bound angle pose – good for opening the hips and lengthening the spine
  • Downward facing dog – the ultimate rejuvenating stretch
  • Big toe pose – lengthens and strengthens tight hamstrings
  • Childs pose – stretches the lower back, hips, thighs, knees and ankles
  • Triangle pose – helps build strength in the legs and stretches the spine, chest, shoulders, groins, hips, hamstrings and calves
  • Tree pose – significantly improves balance, strengthens the core spine, thighs, ankles and calves
  • Bridge pose – a back bending pose that stretches chest, back and neck muscles
  • Cobra pose – increases spinal flexibility and stretches the chest, abdomen and shoulders
  • Plank pose – some millennials might be familiar with this as we had to suffer through it in PE. It helps build strength in the core, legs, arms and shoulders
  • Corpse pose – a great pose to end a session with as it allows for relaxation

There are many yoga apps available on the App Store, or the other store for Android which I don’t know the name of. 

Fresh Air

As silly as it sounds, getting some fresh air, and maybe going for a walk does help refresh our minds and gives us a new perspective. There are studies conducted that show spending time outdoors increases brain power. 

We’re all aware of self isolation, and keeping away from others unless it’s absolutely necessary, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take a trip to the middle of nowhere and take a nice stroll (mind you I’d wrap up because the wind is killer and it’s a bit choppy). Self isolation can have a huge impact on our mental wellbeing, especially for the older generation as many live alone. Even if it’s a few minutes each day to go outside, please take it. I guess you could count going to the supermarket, but let’s be real that increases our stress levels. I don’t want to be fighting a middle aged woman for Quorn nuggets because she’s being too greedy and placed 18 bags in her basket even though she isn’t even a fucking vegetarian. (Please don’t be selfish during this difficult time, think about all the healthcare workers across the country, the elderly and the vulnerable who need essentials too). 

If you don’t have the opportunity to go for a walk in a remote location that isn’t full of angry middle aged people, the garden will do too, providing you have one. Maybe take a good book, or get a banging playlist on the go, something that will make it more enjoyable and bearable for you. 

Tips for Coping With Anxiety & Panic Attacks

It’s common for people to think anxiety attacks and panic attacks are the same. But they have some differences. Panic attacks are generally more intense, they are unprovoked and rather unpredictable. Anxiety attacks are usually caused by a trigger. Below are a few tips that can be applied to both should you feel one coming on or while you’re experiencing one of the two.

  • Use deep breathing techniques is one of the many effective techniques when you’re experiencing an anxiety attack. It helps reduce your heart rate, and slowly calms your thoughts 
  • Try muscle relaxation techniques. While deep breathing is effective, muscle relaxation techniques can help reduce or stop panic attacks in it’s tracks. This is because it controls your body’s response as much as it possibly can
  • Create your own mantra and repeat it to yourself! Mantra’s are often reassuring, they act as a personal reminder for us when things are difficult. This could be “this too shall pass” or “I can get through this” – find something that connects and speaks to you on a personal level
  • Focus on an object. This activity shifts all of your focus to one item, one thing. It uses all of your energy because you’re mentally noting things about it. For some of us this helps our panic symptoms subside

If you are struggling with anxiety because of the current pandemic, acknowledge the feelings you have and let them pass. Practice self compassion, love and kindness to yourself and others. Remember distractions and ignoring them doesn’t make them go away (although wouldn’t that be great). We can only emerge from something like this by being there for one another and our communities. And I don’t want to sound like the High School Musical cast but we are all in this together. We will get through this together.

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