It is unlikely to be news to anyone that Coronavirus is leading to a global state of panic. Many areas in China and Italy are being quarantined, and “coronavirus masks” are selling out in their droves, often for far more than their recommended retail value. Whilst this is a cause of concern for many, Coronavirus is having a stark impact on the wellbeing on those with mental health conditions.
For those who struggle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) Coronavirus can fuel fear-based compulsions that either previously exist, or can trigger a first episode. Unsurprisingly, coronavirus can also trigger symptoms of anxiety. This is often made worse by the presence of physical symptoms of anxiety, which can spark further fears of having contracted the virus.
Fear of contracting coronavirus is pushing more and more people to self-isolate, even if they do not need to medically. Whilst to an extent this is being advised by the government in the instances of having been exposed to the virus, self-isolating in order to avoid running the risk of contracting the virus can have an enormous detrimental impact on mental health and wellbeing.
Isolation in itself is often a well-known sign of mental illness. Whilst in the instance of coronavirus isolation may feel reassuring initially for those who are desperate to protect themselves, it can ultimately lead to feeling lonely and vulnerable. Lack of time spent with others gaining alternative perspectives can lead to catastrophizing, which can subsequently see mental health issues snowballing. This is especially true in the case of pandemics such as coronavirus, due to the powerlessness of fighting and “invisible threat”.
However with just a few simple tips, you can reclaim control of your mental health in relation to Coronavirus.
Staying connected, even if socially isolating, is imperative for maintaining perspective and a sense of connectedness. Social support can lower blood pressure and improve immune functioning, making people who make use of social support more robust in the event of such outbreak. Talking also calms the central nervous system, which controls the fight/flight/freeze response. Whether it be talking to family and friends, or talking to support lines, staying socially connected will benefit more than just psychological wellbeing in the face of the virus.
Keeping a routine and bringing the outdoors in, can also work wonders in regards to maintaining psychological wellbeing in the face of self-isolation. Keeping a routine will ensure the upkeep of positive sleep hygiene, which impacts your energy levels, leaves you more alert and reduces inflammation. Opening the windows and getting fresh air in can help you to focus on your breathing and remain calm. Similarly, make time for yoga or mindfulness to again focus on calming your breathing. Getting natural sunlight by way of sitting in the windows or sitting in the back garden/on your doorstep, can also reduce feelings of stress and anxiety and help you to feel more relaxed.
It is also important to question your behaviour and impost limits on anything that may be feeding your mental ill health. For example, question whether you are washing your hands in line with health authority recommendations, or is this becoming realistic? Perhaps test yourself to only wash your hands under certain circumstances, and limit yourself to washing your hands for the maximum recommended time (20 seconds), and see how you feel ceasing such activity.
Finally, seek support where you can for any impact that this has had on your mental health awareness, to minimise any detrimental effects and prevent any further damage. Try to practice self-compassion, and try not to be too critical on yourself if you do find yourself struggling with your mental health in the wake of this global outbreak. You are doing your best. The outbreak of coronavirus can be anxiety provoking for people with no history of mental illness, let alone if you already have a vulnerability.