World Mental Health Day takes place on the 10th of October each year and is driven by the World Health Organisation. This year’s World Mental Health Day is shrouded by the COVID-19 pandemic. The effects of COVID 19 have brought many challenges for example:
- Going to work in fear of bringing COVID-19 home or in other instances having livelihoods threatened
- For students, having to adapt to taking classes from home and missing out on contact with teachers and other students
- Many people, especially those in higher COVID risk categories are experiencing social isolation to a greater degree than before
- Some are managing the grief of losing a loved one, frequently without being able to say goodbye
- Economically losses are being felt across the globe
This is why the goal of this year’s World Mental Health Day campaign is increased investment in mental health.
Fear, worry, and stress are normal responses to perceived or real threats, and at times when we are faced with uncertainty or the unknown. It is normal and understandable that people are experiencing fear in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The important thing to know is that there is help and support there. (World health Organisation)
A common feeling that may be experienced at this time is Anxiety. The Mental Health Charity “Aware” define Anxiety as “a natural response and its function is to increase a person’s ability to respond to threat and avoid loss. Anxiety can keep us safe by warning us when something does not feel right and encourage fight or flight. Both too much and too little anxiety can be harmful. Appropriate anxiety matches the corresponding danger.”
Specifically, in relation to managing anxiety cause by the COVID Pandemic, Aware recommend the following:
- Reduce our intake of news: while it is vital to keep up to date with developments and guidance from the HSE and Department of Health, having and checking a constant news feed is not helpful.
- Use reliable sources for information: The HSE and Department of Health websites are the most reliable sources of information during this emergency.
- Limit Social Media: Try to limit your exposure to social media and phone use during this time. Many studies indicate the link between excessive and uncontrolled use of mobile phones with anxiety and depression.
- Stay connected: Keeping in contact with loved ones, even if you (or they) are in isolation, is crucial. We are relational beings and keeping in touch is very good for our mental health. Watch out for older people living near you, are they alone, do they have everything they need?
- Care for our physical health: Looking after our physical health is vital at this time.
- Exercise: Try to maintain your exercise routine. With the weather not too cold yet, you can still get out and about in fresh air, go for a walk, go for a run, go cycling and keep your body moving. Keep up these activities, unless you are told not to leave your house at all.
- Nutrition: Take care to eat well, a good balanced nutritious diet. Eating food fresh food, with lots of fruit and vegetables, is good for health, both physical and mental. Try not to consume too many sugary food, they impact mood. Monitor your caffeine intake. Also, Alcohol is a depressant, so be careful with your intake. Have you watched Sarah Keogh’s talk on Nutrition and Mental Health?
- Sleep: Maintaining good sleep routine is really helpful when trying to look after your mental health. Aim to keep to your normal routine of going to bed and getting up at a specific time. Dr. Breege Leddy gives excellent advice on managing your sleep in her talk for Aware. She also wrote a blog titled: Minding Your Sleep During Covid-19.
Aware also provide some other useful tips which may support during this difficult time:
- Do you practice yoga, mindfulness, or relaxation techniques? These are very effective ways of managing anxiety.
- Mindfulness is proven to help significantly with both anxiety and depression.
- Have you tried the Body Scan? You can access it on Youtube where you will find a number of mindfulness exercises to help you. Try Jon Kabat-Zinn’s body scan.
- Would you consider downloading a mindfulness app to your phone, like Headspace or Mindful gnats and having it available to you instead of scrolling through news or social media.
- Have you ever tried listening to guided meditations? There are numerous guided meditations available free on Youtube.
- Would you consider using distraction techniques? Distraction can serve you well by giving you a much needed break from unhelpful thought patterns.
- If your anxiety level is very high, your breathing will be very short. Try, some controlled breathing techniques
For more serious cases, you may need to seek support from external professionals. Your GP can offer medical support and will guide you to what best suits your needs. The link below also provides a list of support options from expert & professionals.
Supports for mental health charities have suffered in recent times so even if you don’t need to access their services, why not consider a donation or organising a charity event to support your local mental health charity this World Mental Health day.