This week, the COVID-19 crisis escalated in Ireland, like many countries. As the situation unfolded and the country shut down, I checked Twitter and Facebook for the latest updates. I also hit refresh repeatedly on various news sites I follow.
I wanted minute-by-minute updates and to understand what was happening, to whom and when. On Monday evening, I felt anxious about what a lockdown for months would mean for friends and family, and I found it difficult to sleep.
It doesn’t help that many sources are full of misleading information. In Ireland, incorrect medical advice about the dangers of ibuprofen went viral until it was dismissed by professional health bodies here. Some WhatsApp groups I’m in even contained incorrect posts about the army being deployed onto the streets.
Unless you’re a frontline healthcare worker, navigating the crisis means practicing social distancing, washing your hands, and self-isolating. The crisis is still a recipe for anxiety and overwhelm. So here are six strategies you can use to reinforce your mental defences.
I increased my meditation sessions to twice a day, early in the morning before checking the news and late in the evening after work. I use apps like Headspace or Waking Up.
Normally, meditation is a useful practice for focusing and calming the mind. During times like this, it offers me an escape and a chance to press the mental reset button. It also helps me accept the reality of Ireland effectively closing down for the next few months.
If you’re new to meditation, you don’t need to meditate for twenty minutes a day, twice a day. Start by incorporating five or ten minutes of mindfulness into your daily routine.
As someone who struggles with feeling despondent, I learnt long ago that managing energy levels is an effective mental health strategy. I feel tired, sluggish and pessimistic after sitting down for hours, whereas a short walk offers a more optimistic glimpse into what lies ahead.
We’re still able to leave our homes in Ireland, although not in large groups of people. I try to get out for a walk or run alone in the afternoon or late evening after work. I also downloaded the Nike fitness app, which is useful for bodyweight training sessions at home.
3. Confine News and Social Media To Once or Twice a Day
Years ago, I was a journalist. It’s important to understand what’s happening with the crisis, but the 24-hour news cycle is all-consuming. You’ll never get through it all. Information overload results in more anxiety. It’ll leave you feeling like it’s impossible to get to the bottom of things.
Instead, it’s far better to confine checking the news or social media to once or twice a day. I listen to the radio or read a few trusted sites after an hour or two of work in the morning. And I check in again that evening after dinner.
I’ve also given myself a goal of creating more than I consume. That means spending more time writing or focusing on ideas for my business rather than reading the news.
I’ve kept journals on and off since I was fifteen years of age. Journaling is a great way of creating a record. But perhaps you won’t want to remember this crisis.
Well, I was unemployed during the Great Recession of 2008–2010, and it was oddly reassuring to read back on some of those entries this week and witness that crisis passing. This one will too.
If you’re new to journaling, now is a great time to get started because you’ve got extra time. Spend five or ten minutes recording what you’d like to focus on for today.
I also suggest writing down one to three things you’re grateful for. Ideally, one item should be something from your immediate surroundings, like a plant blooming in spring or an enjoyable cup of coffee.
5. Deep Reading
I’ve also found books to be a fantastic escape from the drudgery of normal life. Right now, they represent an escape from the news.
I’ve compiled a list of over one-hundred big books I’d like to read and I still hadn’t found time to get through. Many of these are over a thousand pages long. Spending so much time at home means more opportunities to get lost in a book.
Alternatively, ask yourself if there are any online courses or skills you’d like to pursue. I’m encouraging my teenage son to take up coding and have suggested he download the Codecademy app and complete some of their challenges.
When the crisis ends, we’ll have a chance to put our new skills to work.
I’ve worked at home for years, and it suits my personality. If you’re lucky enough to work at home during this crisis, a job or business offers much-needed structure.
It can distract from what’s happening on the news, and provide hard edges to the day. Unlike much of the crisis, work also represents something within your area of control.
That said, I know home working doesn’t suit every personality. Keep to a normal routine as much as you can. Start and finish based on your normal workings hours and use apps like Zoom to connect with team members through video conferencing. Work can direct your mind away from the crisis and towards something in your control.
Stay Safe and Healthy
Ultimately, the COVID-19 crisis will pass, just like the financial crisis and ones before that. Until then, staying safe means following the advice of healthcare professionals like practicing social distancing, self-isolating and washing your hands.
Taking care of your mental health is an extra but worthwhile step.