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How to stay mentally healthy during the coronavirus crisis

Illustration: Julie K.

This article was translated into English by Jessica Dutse. Many thanks to her!

 

Perhaps, like me, you're home on a total lockdown due to total containment measures taken to curb the spread of the coronavirus. While we focus on protecting our physical health, what about our mental health that's now being neglected?

Here's some advice.

 

Take a break from your TV or social media

You already know that the pandemic is spreading (and by the way, it's normal that the number of cases keeps growing, even as the containment measures are being implemented!). You already know that the total confinement will last at least for a couple of weeks. So, keeping up with the news once a day via TV or social media is quite sufficient to avoid triggering your anxiety.

 

Communicate regularly with your family and friends

It's time to check in on your loved ones on a regular basis, now that everyone's on their phones. There are many ways to contact your loved ones without seeing them directly! If your phone/FaceTime/Messenger connection is over-congested and consequently fails, you can always... write them a good old-fashioned letter!

 

Avoid the over-consumption of coffee, cigarettes, alcohol and other toxic substances.

I think the headline says it all: when you're cooped up at home, you can be easily tempted... You succumb once, you feel better briefly... then worse afterwards. Check out our article on impulse control.

 

Work out (Yoga and dance is also recommended)

We are all going through a difficult time, and even if it is not possible to go out and do our usual athletic activities (though in France, we are allowed to go out for a brief jog ALONE), this shouldn't be a reason to quit exercising. Sport is good for you, it relaxes you. So download a sports app, try Yoga using YouTube, or play some upbeat music and dance!

 

Meditation? Be careful though

Mindfulness meditation, for which you can use an app, is of great help to many people. However, be careful because in certain anxiety cases, mindfulness meditation may only worsen the symptoms. This is because an individual may concentrate too much on the disturbing sensations in their body. Try mindfulness meditation, or something else... but stop immediately if your anxiety increases. Work out instead.

 

Open your windows

A nice, sunny day can clear both your mind and body. Plus, at least you can hear the birds chirp, since there are almost no cars passing!

 

Be sure to take your medication exactly as prescribed...

Confinement implies increased anxiety, heightened depression, etc. So this is really not the time to skip your medication! I would like to remind you that in France (for example, as is also the case in other European countries) everyone is still allowed to go to the pharmacy. Though you should ALWAYS have a signed certificate (to justify every trip). Make sure it's a hard copy as an electronic version is no longer accepted.

You are also allowed to see your psychiatrist but keep in mind that it is harder to justify a visit to a psychologist because they are not medical doctors ; in this case, it is better to consult them via Skype or by phone.

 

Consult a psychologist or a psychiatrist

Consulting a psychologist or a psychiatrist via Skype or by phone may be a good idea if you are feeling anxious or depressed, or if you have symptoms that are getting worse (OCD, anorexia or bulimia, addictions...). You can also use an instant messaging service like BetterHelp, it could even have additional advantages as compared to the conventional face-to-face session!

 

Stick to the right routines

Good habits are important. It is therefore essential to continue to eat well, following fixed meal timetables, and to go to bed and get up at approximately the same hours as usual, or at least relatively fixed hours (five minutes earlier or later doesn’t make much of a difference, but it’s important) and so on.

 

Use Beck's thought challenging record

Beck's thought challenging record is a widely used tool for CBT (Cognitive and Behavioural Therapy). It involves jotting down your thoughts as they are, as well as the triggering circumstances and emotions that go with them, and then turning them into more rational and positive thoughts.

 

For example:

  • A description of the experience: I'm anxious about the coronavirus…

 

  • Emotion and intensity on a scale of 1 to 10: stress, anxiety, 7

 

  • Automatic thought: I'm going to die

 

  • Alternative rational thoughts (what would a cameraman looking at the scene think? What would someone I admire think? If I was feeling okay, what would I think?): he or she has not travelled to areas where the pandemic is concentrated; I am not at risk; I am following all the protective procedures

 

  • Emotion and intensity on a scale of 1 to 10, again: stress, anxiety, 2

 

In case you're working from home...

  • Arrange a separate workspace away from the main areas (even if it means stacking books around your computer) to avoid distractions, and to be able to really breathe when you take a break or at the end of the day

 

  • Sit on a chair at a table, rather than in your bed or on your couch, which is reserved for relaxation and sleep (see previous point)

 

  • Try to get dressed rather than give in to the temptation of spending the whole day in your pyjamas (see first point)

 

  • Chat / make video calls / phone your colleagues regularly, so you don't get too lonely

 

  • Take breaks at regular intervals

 

Good luck!

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