It would be safe to say that these unprecedented times call for a shift and bout of emotions that we may not have experienced before. Whilst many of us are allowed outside for only one hour of exercise and purchasing weekly essentials, for some, staying indoors and dealing with restricted time can play havoc with our minds and upset the balance of our mental health. Chris O’Sullivan, a spokesperson of the Mental Health Organisation shares his thoughts, tips and ideas on sustaining a positive balance during this uncertain time.

NS: How would you recommend we cope with the influx and highs and lows of emotions that can flood in on a daily basis?

CS: It’s important to realise that its completely normal and expected that times like this can lead to an emotional rollercoaster. If we can learn to recognise and accept our emotions – highs and lows – rather than judge ourselves too harshly then it’s the first step to managing them.

Routine is very important – having a plan for the day, that is realistic and varied – doing similar things and knowing what is coming up can help anchor us. It’s important not to overestimate what we can achieve in a day – and to realise that even if we don’t seem to be doing much that the emotional labour of living through a pandemic can leave us exhausted. The basics are important – moving (exercise or just getting up from the sofa), making sure we get the sleep we need, staying connected to people that matter, watching our drinking, and doing what we can to eat well can all help.

NS: How do we utilise the time and keep in high spirits?

CS: Whatever you can manage today is good enough. Some people feel that the lockdown is giving them the time and chance to learn new skills or try new things. That maybe you and if so enjoy and celebrate that. But if it isn’t you don’t beat yourself up about what you see others do on social media. You can take joy in being deliberately kind – whether by recognising the time you have for your kids or partner, to speaking more to family, to volunteering in your community. If things are hard right now, try and find some small things each day to celebrate. You are getting up and washing your hair, can and maybe just as much an achievement as another person’s Instagram 10k before breakfast. You might want to keep a gratitude journal where every day you write down three things you are grateful for as the day draws to a close.

 NS: With the ongoing “unknown” and weeks in self-isolation, how do we avoid going down an anxious rabbit hole?

CS: It’s very hard to avoid moments of panic – don’t judge yourself too harshly if you find yourself in a hole – it will pass and each time you may learn something of how to get out.

At the moment, it’s important to monitor our news intake – it’s very tempting to get sucked into scrolling social media or listening to news report about the pandemic. It’s important to be in touch with the main news and latest guidelines – but if you find the news triggering limit your consumption to only one bulletin a day. If you already have mental health worries – whether you’ve told people or sought help or not you may like to read our tips for living through the pandemic with existing mental health problems.

 NS: Are there any triggers to look out for before having a low spell?

CS: This is a good time to get to know yourself. Everybody has a different pattern of moods, and at a time like this feeling angry, irritable, scared, anxious, sad or lost are within the range of emotions that we all could feel. Too often we rush to frame distress in clinical terms – this is a time to learn to recognise emotions we often try to supress or deny.

If you are troubled by your mood or emotions for more than a week or two, if you have intrusive thoughts or beliefs you can’t shake, or you have thoughts about self-harm or suicide it’s important that you reach out for help. Your GP is still available, and you aren’t causing anyone a bother. If you need help right now, you can call Samaritans for a listening ear at any time, on 116 123.


NS: How would you recommend communicating with others or seek help if struggling?

CS: It’s hard to reach out and ask for help at the best of times – now it can feel even harder when people are busy, and the health service is focused on the virus. It’s important you do reach out when you need to though. At the moment a lot of people are finding the words, and the tools to reach out. Because everyone is experiencing challenging emotions, they might not be familiar with, they are encouraged to have more discussion on emotions – at home, at work and with friends. It may make it easier.

If you have a worry – think of someone you can trust – a friend or partner. Think about what to say and try it out – it may make a few tries to get what you need out. If you need to you could speak to a help line like Samaritans, or your work may have a free counselling service you could use. Remember you can always speak to your GP.

Lastly – look out for your friends and your family – ask them how they are feeling and listen to their answers. It’s important that you don’t shy away from asking about wellbeing at a time like this. Listening and being there is a very important way to show kindness.

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