The global spread of coronavirus has prompted a rapid, seismic shift in the way we live our lives, impeding daily functioning and necessitating the practise of social distancing to help reduce the burden on acute health care services.
During this period of uncertainty, it’s especially important that we mind our mental health and take time out to practise self-care and do things that we enjoy or find relaxing, says Treasa Fox, a counselling psychologist and head of the AIT Student Counselling Service.
Among the ways coronavirus-related anxiety can be managed is by sticking to a routine.
“Get up and get dressed at a time you normally would when going to college or work. Oversleeping will only cause you to feel more sluggish, and you’ll certainly feel less productive,” she explained.
Ms Fox, who is also the spokesperson for the Psychological Counsellors in Higher Education in Ireland (PCHEI ), suggests people create a simple schedule to help structure their day and soothe their anxieties.
“Getting into the right routine early on will prevent problems forming over the coming weeks. A basic timetable will keep you busy and on track. Just make sure you schedule in time for social interaction (using technology ) and exercise,” she remarked.
Ms Fox notes that people could also use this time to focus on finishing work projects, get some extra study in, or begin writing the oft-dreaded thesis.
Another component to managing coronavirus-related stress and anxiety is to get fresh air and physical activity on a regular basis.
“Go outside, even if it’s just outside your front door. Breathe in the air, feel the sunshine on your face and pay attention to your senses – what can you see and hear?”
If possible, Treasa Fox recommends taking a walk outside while maintaining an appropriate distance from other people. Spending time in nature has been shown to lessen the effects of both physical and mental stress.
“If going outside isn’t an option, there are plenty of indoor work-out routines that you can follow on YouTube – the goal is to maintain your activity levels and keep those feel good endorphins pumping,” she continued.
While it is important to stay informed and keep up-to-date with what is happening around the world, continuous scrolling on social media isn’t helpful and can negatively impact mental health.
Treasa Fox recommends limiting engagement with coronavirus-related news stories to a maximum of two or three times per day.
“Continuously engaging with news can feel overwhelming as it creates a lot of ‘noise’. So, stay up to date sure, but limit your exposure.
“Put your phone away for periods during the day, even if it’s just for 15 minutes. If working on your laptop, don’t have news/social media open on it all day, dip in and close them again,” she advised.
She also stressed the importance of making sure that the accounts you follow on social media are a positive influence and are not negatively impacting your mood. If they are, her advice is simple – unfollow.
Social distancing works by limiting the number of people we physically encounter, but it is still important to maintain social contact with friends and family via technology.
Treasa Fox advises using online groups and social media to keep in touch with family and friends.
“Email, video calls and social media can help you stay connected during this time. Class Facebook pages or WhatsApp groups can be a great way to support and connect with each other.
“Just be mindful of the content you’re sharing. Think carefully before you post: is it possibly offensive, nasty, angry or aggressive? We’re all in anxious times now, be careful not to fan the flames,” she noted.
Infectious disease outbreaks like COVID-19 can be stressful and anxiety inducing – a justified human response to a new and extremely challenging situation.
“It’s so important to talk to others about how you feel. You don’t have to be strong or cope with things on your own. We’re here to help,” she concluded.
Treasa Fox and her colleagues in the AIT Student Counselling Service are continuing to provide much needed support to students via telephone and video during this public health crisis.