Coronavirus and mental health
Log into social media or open up a newspaper and there is only one thing everyone is talking about at the moment: coronavirus, or COVID-19. There are daily stats on confirmed cases and deaths, constant updates from countries where the virus has really taken hold, and scaremongering from the media too. It’s overwhelming and can take a toll on your mental health to be constantly thinking and worrying about it.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has recognised that this can have a big impact on mental health, especially for those who have mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. Here’s how you can look after your mental health amid all the coronavirus uncertainty.
Coronavirus and mental health: how to help ease your anxieties
Switch it off
If you’re refreshing news websites or are tuned in to 24/7 news channels to get the latest, stop. The majority of news will be about the coronavirus, and because of our constant newscycle, the same stories will be repeated over and over.
Newspapers have to fill column inches, news channels have to fill airtime, websites have to attract hits. They’re going to all spin whatever they can from this in increasingly panic-striken ways to grab your attention, but you don’t have to engage with any of it if it’s making you feel anxious.
Make sure you get your information from trusted sources.
The UK government has a dedicated coronavirus page on its website here. This outlines the government’s official response and is the most up to date resource on their plans.
The WHO also has a dedicated page here, where you can find more guidance and updates on the state of things around the world.
If you feel that you need to keep one eye on BBC News to keep up to date, limit the time you spend on their website or watching the BBC News channel. Watch the 6 o’clock news instead of having BBC News on 24/7, or set a dedicated time when you’ll check your news apps or websites. You won’t miss anything in the mean time.
Social media is a hotbed of conspiracy theories, abuse, rumours and people who think they know better than medical professionals. You log onto Twitter and then suddenly you’re 6 tweets deep in a long thread about how Big Pharma released this coronavirus to boost their hand sanitiser profits, or you go on Facebook for a bit of mindless scrolling only to find yourself reading about your Auntie Carol’s many thoughts on the government’s response to COVID-19.
You are in charge of what you see on your social media feeds. If you’re sick of seeing so much negativity and baseless scaremongering, it’s time to prune your social feeds.
On Facebook, you have the option to unfollow people without unfriending them. This means that you’ll still be friends, so no hurt feelings when they realise they’ve been ditched, but you won’t see their updates in your newsfeed.
To do this, find one of their posts (either on your newsfeed or on their profile) and click the three little dots on the right. This will bring up your options.
We all have those people on Facebook who share the worst stuff – fake news, racist “banter”, etc., but a lot of the time these people are family that you don’t necessarily want to exile from Facebook, so this is a happy medium. They’ll be none the wiser and you’ll get to see those amusing cat videos in peace.
On Twitter, unfollow or mute people who get you down, and head to your account settings and find your content settings to mute specific words so that you can read about something other than people fighting over bog roll.
You will probably find, though, that if you mute words like COVID-19 and coronavirus, that your timeline will be pretty empty because it’s all anyone is talking about at the moment. But this is the time to find new things that enhance your social media feeds.
If you’re particularly interested in injecting some positivity to your newsfeeds, check out The Happy Broadcast, which shares positive and anxiety-free news. There’s also Positive News UK, which has a website too.
If one of the main sources of your anxiety is not knowing what to do to best protect yourself and your family, take some time to clue yourself up. Check out the NHS guide to keeping yourself safe. There’s really no need to panic-buy soap and toilet roll. And definitely don’t believe the stuff Auntie Carol shares on Facebook about gargling saltwater or vinegar being enough to kill the virus.
Make a positive contribution
One of the worst things about this whole pandemic is how utterly hopeless you can feel. If you’re keeping up with the news and doing all you can to protect yourself and your family, it’s disheartening to sit back and watch reports of supermarket shelves being ransacked and to hear about elderly people who are struggling.
If you feel like you need to be doing something, check in with your elderly neighbours and see if there’s anything you can do for them, be it picking up prescriptions or doing some food shopping for them. There are loads of community-focused groups on Facebook you can join to organise community efforts to look out for the most vulnerable in society, so if you’ve got the headspace for it and feel up to it, why not join in and contribute in a positive way?
Check in with your friends and family too to see if they’re OK – now is the time for us to rally around one another.
Finally, if you’re really struggling with your mental health and the coronavirus panic is making it worse, don’t forget that you can still access help and advice even though it feels as though everything has shut down.
Continue to utilise what helps you to overcome your anxieties, be that medication, therapy or other coping methods. Remember to keep up with self-care measures, and if there’s something that has helped you in the past, perhaps consider revisiting it to help you work through this period.
If you feel like you can’t face getting real-life support right now, that’s understandable. Know that there are many resources you can access online and over the phone, whether that’s online counselling sessions or crisis support lines.