Mental Health Ireland’s Development Officer for Galway, Nicola Morley, discusses the 5 Ways for Tough Times
On March 12th our Taoiseach announced the closure of schools and crèches and since then, our lives have been completely rearranged and the world has changed. Never have we been more conscious about coughing, sneezing, and washing our hands. Social distancing, staying at home, lock-down and cocooning are now part of our everyday reality.
The public health measures that have been implemented to control the spread of the virus will have affected us all in some shape or form and whilst we are all in this together, the impacts of these will be very different depending on each person’s circumstances. Some will have lost their jobs, some will have lost the opportunity to do school exams as planned, some will be working from home and trying to juggle work and family commitments in the same space and some may be feeling very lonely and isolated at this time. There may even be some for whom this time might be an opportunity to step off the time-poor ‘hamster wheel of life’ and just be still and recharge for a while. This is just a tiny example of the kinds of situations people are dealing with right now it’s a reminder that although “we may not all be in the same boat, but we are going through the same storm” (Bono, 8th May 2020, The Ryan Tubridy Show- RTE1).
There is so much uncertainty surrounding what we are going through right now and that in itself can be very unsettling and stressful. And while there is no magic formula to fix this, there are some things we can do to help ourselves and our families that can make all this feel a bit more manageable. Like most things in life, if we plan and be specific about what we are going to do and when we are going to do it, we have a better chance that it will actually happen, so put aside some time to reflect on your daily routine at the moment and look for opportunities to fit in activities that nourish your wellbeing, and perhaps let go of some of the things that don’t.
When faced with a challenging situation like this, it can be helpful to identify the things we can control, identify the things we can’t control but may be able to influence, and to try to accept the things we have no control or influence over and adapt to these. For example, we can’t control what other people do or the daily numbers of cases of the virus but we CAN ensure we adhere to the guidelines and limit how much information we consume about this, ensuring we only read reliable sources of information if and when we decide to get a news update.
In terms of maintaining and protecting our mental health and wellbeing, Mental Health Ireland is encouraging people to take the time to build in the five ways to wellbeing into their daily routine.
- Social distancing is different to social isolation. We can do many things to stay connected with our friends and family even if we cannot see them in person.
- Emailing, calling, texting or even writing letters are great ways to keep in touch. Set aside some time each day to catch up with a friend or relative. Make a plan and set aside some time to chat. Make an effort to actively maintain social contact groups using Skype, Zoom, Text, Telecall or WhatsApp.
- The increased time spent at home can be challenging for some families, but it can also be an opportunity to reconnect with our loved ones once again. Connecting with others can help us regain a sense of purpose and belonging. This is especially important when we are feeling more disconnected physically from family. Let’s take this opportunity to have longer conversations and really listen to what they have to say. All these communication gestures can help us feel truly close and connected.
2. Be Active
- Get as much sunlight, fresh air and nature as you can, while maintaining a social distance. Keep a routine that involves walking, running, cycling or gardening. Spending time in green, natural space can benefit both your mental and physical wellbeing. It can improve your mood, reduce feelings of stress or anger, and make you feel more relaxed.
- A number of fitness instructors are also generously offering free online short workouts to complete at the same time each day with the online community or in your own time.
3. Take Notice
- Being mindful of how we are feeling at this time is important. Noticing these feelings can help us to address them. If consuming and trying to process too much information is increasing stress levels, step back and limit the time spent reading or listening to news reports and social media. Try to include some time in your day to ‘Digitally Disconnect’, this will help to regain a sense of perspective and give an opportunity for reflection.
- Be mindful of where you source your information from also; only use reputable Irish sources such as the HSE or Government sources. As the pandemic is affecting different parts of the world differently, it’s important to tune into timely and local information from an Irish context.
- Taking a reflective moment to appreciate our immediate surroundings is beneficial. Taking notice can include noticing the birds singing, the trees rustling in the wind and flowers in bloom. Taking notice of ourselves, our thoughts and feelings, and the world around us helps to improve our mood and our sense of wellbeing. Paying attention to the present moment, to the simple details of the day – the scent of coffee, a child’s smile, or a favourite song on the radio. When we stand in that moment, our brain gets an opportunity to process the pleasure, boosting our serotonin levels – the feel-good hormone that helps elevate mood and keeps us calm.
- If we are out of our usual routine, our sleep can be disrupted and we may find ourselves ruminating about our worries when we wish we could fall back asleep. Give your sleep patterns some thought, identifying the things that help you get a good night’s sleep. Aim to keep a good routine by going to bed and getting up at the same time each day. If the uncertainty of the current situation is causing you to lose sleep, talk about your worries with friends and family or your GP rather than trying to cope alone.
4. Keep Learning
- Some people we may find they have increased time during the day over the coming weeks. This could be an opportunity to try something new. Signing up for short online courses or trying something as simple as cooking a new recipe a few times a week can help give us a sense of purpose, focus, and keep our mind active. It may even be as simple as learning a new card game, a breathing technique, or a new word in a different language each day.
- Remember we all have our preferred coping mechanisms and it’s helpful to try out some new options. Develop a varied diet of coping strategies to maintain good mental health and be generous – share your ideas with friends and family. The best coping strategies are the ones that are healthy.
- We have seen an incredible and spontaneous increase in the number of community response groups offering services to the elderly or most vulnerable in our community. Volunteering your time with these services, if safe to do so, can help give you a sense of belonging. Offer your time, skills, expertise and availability – it makes a real difference and will help to channel any anxiety you may be feeling.
- Giving can also include something as simple as making someone a cup of tea or telling a joke.
- Give yourself the space and time to look after yourself. This could be making a healthy meal, doing something you enjoy, or taking 20 minutes to yourself if the house is crowded.
- Remember one of the biggest acts of giving any of us can do at this time is to adhere to the public health guidelines.
So be kind to yourself and to those around you, we will need to be patient and together we will come through this challenging time. For more information on Minding Our Mental Health during COVID-19 visit mentalhealthireland.ie/get-support/covid19/.
Nicola Morley, Mental Health Ireland Development Officer for Galway City and County.