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How to mind your mental health during a pandemic



If, like me, you suffer from anxiety – the past few weeks have been fun, haven't they?! My personal panicky triggers are when I feel like I'm not in control of a situation, or that there is great uncertainty in my life. So, eh, check and check. However, I've wasted too much of my life letting anxiety beat me, so these days, I refuse to let it win, even during prime conditions for it to breed, i.e a worldwide pandemic. If one is to look for advice on how to cope online though, you're often met with hippy-dippy BS that just isn't helpful. So, in that vein, I thought I'd offer to share whatever seems to genuinely help me...



Anaaand deep breaths...

This might sound like mumbo-jumbo, but deep breathing has been absolutely KEY for me in calming myself during times of panic. I remember being in a yoga class a few years ago, and the instructor told us how important it is to breath correctly. He offered the example of when a baby cries and is agitated; you'll see how their breath is sharp and short. But, when they are peacefully snoozing, their stomach fills right up and back down again, in a happy, calm rhythm. This stuck with me, and whenever I feel myself getting worked up, I think of it. I take a massively deep breath through my nose, allow my belly to swell up with air and let it out through my mouth after holding it for a few moments. It's nothing new, no big revelation, but...it works. GIFS like the below are great for moments of intense anxiety, too.



Forcefully control your thoughts, as much as you can


Easier said than done, I know. But sometimes (in my experience) when you're spiralling, you have to try and catch yourself before it goes too far. So, if I start to catastrophise, I have to make an active effort to stop myself in my tracks and say..."this might never happen". For things that really terrify me, like the idea of losing my loved ones for example, if I start to think of it and get worked up, I'll just battle against it to make me think of how lucky I am, right now in this moment, to have healthy loved ones in my life. Writing things down helps. I have a notepad to scribble down things I'm grateful for when I need to, and once you see it down on the page, it helps to put stuff in perspective. Mindfulness and meditation is something I can struggle with – I find it hard to sit still and totally quiet my mind – but, this is my own way of being mindful. During the stresses of COVID-19, worries about loved ones – and work, money, the death and destruction across the globe – it's off the scale, I know. If you think about it all, you'll go down a dark hole. I'm not saying, "well, just don't think about it!", because that's infuriating and...impossible. But, try focus your thoughts on what is OK right now, for you. You're safe inside. You live in an era of Netflix and podcasts. Your loved ones are hopefully safe cocooned indoors, too. I said the other evening, "We're privileged to just be bored"and it has since become a guiding thought for me. Diverting bad thoughts into my current reality is what's keeping my brain sane.



Find ways to channel your energy in a way that makes you happy, regardless what that may be


I am beyond grateful that I am able to work from home. We put the latest issue of VIP Magazine to print from our dining tables and I am so proud of it (particularly a chat I had with the amazing Vicky Phelan, which also will help anxious minds). It is something I can throw myself into. All this pent up energy can be unleashed into the computer, similar to this blog. I've also found cooking to be very therapeutic... and eating. Oh, god, the eating. And most importantly – a routine. A structure that makes me feel like things are even slightly normal. I go for a walk every morning. I work until lunch time. I take a break and if it's sunny, I will sit out in my teeny garden with pasta and a podcast. I'll work again until around 5pm, and then go for another walk before dinner. As annoying as the term is, it is the 'new normal'. Making sure that my day isn't just endless time stretching out before me really helps. If I didn't have my 9-5 job, I would really struggle, and I fully acknowledge that. And, if I was working as a nurse (like my amazing friend Maria Breen) or elsewhere on the frontline, that'd be a whole different story, too. But, as Maria once said to me, everything is relative, and for me, this is how I'm dealing with this strange time.



If you don't have any energy, that's ok too

There are days where you are just going to feel absolutely shit. I'm talking can't-get-out-of-pyjamas-all-day shit. And do you know what? Just go with it. Let yourself feel shit. Cuddle up and binge watch your show and pour a glass of wine, and just wait for the bad day to pass. Tell yourself that it'll be better tomorrow. Have a bubble bath and listen to Lizzo. Change from your pyjamas into fresher pyjamas. And most importantly, don't beat yourself up. There is absolutely no room for being mean to yourself right now.




Seek out professional help, shame-free

If you're really struggling – I'm talking sleeplessness, always being on the verge of panic attacks, constantly feeling like crying, feeling a total lack of motivation – just do yourself a favour and visit the doctor. Don't let it fester. The way that I manage my life-long issues with anxiety is by taking Lexipro each night, and I've zero shame in disclosing that. We wouldn't get all weird about someone with asthma relying on the help of their inhaler would we? I also started counselling to get to to root of the problem a few months ago with excellent service MyMind, which I can't recommend enough. Our brains can sometimes be our worst enemy, but by learning coping mechanisms and understanding yourself more, we feel so much more in control. That, for me, is the most empowering feeling of all.