Our lives have changed dramatically in just a few weeks because of the coronavirus pandemic. People around the world are quarantined at home, self-isolating and social distancing and in the UK, the public are only allowed to leave their homes under certain circumstances.
Britain is now in lockdown, and all non-essential businesses must close. People may only leave home to exercise once a day, travel to and from work when it is “absolutely necessary,” shop for essential items and fulfil any medical or care needs. Most people, except for key workers such as medical staff and supermarket employees, are working from home.
The future looks uncertain and a certain amount of anxiety is normal. But what can you do to help reduce stress if you are working at home in isolation?
“Many staff will be used to working remotely and will have developed strategies for optimising their performance and well-being from experience,” says Dr Paul McLaren, a consultant psychiatrist and medical director who works with City workers at the Priory’s Wellbeing Centres in central London.
“But the current crisis has brought enforced home working and it is important for bosses to recognise that some employees may find it a lot more difficult than others. We are social creatures and it is easy to forget the feelings of security and calmness that come from just being around other people. How much we need that will vary widely between individuals.”
Stay in touch with friends, relatives and colleagues
When self-isolating and working from home, it’s important to stay in touch with friends, relatives and colleagues to help keep a sense of normality. Social media, Whatsapp or a phone call can help prevent loneliness.
It’s also important to talk about what is stressing you out, rather than bottling it up. Whether it is money, work, your health or general anxiety about the future, speaking to someone you trust is important – they may be able to provide advice, or just lend an ear.
“Stay connected with friends and family, and value them – and it’s ok to reach out to a mental health professional,” says Dr Niall Campbell, a consultant psychiatrist at the Priory’s Roehampton Hospital.
“As the World Health Organisation says, protect yourself and be protective to others and know that every measure is being taken to save lives and protect the most vulnerable. Focus on positive news – it is there, from the small gesture to the amazing work being done across the world to combat the virus.”
When working from home, many of us have the TV or radio on in the background. While you might want to keep up-to-date with the news, it’s important to avoid watching, reading or listening to anything that is going to cause you to feel stressed or anxious.
The sudden and near-constant stream of news reports about an outbreak can cause anyone to feel worried. Instead, seek information updates at specific times during the day once or twice. Not all news is bad, too – there are plenty of feel good stories of communities coming together and people supporting loved ones to feel positive about.
Try mindfulness and relaxation techniques
It can be easier said than done, but taking part in mindful and relaxing activities is important when things feel overwhelming. Even a 10-minute mindfulness session or taking 20 minutes to read a book can help, although it can be a challenge when working from home and looking after children.
Mindfulness is about paying more attention to the present moment – to your own thoughts and feelings, and to the world around you – and can improve your mental wellbeing. “Mindfulness, relaxation techniques and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy are all genuinely useful for people who are very anxious,” Campbell says.
“There are many apps which people can use. For those who can’t leave home, much of it – including accessing therapy – can be done online.
“Remember, most people who get Covid-19 are likely to make a full recovery, and that’s important. Try to stop the train of thought that will always lead you into a dark tunnel, imagining the worst case scenario. Challenge your negative thoughts. Separate what you can control and what you can’t. Stay in the present.
“Give yourself a short period each day to think through your worries but then stop and don’t allow intrusive thoughts to impact your entire day. Think of negative thoughts as a train that you are getting off. Then give yourself a boost by talking to others, or listening to music, or cooking or doing something that takes up your time in a joyful way.”
Be active and do something you enjoy
There’s nothing wrong with hiding under the covers for a day when things seem too much, but it’s important to try and stay active if you are well enough. Take care of your basic needs and employ helpful coping strategies – ensure rest and respite during work or between shifts, eat sufficient and healthy food and engage in physical activity.
If you can, go for a walk in the sunshine. If not, try a short exercise video at home. Even sitting in your garden or on your balcony is good for a change of scenery. “Focus on positive news – it is there, from the small gesture to the amazing work being done across the world to combat the virus,” Campbell says.