The importance of mental health – tips for a COVID-19 world

A personal observation from CorLife team member and software developer Lewis Dean.

How I regained my mental health – tips for all of us during the COVID-19 pandemic 

With the measures our governments are taking to reduce the spread of COVID-19, now more than usual we need to be looking after our mental health. We’re facing a new situation which can be very challenging, so it makes sense to take our own measures to look after our wellbeing. 

As someone who has suffered with mental health issues, particularly around anxiety, I wanted to share some of the things I’ve found have contributed to me conquering my anxiety and regaining a happy mental state. I have listed below the five things that helped me most. I hope these are helpful for you during the lockdown. 

1. Challenge your thoughts 

The process of challenging your thoughts is the bread and butter of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which is one of the most effective therapeutic techniques for dealing with anxiety and depression.  

The idea is that you take a thought that is bothering you and challenge it with various questions, to test if the thought is actually a thinking error. If this is practiced regularly, you start to retrain your thinking patterns to be healthier. 

Some examples of the questions you can ask and the thinking errors they reveal can be seen in the table below: 

Am I thinking in all or nothing terms? Black and white thinking – something is either terrible or great 
Am I jumping to the worst possible conclusion? Catastrophizing – seeing things as their absolute worst interpretation instead of what they’re more likely to be
Am I thinking about this as if it revolves around me when I am actually not responsible? Personalisation – blaming yourself for problems when you wouldn’t do so if others were in your place
How do I know that’s what they’re thinking? Mind Reading – assuming to know what someone else is thinking, usually with negative connotations 
Am I assuming the present issue is permanent?  Fixating – assuming the present issue is a permanent problem 
Am I expecting too much? The unreal ideal –  holding expectations that simply don’t match up with reality, causing emotional distress where your expectations are not met 

2. Write your thoughts out

This was probably the single most effective thing for working through my thoughts and emotions and relieving anxiety and feelings of depression. Simply free style write what you’re feeling, what you’re going through, what’s made you sad or worried or happy. I’ve found this to be a really impactful way of getting your troubles off of your mind.  

You don’t have to spend long doing it – simply spending a few minutes writing a paragraph or two about what you’re feeling can be very effective at reducing rumination and the intensity of negative feelings. Journaling can also include challenging your thoughts. 

I would also suggest noting things you’re grateful for. It trains our brains to notice the things we feel fortunate to have in our lives. 

There’s also no right or wrong way, for me I’ve found when writing about things you’re grateful for it’s best to try and get it in as a daily habit that can be done either at the same time every day, or stacked onto another habit that already exists in your life. 

And when there’s more of a need for long form writing out of thoughts or bothers in general, these might be better done as and when you feel you need to, getting it down on paper helps you get it out of your mind.

Here’s how to get the most out of it: 

  1. – Do it daily, preferably at the same time for example when you first wake up or after you’ve brushed your teeth 
  2. – Be specific about what you’re grateful for
  3. – Note down three things 
  4. – Stick at it, over time you’ll see an improvement in mental state 

3. Keep exercising 

Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, said this week we should pay “attention to the impact our physical health can have on our mental health – from diet and exercise to getting enough natural light and a little fresh air”. I know this as well as anyone. There are many benefits to exercising, perhaps too many to list here, so I will cover a few of the reasons why I took so much from exercise: 

  • – It can come in almost any form, so there is a fun way to exercise for anyone 
  • – Progressing with something can give you a very real sense of accomplishment 
  • – It releases endorphins, which can leave you feeling very good 
  • – It can leave you more energetic in your daily life 
  • – It can help clear your mind 
  • – Wearing yourself out will help you sleep 
  • – It’s been shown to reduce your risk of various health issues 

4. Call your friends, family and colleagues 

Social contact is extremely important for mental wellbeing and having calls, be that just voice or (even better) video is a great way to get some social contact. Seeing the faces of those you hold most dear and hearing their voices can be incredibly good for your mental wellbeing. You’re also doing the people you call a favour, they need human contact too! We’re all in this together, so even if you’re feeling like a drag, make sure you keep in touch with people. 

5. Try meditating

In recent years, certainly in the west, meditation has seen a massive increase in popularity. This can be seen as a natural reaction to how in today’s world we spend most of our days in our head, paying little attention to the present, rushing from thing to thing and being as occupied as possible. If you’ve never done it, simply taking some time to pause and focus on your breathing for even just a minute can be very relieving. 

A simple breathing technique I learned recently to be very calming is to breathe in the following pattern: inhale deeply at a normal speed until your lungs are quite full, hold the breath for 4 seconds and then slowly blow your breath back out – this can be repeated for as long as you like, but try doing it for a minute and see how you feel! 

There are many popular apps and books now that can help you learn about and get the most out of meditation, here are some I would recommend: