The COVID-19 situation is one that is affecting everyone in one way or another and unless you live under a rock or on a deserted island far, far away, I’m sure it’s the reason you’ve turned to reading this post. Many people are off work and struggling to fill the time, the financial strains will affect economy for many months to come, key workers are under an unimaginable amount of pressure, and thousands of people are finding themselves being stuck indoors, many alone or living with problematic families. Whether you struggle with mental health or not, I think just about every single person affected by this strange scenario will experience some symptoms of anxiety or low mood in one way or another; this is of course amplified for those with ongoing mental health difficulties. Be it loneliness, worries about money, fears of becoming unwell, or being stuck in a tricky situation at home, here are a few tips that I have personally found helpful in keeping safe and sane during the pandemic.

1) Check in with yourself:

One thing that is super important in keeping mentally well is being able to check in with yourself. Are you getting enough sleep? Drinking enough water and eating nutritious foods? Keeping up with self-hygiene? Allowing yourself time to rest? Although it may sound ridiculous and you may think these are things you automatically keep in touch with, everyone’s routine is a little all over the place at the minute and it is easy to let these things slip. Bingeing on sugary foods or going to sleep at 3am will definitely have a negative impact on your mood and may heighten your sense of anxiety. If you can feel yourself slipping, check in and ask yourself what you’ve been doing differently. Chances are, even a small change can make such a difference. Having the ability to check in and keep some sort of routine and normality is important for us all, both physically and emotionally, and what better time to get a hold on that than when we have so much time to ourselves?

2) Exercise!

This is another cliché sounding one, but one that has helped me enormously during these unknown times is exercise. I find that going for a walk or two a day has helped me stick to some sort of routine and has enabled me to experience time outdoors which is difficult with social distancing measures in place. Be it a jog around a big field, cycling to the local park, walking along the beach or doing home workouts such as HITT or Yoga (there are a great selection of apps or videos on YouTube), there are so many options available and the majority

of them are free, which is even better. Now the restrictions have been lifted slightly, it is possible to meet a friend and go for a socially distanced walk, which I love, but even just walking the dog around the block with headphones in is helpful in clearing my head, getting some fresh air and upping the endorphins.

3) Stay Connected

One problem I am especially struggling with at the moment is loneliness. Whilst I’m fortunate to be living with my direct family, not being able to see friends or colleagues has been incredibly tough. I’ve missed even just going to get a coffee every morning, something that previously was part of my daily routine. Loneliness often leads down a spiralling road of negative thoughts which are sadly often heightened in uncertain times like these. Fortunately, technology has been transformative in helping to keep in touch with people, both relatives and total strangers. So many platforms like Zoom and Skype mean you can see people over the screen, and texting is a great way to keep in touch and drop short messages to friends. Social media is often seen as a negative asset but I have personally found it great to keep in touch with friends and other people experiencing mental health difficulties over apps like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Seeing other people feeling similarly helps me know I’m not alone and has given me a sense of purpose in the midst of this pandemic. The Spark Facebook Peer Support Group has introduced me to dozens of likeminded people and I am very grateful to call many of them my friends!

4) Switch Off

Whilst having unlimited technology is great and allows us to connect and keep up with global affairs, it is perfectly okay to allow yourself to switch off. The news is often very negative, particularly with so much uncertainty at the moment, and many people like myself would find it extremely anxiety-provoking to be prodded with so much information. It’s perfectly okay to take a break from these things, or to at least limit your time spent focusing on the bad news. Perhaps only focus on reliable news sources, or give yourself a daily limit (such as fifteen minutes). Mute certain words on your social media platforms or unfollow accounts you find triggering or overwhelming. Follow accounts that share positive news as the happy stories are often overlooked by mainstream news platforms, and remember you don’t need to look at anything that makes you uncomfortable.

Whilst I am no expert, these are a few tips I have found helpful during these troubling times. Remember that it is perfectly okay to not feel okay and, if needed, you can always reach out to services like Samaritans, your GP or your local mental health team – or the Spark Support Group!