We are fortunately living in a time where rightfully, our mental health and information on how to support it , is becoming a priority. However , we are also now in a time where we are experiencing something we never have before. Coronavirus. Health anxiety, anxiety about the future, anxiety about working from home while attempting to be a fully qualified primary school teacher and fearing about what the future holds are for some , new feelings they don’t know how to deal with.
I have had what I think was Covid-19.
I was wandering around in February saying on a scale 0-10 , I am 0. Doesn’t phase me. Will wash my hands like the YouTube video says and turn things off with my elbow and bish bash bosh, Coronavirus won’t bother me. And then I got sick and had a fever so high that I could wring my clothes out for extra water and so dizzy I though my brain was a jar of marbles rolling back and forth and the anxiety hit me.
Specifically health related . I had a tight feeling in my chest and was asking Dr Google what it could be . Was it a symptom ? Or was it anxiety about having a symptom ? Or was I actually having a heart attack and I was going to die and leave my son without a mother ? Or was I anxious about getting anxious? This alongside staring at socks and wondering if I cold fashion loo roll from them while looking out the window locked in Covid prison for weeks, thinking is this life now? and how long until we can go back to the park with the swings? And I felt like my thoughts were whizzing around in a salad shaker.
All the feelings I just described may have been felt by you as well. This situation is temporary and as it passes, so too hopefully will these feelings. But right now , we need to be looking at ways to ease whatever anxiety we have. It can feel lonely, being on lockdown while your kids are walloping each other with badminton rackets , arguing over who is wearing the other one’s pants and the baby has the saucepan on his head and keeps walking into the washing machine. There is no respite. You have CBeebies as the soundtrack to your life and contemplate chucking a shoe at Hey Duggee while making 95,748 snacks a day for kids who shout they are hungry while dipping their pizza into a petit filous. But you are lonely. There is no chatting in the school playground with other parents , there is no stopping off a Costa for a well-earned latte, there is no going to a meeting in an office . Instead, you are on a zoom call from your bed, bra-less while your kid is dressed with green tinsel on them pretending to be a fart in the background and you ache for real human contact.
You can be at your most lonely and isolated when there is a frenzy going on around you. So what can be done to ease it ?
Meeting real life friends, online
I don’t know about you but technology has become a lifeline for me. I have group of local girlfriends whom I absolutely adore. They are my backbone and my strength and I haven’t seem them for yonks as I have been ill and self-isolated. A few days ago, we did a zoom call as it was one of our birthdays. I looked like a drowned rat as appear to have aged 100 years in 4 weeks and it was chaos as we all talked over each but it was amazing. I sat in my pants with a gin tinnie and laughed so much and I came out of the bedroom after 40 mins feeling revitalised. Seeing their faces and the joy of us all being in each others homes via video was amazing.
Talk about your feelings
I have also found talking about how I am feeling has helped. Sounds pretty basic right but I definitely realised for the last 4 weeks, I think I have been on a somewhat exasperated autopilot. Sick, attempting to work from home while working out the 87 things sent through from the teacher . Staring at a presentation on frontal adverbials while BBC news is on the backgound and attempting to cook a meal out of 4 turkey dinosaurs, a packet of super noodles and a tin of chip shop curry and then going to bed feeling teary and overwhelmed. My husband asked if I was alright one night and I said no, no I am not . I don’t think I like this, I am scared and haven’t known how to say it. I didn’t know attempting to get our kid to write a persuasive letters with conjunctions could give me palpitations and what if we both get sick at the same time and our boy has to raise himself? My husband then said he was scared too and he felt quite trapped at home. We sat and cuddled and talked and I felt such a relief to let it all out and I think we are probably all bottling something up about living like this . If you don’t have someone in your life you can talk to , there are some wonderful helplines here .
Find mum groups and classes online
There are online groups like The Motherload® where you can sit and scroll through the days of other mums and see how you aren’t alone. Their kid tried to eat their own poo while they were video calling their boss and and another sat and cried as her 8 year old said they were scared about the virus . There are lots of baby classes online now and you can sit in your living room on a zoom call with other mums and babies and meet others who are also at home on their own. . That kind of peer support is invaluable at knowing you aren’t alone and there is a sense of we are in this together and we can do it. Let’s try and lift up those we know who are alone, it lifts us as well.
Financial support is out there
This is also a crackers uncertain time for those with jobs. Two of my friends have been laid of and while dealing with everything else. They are worried about the roof over their head and if they can feed their family. Information can be power and can help you feel a little more equipped so do take a look at these pages which can tell you about benefits etc which may help to financially support you in this time.
Avoid fake news
I think another important thing is to ensure any news you read or watch is fact-based. There are a million conspiracy theories running around and lots of fake news about the virus splashed all over social media. Here in the UK, seek information from Gov.uk and the NHS website which provides accurate and up to date information. It is simply set out without percentages plastered all over the screen and gives you information you need at that point. I have been guilty of having the news on 24 hours a day and glued to the 5pm press conference and then searching on Twitter to follow more of the story and then clicking on links and before I know it , I have been watching documentaries on YouTube about tin foil hats and lizards ruling the world. I turn my phone off during the night now and put it in a draw in the living room so I cant pick it up at night and get sucked in. My bedroom has become news channel-free and instead Ben and Holly wake me up now and I think we could all learn a few tips from Nanny Plum. Not having my phone next to me has helped me sleep better, as well which really helps me – if I don’t sleep, I am prone to panic attacks and having had a few three weeks ago when I was ill, I knew I needed to do something to help me try to stay on top of my anxiety.
Focus on the here and now
At times like this , we can catastrophise. Our minds can zoom ahead to the what ifs and we start thinking about what things will be like in a week , or a year, terror strikes. Trying to focus on the now and getting through each moment can help people get through the day. It was well-documented on my Facebook timeline that I lost it with the amount of school work coming in for my kid and I started to panic that he wouldn’t get it all done each week. I deleted the dojo app of my phone and looked each morning at what tasks my kid could do and when he finished we thought of another one. Not putting pressure on ourselves to deliver long term can be really helpful and our kids are struggling as well. I have taken the decision to be very light touch with homeschooling and we all feel SO much better for it. There are also some great techniques to help you be mindful, to focus on what is happening now if you click here
But I’m doing all of this already…
It may be that you are feeling so overwhelmed and anxious, that taking these steps are not enough. It’s taking over your daily life and if that is happening, you deserve help and support. You can still contact your GP by the route they have asked you to and it may be that opening up to them will enable them to see what other help and support is available for you . Sometimes medication can be prescribed to help with symptoms that are becoming difficult to manage on your own and that’s okay – I am on antidepressants and they help me to stay on top of things, I don’t feel numb on them and I still experience anxiety like I have mentioned here but I know I would have a higher level of anxiety that without them that I would not be able to control on my own. Some mental health charities who offer support via groups have moved these online so you may find it useful to sign up to them so you have a safe forum where you can talk through your anxieties . Details on some of these are here
The NHS has produced this really useful page on Mental Health and Wellbeing which contains links to mood assessment guides, audio guides, mindfulness, and support options particularly during the Covid period.
Do take care x
Eve Canavan is part of the Perinatal Mental Health Partnership and is the lead co-ordinator of the UK Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week.