Loneliness, Feeling Trapped and Coronavirus: How to Help Your Mental Health
Updated: Apr 16, 2020
As of writing, the UK has been in a state of lockdown for two and a half weeks due to the Covid-19 illness brought about by the new coronavirus affecting the world. The UK government and NHS recommend avoiding social contact as much as possible, staying indoors and only leaving the house for essential trips. For many, this has lead to feeling trapped, isolated and alone in their home. I am surprised and saddened that neither the government or NHS offer any mental health support or advice about how to cope with this situation and this work is instead left to charities to give this kind of support. So I thought I would write about these feelings to help to normalise what you may be experiencing and to suggest some that that may help you to maintain positive mental health.
The issues and what might help
I think it is important to acknowledge the difficulty of this situation. It is hard and everyone is having to adapt and change their lives in both positive and negative ways. In my experience, ignoring feelings rarely goes well. It is okay that you are feeling scared, or alone, or however you are feeling. IT IS OKAY FOR YOU TO HAVE YOUR FEELINGS. It is okay to feel scared at the state of the world, it is okay to feel frustrated that your children are not doing what you want them to do, it is okay that you are missing your boy- or girlfriend who is isolating in a different location or that your family are driving you crazy. Most of my clients have been speaking about the various difficulties they have been experiencing due to coronavirus and the state of the world, which is understandable, it is affecting all of us in different ways.
How you manage these feelings in the moment is another matter which is deeply personal to each individual. Below is by no means an exhaustive list and the suggestions will not help for everyone but it might help to put words into how you are feeling and there may be a suggestion that helps you. Maybe you would like to add a comment below to say what you are finding hard and what you do to help?
For those that live alone, there is a clear risk of isolation and loneliness due to lack of contact with other people. It is possible that any sense of "being alone" you had before will be heightened by this current crisis. It is important to reach out to those you feel connected with though, whether a family member or friend, or contact a support line such as Samaritans (number below). There are many people who also feel alone and now is as crucial a time as any to connect with those who are important to us to help you remember that you are not alone.
If you are in an abusive relationship this must be a scary time. You might feel captive in your own home (or in someone else's home) and be worried about what you can and cannot say. Those who have had years of abuse often have a heightened awareness of how other people react to them and this sense might be even more heightened. There is support out there for you, the National Domestic Abuse helpline is still running and has a freephone number for UK residents: 0808 2000 247. If you ever feel your life is in danger, please call 999. As Elle write, speaking in code about your abuse rather than directly can be a good way to access help if the abuser is listening in and do not give up trying to get help.
If you are a parent you are not only trying to maintain your mental health but the mental health of your children, as well. It is hard to stay positive for others if you are feeling unsettled yourself. Younger children are difficult to manage at the best of times and older children may be feeling like their independence has been taken away from them. Both will have varying degrees of awareness about the current state of the world and may pick up on your stress or anxiety. Again, it is OK to have these feelings and do not be afraid to speak to them about their own feelings, sharing feelings is a good way to maintain positive mental health. Dr Ranj and the Child Mind Institute (a non-profit) both have suggestions about how to speak with your children about coronavirus and their feelings about the pandemic.
Parents who are working have the stress of dealing with their children while also trying to hold down their job; there is a reason that childcare exists, because it is really hard to do the two things at once! Prioritise what is important and don't worry if typically hard and fast rules are no longer so hard and fast. This time is deeply unsettling for everyone and your children are going to be finding it equally as hard. Try to work as a team during this time to avoid any more stress. Primarily, remember you are only human and anyone would struggle to manage two jobs.
If you do not get on with who you live with, for instance people who live with controlling parents or housemates who you do not like you might feel like you are in a prison and cannot escape. You might be arguing with the people you live with more and you might be really struggling to maintain positive mental health. As I said above, now is the time to survive until this is over and you can regain (or exert) some of your independence. It might not be helpful to act on how you are feeling because that might lead to more arguments or bad feelings, but that does not mean you cannot acknowledge your feelings or that they are not valid. Reach out to anyone who makes you feel better about yourself, try creative drawing or write about how you are feeling. You could think about what you are going to do when the lockdown is over which can help to give you hope for the future.
Other things that might help
Apart from the specific suggestions above these are some general tips that may help you to maintain positive mental health.
In my nine years of practice as a psychotherapist and counsellor, once my client and I are able to begin to attend to and voice their feelings, the issues around those feelings can begin to ease. This is not an option for everyone, for instance those without access to talking therapy or a close friend, but you could try writing your difficult thoughts or feelings down in a journal or a sheet of paper that no one else can read or see. The act of writing them down not only puts words to how you are feeling but also "gets them out" of your head. You can then save the writing to keep somewhere safe or rip them up and throw them out - this can be a way to symbolically "tear up" those thoughts or feelings to "rid yourself" of them. If you decide to keep the pages, I wouldn't suggest reading over them unless you are feeling resilient and in a good emotional space; reading them when you are already feeling mentally shaky can leave you feeling worse, reminding you of those things that upset or bother you.
Try to make contact with someone you care about, whether they are a neighbour, friend or family member. We are a social animal and contact with other people is important to maintain good physical and mental health. If you can, speak with your neighbour or a friend or family member during the day, either in person or on the phone. Video chat programmes are popular and available and can be a great way to keep in touch.
Make sure to spend plenty of time near a window or, ideally, outdoors when the sun is shining. There are many benefits of sunlight to our bodies and one key one is in helping maintain our body clock which can help you to feel more alert and awake. It might not be sunny every day but remembering there is a bigger world outside can help your home to feel like less of a prison.
Exercise, if possible. There are many benefits to exercise that you are probably aware of. It can help to lower your chances of life-limiting health conditions including diabetes, cancer and stroke but also has many benefits to mental health and can help you to feel better about yourself due to the rush of endorphins post-workout. There are many options for home workouts and more that you can search for.
Eat meals at reasonable times and sleep at reasonable times, but be careful about napping. One of the most destabilising aspects of this lockdown is the lack of routine that can go along with it. Eating meals at regular times and going to sleep at a similar time each night can help you to maintain a routine and have a sense of empowerment over your day. Give yourself energy to do things and allow yourself to rest when your body is tired - look after yourself!
Give yourself a break! You do not need to read that library of books you think you need to get through, you do not need to become a master baker or learn a new and valuable skill. If you do, great, if you do not, also great. Putting pressure on ourselves to achieve can only do the opposite meaning you end up putting off or not completing a job or task as well as you would like. If you are a parent you do not have to be your child's new teacher - your children will appreciate you being there when you normally are not. You do not have to read the memes that are coming out (I will not be linking them and giving them a spotlight) by highly driven workers or parents saying you or your child needs to be fluent in six languages by the time the lockdown ends and feel bad about yourself that you cannot achieve this. If you achieve anything, then well done, praise yourself on what you have achieved and build on that.
- Samaritans confidential and free support line: 116 123
- Childline for any children and young people who need support: 0800 1111 0800 0800 1
- Mental Health at Work has tons of great resources to support those who are working during the Covid-19 pandemic to maintain good mental health.
- Information about loneliness for older people from Age UK.
- Counselling Directory for help finding a psychological therapist in the UK
- BACP Find a Therapist, another great resource for finding a psychological therapist in the UK
- The NSPCC's advice and support for parents during the coronavirus pandemic
Is there is anything you think I have missed from this post? Leave a comment and let me know! Is there a great resource that I missed, add a link to the comments and help other people reading this article.
Stress worry covid 19 covid-19 coronavirus psychotherapy counselling mental health talking therapy psychology support help