How Do We Stay Calm Through A Pandemic?

Friday 20 March 2020

woman sitting on window

We’re living in unprecedented times right now. 

The spread of the global Covid-19 pandemic certainly feels like something out of a horror film or a bad dream, but it's real and it's here.

As it feels like the whole country is racing to the shops and fighting each other over hand sanitizer and toilet paper, we’re focused on the physical implications of keeping safe from the virus. But there are also a whole lot of mental health implications as well.

There’s a very fine line between the very necessary social distancing that it is absolutely our responsibility to undertake and preserving our own mental health, and I’m not sure that any of us quite know where that is at the moment.

The thought of being placed imminently in a lockdown situation - which many European nations are, and the UK is teetering towards - where we can’t go outside and socialise can be quite an unsettling thought. Anxiety is ever-present right now, and even those of us who are normally relatively calm are beginning to have to fight the panic.

I work from home a couple of days a week anyway in my marketing job, but it still feels like a huge leap to cut out all physical interaction at work, in your social life and even through things like gym classes in one fell swoop.

Last night, I could feel this claustrophobic sense of panic threatening to take over at the thought of not knowing how long this situation might continue, whether my loved ones will get ill,  how it might affect my job, and even whether the building work we’re having done will get done (which is agonisingly close to completion but could easily come unstuck in an instant).

For me, the answer is to try and find balance and normality in uncertain times. I’ve come up with a plan for myself to look after my mental and physical health, and I’m going to share it in case any of the points also help you.

Work To A Schedule 

Completely free-form chaos in my day is something I find hard to bear. It appears, boringly, that I am a creature of routine, and structure is what makes me feel okay. So even though nothing is now stopping me from eating cereal on the sofa in my pyjamas at midday, I’m not going to do that.  I’m going to create a daily schedule, with times to work, to relax and to exercise, even if those are all within the same four walls.

Use Facetime 

It may sound funny but being able to speak to people face to face digitally makes a difference. A lot of people at the company I work for are home-based or geographically spread out anyway, so we do a lot of our work on MS Teams and via conference calling. Until the other day, people never switched their video streams on, just audio. But as the news broke that we were all to be based at home until further notice, people switched on their cameras and it made me feel so much better. I could see faces, and people were giving tours of their kitchens and temporary working spaces, or showing their pets. It’s a little thing which can make a big difference. Likewise, I usually just voice call and text my parents, but I will be video calling them too.

Get Some Exercise

Not just for the sake of your house-bound body and the wonderful effects it can have on making your immune system stronger, but for the stress relief it gives you. Exercise is a vital tool for coping. I’ve rediscovered running and it feels like that is the only thing keeping me sane right now.A few miles a day in the fresh air, not coming into close contact with anyone, will make you feel so much less cooped up, especially when gyms are shut. I’ve also been streaming workouts from Joe Wicks and Fitness Blender, while Down Dog have made their yoga apps free to download.

Stack of newspapers

Be Kind

One of the most powerful tools to help you tackle fear is actually being kind to others. This extreme situation we find ourselves in has brought out some of the best and worst in humanity, so don’t come down on the dark side. I have been making sure to check in on my friends and family via phone and text a lot more often, sharing activities to do with the kids at home, and have also joined a local volunteer organisation where you buddy with someone elderly or vulnerable to bring them shopping and other supplies. The other day I put together a care package for a friend stuck at home with newborn twins - practical things like washing up liquid, but also treats like nice biscuits, some hand cream and a potted white rose plant, so she could have a little bit of beauty. Thinking about other people actually reduces the strain on you a little.

Support Local Businesses

The economic impact of all this worries me as much as the virus itself. The big boys will probably be fine as they have deep pockets, but the little independent businesses that we value so much will really feel the pain quite soon. Although we can’t go to cafes and restaurants, a lot of them have started up takeout or delivery services to try and cope, so give your custom to them. I’ve also found the small corner shops to usually have stock of things that the supermarkets are stripped bare of, so they are a great place to shop.

Make Some Goals 

There’s no doubt that social distancing and self-isolation are going to be tough for all of us. Thinking about this situation not changing until summer has been and gone makes me want to cry. So I’ve decided to set myself some goals for the time period. This makes me focus on what I can do, and makes the time feel a little productive rather than wasted. I’ll be sharing those in another post soon!

Get Organised 

While you’re in the house, you might as well take the opportunity to clean it! Mr A-F and I have already planned a systematic declutter and cleaning from top to bottom, taking a room each day. After six months of building work, we have a hell of a lot of mess, dust and chaos to work our way through. This also makes you feel a little more in control in a strange way, and will make the house nicer for all of us to be in. Plus, a good clear out helps me to manage my anxiety.

Limit News Exposure and Social Media 

This is a tough one, because obviously we need to stay informed of the developing situation. However, I’m finding that all the hype and speculation (not to mention the death counts) in the media are really making me feel worse. I have made the decision to only listen to the 5pm government briefing and to stay away from news sites the rest of the time, for my own sanity. I have also decided to limit the time I spend on social media for a few reasons. I wanted to come off it entirely, but there is a lot of positive and inspirational content on there and useful ideas, plus it maintains a little bit of an illusion of normality and has given me some creative ideas. However, I don’t want to lose my whole day to scrolling and I also don’t want to fuel my pandemic panic, so I’m limiting myself to half an hour per day.

Take Care Of Your Health

Not just with washing your hands properly and regularly, and staying away from others, but also in general. You may manage to avoid Covid-19, but let’s face it, it’s going to be a pretty rubbish time to have to get medical attention for anything else. Do your part by making sure you exercise at home, cooking fresh and healthy meals to eat and using things like a mindfulness app to keep anxiety at bay. I think this crisis makes us all realise that our health is one of the most valuable assets we have, so take care of yours.

I hope these may have helped in some small way. I’m planning a post on my Pandemic Promises - the goals I am setting myself to cope with this time - and some on Shut In Style , where we get dressed up even if we can’t get together.  In fact, I’ve started the #ShutInStyle hashtag on Instagram so we can share our lockdown looks. It’s a scary time out there right now, so look after yourself and your loved ones and stay safe.


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