Blog: Protecting Your Mental Health During a Pandemic

It’s been a rough year (and a bit) for everyone, but we’re not out of the dark just yet

The pandemic has been catastrophical for many, with bereavement, physical health complications, domestic abuse and serious mental health issues just some of the things we cannot forget took place in 2020/21. On some level, every single one of us lost something. From the immensity of losing a loved one or a business, down to the loss of our free movement, and hugs with our friends and family. It’s like an unspoken language we can all appreciate.

Last month, the Office for National Statistics reported that depression has doubled since the pandemic began, yet GP diagnoses have fallen by a quarter. If this is the case, it’s very important we do everything we can to support ourselves.

It doesn’t matter who we are or what we do, collectively our mental health has taken a bit of a battering. But – and it’s a big but – now more than ever we feel utterly determined to exercise our right to independence. In this we are united – as we were in, especially, that first lockdown of COVID-19; separated but together. Even if we were truly alone in that time, we were as one in spirit, if only we could get online or read the news. It was (and still is) a shared lived experience.

When we speak of the loss, we also sometimes speak of the gain. We sometimes feel afraid to do this, for fear of trivialising what tragedy may have befallen others. But the gain is important and should not be overlooked. We owe it to our mental health and our future selves. Adversity can make us stronger if we are able to acknowledge it, learn from it and grow. As ex-footballer David Cotterill reflects in the video below, it’s all too easy to allow poor mental health and addiction to get in the way of our careers and livelihoods. It’s about recognising that for ourselves and seeking help, which might come in the form of professional therapy or self-help.

During the pandemic we learnt valuable lessons about our boundaries, about the benefits of down time, working from home and the importance of exercise. If we didn’t embrace exercise, we embraced the spare tyre that formed around our belly (not to mention stopping wearing make-up); self-acceptance skyrocketed. We came to understand that it’s a big deal to catch up with friends and family online for an hour if that’s all that’s possible. As a society, we took to walking outdoors and getting fresh air rather than sitting inside pubs or sweating it out in a darkened gym. Whilst we can’t wait to be back inside doing things together again, we’ve unleashed a new love of the outdoors – team sports, walking in nature, picnics – anything, if only to be together.

The uptake of online learning has been substantial. eLearning might have been available for a long time now but when we could no longer attend bricks and mortar classes, lots of people realised that we could still learn with others at a time that suited us, from the comfort of our own home, and for a fraction of the price. We upskilled, we branched out, we took on new interests. And that trend is set to continue! The e-learning market across the globe is predicated to be worth around £230 billion by 2025. Online courses like Sport NI’s ‘Wellbeing in Sport’ are the perfect opportunity for sportspeople to take a step back and view the bigger perspective of how important mental health is to their game.

Sport NI launched the Mental Health Awareness – Level 1 course on 17th June 2021

For mental health, the pandemic was both a beast and a saviour. Isolation, inconsistency, the unknown and loss had a crippling effect on pretty much most people’s mental health. It was confusing to work out what was more important: our physical or mental health. People had (and still have) their own variations of how far they followed the rules, despite the risk of legal consequences. This is because people felt their emotional wellbeing was important too.

But it was all a blessing in disguise. People in their droves were talking openly about mental health and finally it was ok to not be ok. We now acknowledge that mental health is not as black and white as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but a broad spectrum which can change at any time, and for no discernible reason. We might all have different battles or sometimes they’re the same, and we might even present and deal with them differently. ‘Coronacoaster’ became the buzzword of 2020 and although seems to be fading out of fashion, we need to be aware that we are not out of the woods just yet…

Whilst we may feel excited to get back out and about again, many people report feeling anxious about lockdown lifting and life going back to some semblance of normality. We had a ‘new norm’ during the outbreak but once again it’s changing, and we have to get used to another new norm. Yes, it’s ok to feel nervous about that. We also need to recognise that although the roadmap is going well, it’s not a given that everything will go exactly according to plan. That’s not pessimism, but a dash of realism so that in the face of hope we can tackle the emotions further down the line if we lose our freedoms again.

Remember, the mind is as important as the body, so keep a loving eye out for it and keep learning about how to care for it.

So how can we look after our mental health during a global pandemic?

  • Understand that it’s ok to not be ok – but know when enough is enough and it’s time to seek help.
  • Keep moving – whilst it might be more of a struggle to motivate ourselves to exercise during lockdown, it’s key to getting those well-being boosting endorphins flowing.
  • Get outside – surround yourself in nature or at least some real air outside of your four walls.
  • Stay connected – keep in touch with friends, family, neighbours, colleagues, even strangers (safely) online.
  • Eat well, stay hydrated and try to avoid excessive drinking – let’s face it, we’ll all partial to a 2-for-Tuesdays but perhaps once a month instead of once a week and try limiting alcohol to certain days of the week.
  • Learn something new – book an online course and engage your brain.
  • Pamper yourself – run a hot bath, cook delicious food or some good old retail therapy.
  • Pause for breath – activities like mindfulness and journaling allow us to take a step back or clear our minds of what’s troubling us.
  • Maintain routine – setting a time to get up every day, brushing our teeth and showering will help us to continue to feel ‘normal’.
  • Monitor your news intake – if you find it impacting negatively on you, try switching sources or reducing what you read / watch.

HELPLINES
If you’re in crisis and need to talk right now, there are many helplines staffed by trained people ready to listen. They won’t judge you, and could help you make sense of what you’re feeling. [Sourced from Mind.org.uk]

  • Samaritans. To talk about anything that is upsetting you, you can contact Samaritans 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You can call 116 123 (free from any phone), email [email protected] or visit some branches in person. You can also call the Samaritans Welsh Language Line on 0808 164 0123 (7pm–11pm every day).
  • SANEline. If you’re experiencing a mental health problem or supporting someone else, you can call SANEline on 0300 304 7000 (4.30pm–10.30pm every day).
  • The Mix. If you’re under 25, you can call The Mix on 0808 808 4994 (Sunday-Friday 2pm–11pm), request support by email using this form on The Mix website or use their crisis text messenger service.
  • Papyrus HOPELINEUK. If you’re under 35 and struggling with suicidal feelings, or concerned about a young person who might be struggling, you can call Papyrus HOPELINEUK on 0800 068 4141 (weekdays 10am-10pm, weekends 2pm-10pm and bank holidays 2pm–10pm), email [email protected] or text 07786 209 697.
  • Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM). If you identify as male, you can call the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) on 0800 58 58 58 (5pm–midnight every day) or use their webchat service.
  • Nightline. If you’re a student, you can look on the Nightline website to see if your university or college offers a night-time listening service. Nightline phone operators are all students too.
  • Switchboard. If you identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, you can call Switchboard on 0300 330 0630 (10am–10pm every day), email [email protected] or use their webchat service. Phone operators all identify as LGBT+.
  • C.A.L.L. If you live in Wales, you can call the Community Advice and Listening Line (C.A.L.L.) on 0800 132 737 (open 24/7) or you can text ‘help’ followed by a question to 81066.
  • Helplines Partnership. For more options, visit the Helplines Partnership website for a directory of UK helplines. Mind’s Infoline can also help you find services that can support you. If you’re outside the UK, the Befrienders Worldwide website has a tool to search by country for emotional support helplines around the world.

Written by Alexia Weeks

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