I’ve always had mental health challenges. And when life throws you a curveball – like, say, the coronavirus – things can get even harder.
I can almost pretend that everything is normal – until I see the masks and the deserted streets. Then it dawns on me that we’re in a situation that’s way out of our control, with all our plans on hold, our routines turned on their heads, and our lives changed until further notice. It’s scary, unpredictable and unknown.
Thankfully, my experience of living with bipolar disorder and the whirlwind of extreme emotions that goes with it has taught me a thing or two about ways to stay mentally healthy. Here are some of my tips for how to maintain mental wellbeing.
Be gentle with yourself
I am my own worst critic. If I make one teeny-tiny mistake or miss achieving a goal I’ve set myself, I feel overwhelmed and like I’m not doing enough. I feel that way almost every day – but it seems even worse when we don’t have our usual distractions or routines to fall back on.
I forgive and try to be kind to myself. I tell myself that you’re doing the best you can.
Whenever I start to beat myself up, I ask yourself: What would I tell my best friend if they were in this situation?
Set small, achievable goals
I’m a doer. When I can’t be productive and kick goals, I feel restless, which feeds my depression. It doesn’t help that I'm prone to mania and have periods of high energy where I want to do everything, right now. No one expects me to be my best self during a pandemic.
Whenever I feel overwhelmed, I write myself a to-do list. I include everything that’s playing on my mind and then break it down into small, achievable goals. It can be as simple as saying: Okay, today I’m going to clean out one drawer. Today, I’ll read a chapter of my library book.
I just remember that my wellbeing has to come first. If it’s all feeling too much, I give myself permission to do nothing from time to time. Not every day has to be productive.
Look after yourself
When I’m feeling low, my self-care is the first thing to go. Even brushing my hair seems like an impossible chore, particularly in isolation, when I’m not going outside and feel like there’s no point. But taking the time to do even one thing will make a difference.
Make a cuppa. Take a bath or shower. Look up a recipe, and make something new from scratch. Move – even if it’s just a light stretch, or dancing for a few minutes to one of my favourite songs.
Appreciate the small things
So, maybe it feels like the whole world is caving in. Take a second to stop and breathe. Listen to the sound of birds tweeting outside. Feel the breeze or sunshine on my face.
When we get stuck inside our minds, it can be hard to see the beauty in the world. Sometimes, I just have to take a step back and keep it simple: listen to a favourite song, watch my favourite show or play my favourite game. It’s easy to forget that there is a lot that’s still good in our world, even in isolation.
Ground yourself when you're feeling overwhelmed
When I think about what’s happening in the world right now, it gets hard to breathe. Being blasted with COVID-19 updates doesn’t help matters. When I feel overwhelmed, this helps me:
- Breathe in for five. Hold for five. Breathe out for five. Repeat.
- Look around the room, and focus on one thing. Look at its shape. Its texture. How the light reflects off it. Think about how it would feel. Notice its little details. Focus on it until the storm in my mind passes.
These techniques get me out of your head, and give me something else to focus on – even if it’s just for a second.
Seek help if you need it
I’ve been seeing psychologists for almost 10 years. I’ve seen psychiatrists and grief counsellors, too – and they’ve all made a huge difference. While I’m still seeing my support peeps face-to-face, my friends who are having telehealth appointments say that they are definitely helping. Having help at hand makes the world feel a little lighter, which is something we all need right now.
Remember: You're not alone and this too shall pass
Our minds can play some pretty awful tricks on us. But we aren’t alone. There are millions of people who feel the same way, and there is no shame in feeling what we’re feeling – no matter what it is.
Up until now, we've survived everything life has thrown at us. This situation, too, shall pass.
Confused about telehealth?
Here are a few notes about telehealth if you feel confused about it:
- Telehealth can include different online, web-based or telephone services you can access for various reasons.
- It might involve some trial and error as you find out what works for you.
Top tips for accessing telehealth include:
- Have something to do while you wait for a web-chat or phone service to respond (e.g. listen to music, watch a Netflix episode).
- Use online and telephone supports between face-to-face appointments.
- Check the internet connection and ‘test’ any video-based platform ahead of your appointment.
- Check the credibility of apps before using them.
Learn more about telehealth in this forum thread.
Zoe Simmons is a journalist and copywriter with a passion for making a difference in the world. You can find out more here.