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Written by: Emma Hinds

If you have concerns about the physical health of you or someone you love, please look at the NHS information about COVID-19 virus here: NHS 111 Online – About coronavirus (COVID-19)

In the face of natural disasters, terrorist attacks and yes, viral contagions, our natural response is to feel concern. That’s only right; things are a bit mad in the world at the moment and that can make us concerned for our own safety and the safety of those we love. But worrying about these things doesn’t always make us safer and worry can make our lives harder to live, not easier. In the face of viral outbreaks like Swine flu, SARS and now COVID-19 it is easy to feel overwhelmed by anxiety, especially if you are struggling with existing mental health problems. Here we have some tips about how you can manage and maintain good mental health during this time:

Get the correct information

In the age of instant information online, it’s easy to get sucked into a spiral of fake news and scary headlines. This can quickly become incredibly overwhelming as we fill our brains with scary horror stories and advice from every twitter account with the hashtag #coronavirus. So try to minimize and streamline where your information is coming from to just primary medical sources like the NHS website or the Government action plan. This way, you won’t get overwhelmed with fake news or inflammatory stories.

Manage how much media you consume

You don’t have to read every tweet. You can check out from the constant stream of information from social media if you feel like you need to. It’s important that everyone has space in their lives when they can truly relax, and it’s pretty hard to relax when you are watching the latest news on COVID-19 break on your TV. Don’t be afraid to mute certain news accounts on facebook or take a break from social media completely for a while. You need space in your life when you are NOT thinking about this virus. Safeguarding your mental health is just as important as looking after your physical health.

Try to minimize obsessive behaviour

When we feel threatened we strive to find control in our lives through our actions, such as obsessively washing our hands, constantly checking for news updates or panic buying. We say that we are doing these things to ensure our safety but actually we are doing them to make ourselves feel better. As someone with OCD I can tell you from experience that these things do not make you feel better. Obsessive behaviour is a cycle that feeds itself and begins to control you. Obviously we should all follow the guidelines set out by the NHS and government for our protection. Of course we should wash our hands for 20 seconds and use hand sanitizer, but what we shouldn’t do is rely on these things to minimize our feelings of panic or anxiety. For that we need to …

Talk honestly about your feelings

It’s okay to be affected by all of this. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed, to worry about the people you love, to feel anxious and upset and like you don’t know how to manage your emotions. When we lean on obsessive behaviours like panic buying and obsessive hand washing, what we are really doing is channeling our worry in an unhealthy way. It is much better to stay connected to your support network and the people you trust to get reality checks when your worries spiral. If you are not sure who you can talk to, perhaps call the Samaritans to share your feelings. They are there to listen to anyone about anything – including Coronavirus!

Remember - anxiety makes you feel poorly too!

When we become stressed, we can feel some of the physical symptoms that we know are associated with COVID-19. For instance, a panic attack can make us feel flushed and short of breath, like we might have a temperature for respiratory problems. But before you jump into a cycle of worry that you actually have the virus which will, inevitably, actually make your “symptoms” worse, try to take some deep breaths. Have a go at some of the relaxation and meditation exercises that Lily Jo recommends here. Distract yourself with something you enjoy and you find calming, like a walk or reading a book or listening to your favourite song. It’s likely that once you’ve calmed down, your symptoms will too.

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Lastly, don’t let your anxiety rob you of your kindness and joy.

When we become overwhelmed with panic for ourselves or our loved ones, we can naturally become self-interested. For instance, when people panic buy groceries and toilet roll they’re not thinking about the older people in their community who perhaps only get to their local shop once a week and then can’t buy their necessary items. It’s important not to let anxiety rob us of our concern for others, and to also find joy still in our daily life, even if it is adjusted for COVID-19. For instance, I have found a particular daily joy in singing a new song chorus (more than 20 seconds) when I wash my hands! Lily Jo’s song “Unstoppable!” is great for this. Try and find your own joy and share it with others, even if it’s something as little as sharing a fun song with a friend or giving a worried grandparent a phone call. Let’s be cautious, but kind.

What songs are you singing when washing your hands? Tweet them to us at @lilyjoproject or IG @thelilyjoproject and @xxlilyjoxx

About the Author: Emma Hinds

Emma is a writer living and working in Manchester. She is a mental health advocate and has been blogging about mental health for the last ten years. Emma has a history of eating disorders and is currently living with a diagnosis of OCD and chronic depression. She has been working specifically with young people struggling with their mental health for the last four years and is now supporting the Lily Jo Project’s On Track follow up schools programs. You can see Emma’s work and follow her mental health blog here. You can also follow her on socials here: twitter@EmmaLouisePH and instagram@elphreads