Six useful tips on mental health and wellbeing during Coronavirus Part 2

Dear patients,

I am pleased to share to share with you part 2 of my advices on how to take care of your mental health during the coronavirus outbreak. If you have missed the first part of this great material, please click here.

Now, we are going to focus on how to effectively cope with self-isolation and how to recreate a good daily routine.

Replace self-isolation with retreat: in terms of coping strategies and defense mechanisms[1], self-isolation is categorised as unhelpful strategy. This means that it will temporarily help you cope with the current situation (you are avoiding an imminent and well identified danger), but the consequences in the short and long-term might be negative. Research in the field of health psychology shows that people who tend to self-isolate also tend to repress their feelings and emotions, and to avoid dealing with difficult situations.

The constellation[2] self-isolation – repression – avoidance might contribute to depression. This is why, it is pivotal to acknowledge and share your feelings with your loved-ones; to keep connected with your extended family / family of origin, as well as with your friends and colleagues. Choose the people you love the most, help them and they will help you back. As discussed with some of you earlier this week, if you use projective identification as defense mechanism and tend to consider people’s negative feelings as belonging to you, then you should carefully create a support group/network of people who will bring you positivity and who will make you feel more confident and reassured.

As also discussed with some of you, you can use the self-isolation period as a type of retreat where you can practice self-reflection and self-observation. Slow down and try to reflect on all the positive aspects that the current situation is offering (there are many!). Take a notepad and write down your observations. Maybe you are going to learn new things about yourself and your loved-ones. Maybe you will appreciate things that you did not have time to see and to consider. Maybe you will catch up with some reading and writing. Maybe you will have some more valuable and precious conversations with your parents and children/stepchildren and you will get to know them even better. Use the ongoing context to strengthen your family relationships. Do not hesitate to share this with me during our sessions. 

Recreate a healthy daily routine: the need to stay at home has changed everyone’s daily routine across all age groups. Be aware that unplanned changes like this one might contribute to the development of unhealthy behaviours such as over-eating, becoming passive, lazy and uninterested, and spending greater time in front of TV, screens and video games.

In terms of mental representations, you partially lose the mental scheme related to how your balanced and healthy daily routine might look like and you need to recreate a new one. Do you see the pitfall? As discussed with some of you, especially my adolescent patients who are now having their classes online, when you increase your TV time (+ eating junk food whilst watching TV) and you decrease your physical activity and learning/writing/reading time, then you might develop unhealthy behaviours. Keep in mind that once a certain unhealthy behaviour is developed, sometimes it is difficult to go back to normal. Some of you might keep the unhealthy behaviours beyond the self-isolation period. This is particularly ‘dangerous’ for young people aged 12-18.

Avoid working in bed as this may lead to bad posture and poor sleep. If you are able to, set aside an area ‘for work’ to keep it separate from home life. If the physical space in your home does not allow you to do this, make sure you take time away from the space where you work throughout the day. 

To avoid the development of unhealthy behaviours, recreate a daily schedule that keeps you active. Please see this template: 

5.45am waking up

6-7am gym training at home

7am-7.30am breakfast

7.30-12.30pm work / school activities

12.30-1.15pm lunch break

1.15-1.45pm walking to the nearest park

1.45-5pm work / school activities

5pm-6pm catching up with reading / time for friends and family/ family council

6pm-7pm dinner 

7pm-8.30pm catching up with reading / time for friends and family/ family council

8.30pm-10pm time for yourself / your couple

10pm-11pm yoga and meditation

This is one example among many others. The main objective is to create a schedule that fits into your family dynamic. Try to be physically and mentally active as much as possible. As discussed with some of you throughout the week, do not put a lot of pressure on yourself, especially when it comes to children/stepchildren. You are all doing great! All of you without exception!

Be careful when it comes to nutrition. You need less calories right now. Compared to other European countries and because of increasing demand, at the moment it is more complex to organise the grocery shopping in England. Most people tend to buy bigger quantities of food, such as pasta, rice, pasta sauce and pre-prepared meals, including frozen pizzas. Keep in mind that these types of food contain mainly carbs. They are not the healthiest. Try to reach a good carbs – protein – fat balance. You need to take care of your body and try to maintain a good diet if possible. 

To access part 3 of this series of 3 articles, please click here.

Do not hesitate to get in touch if you need me. My working schedule remains unchanged during the Coronavirus outbreak. 

With warm wishes,

Dr Ivanka Ezhova  (check biography here).

[1] Coping strategies have the same objectives as defense mechanisms, but they are conscious and planned.

[2] A constellation is a group of defense mechanisms or coping strategies that share similar characteristics. Here, these three defense mechanisms protect you by physically and emotionally keeping you away from the virus. You are self-isolating and you are avoiding people who can be potentially affected with the virus. Through repression, you are repressing emotions, affects and feelings that might have a negative impact on you.