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Coronavirus: psychology update

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Coronavirus: latest psychological advice for patients and families with mitochondrial disease (3rd April 2020)

One of the challenges of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is the uncertainty that surrounds the length of time vulnerable people (i.e. those with an underlying health condition) will have to follow central Government shielding guidelines. You may have noticed questions in your mind such as – what if this lasts months and months? As detailed in the update on 23rd March 2020, these feelings are completely natural and normal under the circumstances. This update also highlighted that many other people may be experiencing feelings of uncertainty and anxiety, including medical professionals, business owners, families and other communities. This is a truly human experience.

It is important that you recognise that this experience isn’t because you have a ‘mental health problem’ or diagnosis. Again, these thoughts and feelings are completely normal and natural, although you may be experiencing lots of new thoughts and feelings that might be causing you distress, or that hang around for longer than you’d want.

In our update on 31st March 2020, we published some advice on how to support your psychological wellbeing during isolation. This update is felt to be an extension to that advice, but with a focus on managing feelings of uncertainty in particular.

Let’s start with a troubling question – when will this all end? The difficult answer is that none of us truly know – this can make us feel out of control and frightened. This is normal. What can be helpful when we feel this way is to focus on what we can control. There are things we can do every day, week and month that are in our control.

With this in mind, ask yourself the following questions:

Focus on today – RIGHT NOW!

  • What can I do right now that maybe I’ve been putting off?
    • This could be something to help yourself, or to help someone else. It could also be something practical, like getting some work done in your home
  • What can I do today that positively supports my physical wellbeing?
    • This could be ensuring you take your prescribed medication, doing some exercise or focusing on getting good sleep and nutrition
  • What can I do today that positively supports my mental health and wellbeing?
    • This could be taking time for you; doing something you enjoy, writing down how you feel or speaking to someone close to you
    • Looking after your physical health will also support your mental health, and vice versa – consider doing some exercise, mindfulness or yoga

Once you have addressed these things, we can then think about tomorrow…

Focus on the next couple of days

  • Follow the ‘daily’ guidance
  • What did I do today that I also need to do tomorrow and the following day; can I plan my week to build routine?
    • Grab a planner or diary and schedule these things in
    • Make sure you include a mixture of 3 things; work, play and relaxation
  • What activities could I do tomorrow that would support my physical health and mental health?
  • What activities would I like to commit to for at least 3 days this week?
    • Again; make sure they are mixture of work, play and relaxation

Once you have addressed these things, we can then think about next week…

 

Focus on the next week

  • Follow the daily and next couple of days guidance
  • What meals would I like to make next week? Could I try something new?
  • What big jobs in the house have I been putting off? Could I make a plan to get on top of them?
  • Who do I need to keep in touch with next week?
  • What chores, duties or tasks do I have coming up? Can I plan for them?

Think about any demands you have coming up, or any challenges. Spend time thinking about how you might overcome them or what you can do personally, with other people or with your environment to make sure you succeed. Write them down in a diary or on a calendar.

Try and plan some new activities for next week that fall into the three categories we’ve already mentioned:

Work – Could you organise your time or commit to a new project? What work duties have you been avoiding that you could get on top of in the next week?

Play – Could you organise something different and fun for you and your family or friends? For example, next Thursday (9th April) the Lily Foundation are hosting an online virtual pub quiz!

Relaxation – It’s ok to try and plan space from those you spend time with in the house. Can you agree a time where you relax with and without each other?

  • Could I reach out to a friend who might be feeling like me?

 

Focus on the next month

  • What are my goals for this month? Make sure they are SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely)
    • For example, you might want to commit to an exercise or wellbeing goal – using SMART your goal could be – ‘I will practice 5 minutes of mindfulness at least 4 times a week using my iPhone app’.
  • What do I need to do over the next month to make sure I keep physically and mentally well?
  • Think about others – what could I do over the next month to help my family and community?
  • Who should I schedule in calls with to make sure we don’t miss each other?
  • Could I organise some virtual calls using Skype, Zoom, Facetime or a similar platform?

 

These are just some of the questions you might want to ask yourself today. Try and plan for the next month and again, focus on what is in your control. Follow the principles of this guidance daily to plan your day, week and month; this will help to focus your mind which it is hoped will reduce your focus on the uncertainty we are all experiencing. It is hoped that by following this, regardless of the length of shielding guidance, you will feel more in control whilst also being kind to yourself – it is absolutely okay not to feel okay. Take it day-by-day, week-by-week and if necessary, month-by-month. We are all in this together.

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