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5 tips for coping when you've got a mental health condition

Seaneen, MindWise's communications manager, shares 5 tips for coping with the Covid-19 restrictions when you're living with a mental health condition

Seaneen, our Communications Manager, shares some tips about coping with the Coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak when you're living with a mental health issue. 

In a way, many of us are in the same boat at the moment with coronavirus anxiety.  It brings myriad worries; financial worries, worries about housing, how our children are coping, and not being sure when we might see our loved ones again.  

You might be self-isolating as you're following the advice of the NHS due to being a vulnerable person, which can lead to feelings of loneliness.  Or by self-isolating, you might be neglecting yourself, too. 

Many of us will be feeling anxious and worried.  Many people reading will also already be living with a mental health issue, and worried about how this will impact on it.  

I have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and an anxiety disorder.  That can make things a bit challenging at the moment! I don't have a magic answer for how to make this easier, but here are some things which might be helpful for you, too.

1. Making sure you've got your medication 

GP surgeries are operating reduced services at the moment, but you're still able to get repeat prescriptions. You might feel like you don't want to bother your doctor - but do! You're not a bother. If you take any regularly prescribed medication, make sure you've got at least a month's supply.  I take medication for my mental health, and now is definitely not the time to run out. 

If you do go to pick up your prescription, you might be feeling anxious or worried about infection, or becoming unwell.  Everyone should follow the NHS Guidelines on social distancing and keep up to date with the current recommendations.  You might have a mental health condition which means it's even more anxiety-provoking for you than it might be for others. Some of our info on anxiety may be helpful - but if it's really tough for you, do consider asking someone else to pick things up for you, or see if there's a medication delivery service in your area.  Your local chemist should be able to advise you. 

Another option is to ask a friend or family member to help. Covid-19 Mutual Aid groups may also be able to pick things up for you.  If you're being treated under the community mental health team, or in a service like MindWise, then talk to your CPN or keyworker - they'll be able help you.

If you need to change or increase your medication, do be honest with your GP, CPN or keyworker about how you're feeling. 

2. Keeping a routine

I never realise how much I need a routine to stay well until my routine starts to slide! At the moment, it may be more difficult to do those daily things that help structure our days.  But are there are other ways to do them instead?

Working from home

If you're working and able to work from home, the current government advice is that this is what you should do.  I've been setting my alarm to wake up at the same time as I did when I was working in an office, even though I could get a lie in!  This is helping to keep me in a routine. I'm also trying to finish work at the same time as I did, too.

Keeping in touch

If you don't have WhatsApp, then you can download it on the Google Play store and App Store. It's great for setting up messaging groups and video calls. I've been using WhatsApp and Zoom to keep in touch with people by video. You can also set up private Facebook Groups, or join ones that interest you.

I'm trying to schedule in time with friends roughly when I'd see them.  Is there a group you attend that could do this, too? 

Keeping active

I don't mean doing the Joe Wicks workout every day (though if that's your thing, give it a go!) but schedule in some activity - whether it's reading, watching a film or going for a walk.  If you're new to starting physical activity or have current health problems, have a chat with your doctor.  My medication means I'm more susceptible to weight gain and physical health problems so it's good to keep an eye on that (but don't feel guilty - see point 5!)  The NHS also have lots of exercises that you can do at home, too. 

Keeping active could also mean doing crafts, or making music.  I'm not a crafty or musical person, but lots of people are having fun creating new things during this period.  Here for 5 online art clubs you can join. 

Keeping appointments 

I attend therapy weekly and this is continuing through video calls.  If you're receiving counselling or therapy, ask if this is an option for you.  There are also lots of places online and on the phone which can offer you support as needed, or more regularly. 

Keeping food in the house

I don't advocate panic buying! But having food in the house can help with dinner routines and anxiety.  Right now, you might not be feeling up to getting to the supermarket, and delivery slots are hard to come by. If you're in Northern Ireland, there's a really helpful group called, "Who's Delivering Northern Ireland", which has a directory of local shops which are delivering - usually for free.  It might be particularly useful if you're in a rural area or self isolating. They're on Instagram and Facebook.

3. (Trying to) get a good night's sleep

Sleep is the lynchpin of all my mental health; once my sleep starts to suffer, then I do too. It's also one of the early warning signs that I'm becoming unwell. 

Getting to sleep might be especially difficult right now for a number of reasons.  24/7 news can make it hard to switch off.  We might be worried about money. A lack of routine and getting outside means we just might not be as tired as usual. Or we might be parents, with kids that are unmoored without school and hyper until 10pm. 

Some things which are helping me at the moment are:

  • Trying to keep my bedtime routine as normal as possible
  • Keeping my TV off and switching my phone to Do Not Disturb at night
  • Going to bed at the same time every night - although this is easier said than done!
  • When I'm lying awake with worry, knowing that I'm not alone.  Oddly, I am taking some comfort in the fact that, at the moment, lots of people are worried and anxious, too.  It means I'm finding it easier to share those worries with other people, and easier to find the words to talk about them. 

If you're having serious trouble sleeping, do talk to your GP about what help there might be. 

4. Keeping your crisis plan up to date

If you're being treated for a mental health condition, you might have a crisis plan, or a Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP). If you're not, you might find it useful to make one, as they can help you recognise when you're starting to feel unwell, and help others know how best to support you. You can find info on how to create a WRAP here on our website. 

You might feel like some of that plan has gone out the window now! It may be harder to access face to face support, but there is still support out there. Revisit your plan and see how it can be amended. It might also be worth thinking about what getting worse, or becoming unwell, looks like for you at the moment. For example, with the shops closed, if buying lots of stuff has usually been a sign you're not well, then now you might be buying more things online.  Share your plan with people you trust. 

Remember, even though right now we're advised not to use health services if possible, you are still important and so is your mental health.  If you need urgent help, don't hesitate to ask for it. 

5. Give yourself a break!

Let's face it - this is a weird situation. We're in strange times.  And although my entire schtick in life has been to give myself a hard time for how I'm feeling, this is not one of those times. 

Don't add to the difficulty of the situation by feeling guilty for struggling with it. 

  • If you're not doing 5 workouts a day on YouTube, you're not a failure. Do what you can manage, what you're comfortable with, and, most importantly, what you enjoy. 
  • If you're eating more biscuits and chocolate at the moment and not cooking exotic homemade meals with what's left in Tesco, you're not a failure.  If you need some comfort or just want to stick things in the microwave, there's nothing wrong with that. 
  • If this situation is worsening issues you have with food, you're not a failure.  And you're not alone - there are organisations like Beat there to offer you support. 
  • If you're worried your child isn't getting an amazing homeschooling, you're not a failure. You're doing your best, and if you need to talk to someone, you can contact places like Parenting NI. 
  • If you've lost your job or are worried about money, it's not your fault. We can help with debt, benefits and money, and helping you to find out what your rights are. 
  • If sometimes you feel grief, loneliness or sadness, that's okay. Because we have lost something and it's hard.  If your feelings are interfering with your every day life, including your sleep or eating, please do think about telling someone, and getting further support. 

 

These are 5 things that are helping me right now, and I hope they help you, too.  If you've got any ideas or want to share what's helping you, follow us on Facebook and Twitter - we'd love to hear them.