From Dr Michael Dixon
Chair, College of Medicine
4th March 2020
The current coronavirus alarm has focused our attention on the best ways to deal with a new viral infection. As new cases of coronavirus continue to be diagnosed in Europe, there are steps you can take to help boost your immunity against the virus.
When antibiotics are futile, ensuring you have a healthy immune system is the best way to protect your health against coronavirus.
As the likelihood of a coronavirus pandemic increases, it is time for all of us to prepare in a positive way that overcomes the fear and resignation of current media scare stories.
Particularly, as the things that we can do for ourselves are very similar to those that also protect us against other infections, heart disease and even cancer. So maybe the coronavirus can be a wake-up call for all of us to care for our minds and bodies a little better and also possibly make it a little less likely that we will get coronavirus and that the consequences will be less serious if we do.
So what can we do and how can we improve our resilience and increase our ability to cope with disease?
World Health Organisation and Public Health England Guidelines are crucial in minimising the risk and spread of coronavirus but there is more that we can do.
A good diet, gentle exercise, reduced stress and positive attitude will all boost our immune systems if we are exposed.
As the news continues to be dominated by coronavirus, explore how you can help yourself – and others – while protecting your mental health ~ Happiful Magazine & the Counselling Directory
When something like a virus outbreak happens, it’s easy for us to feel like we don’t have control, and this allows anxiety to flourish. Taking back control in any way we can help, and that includes taking care of your mental health and looking out for those who may be more vulnerable.
Here we look at some ways you can regain a sense of control, ease anxiety and support others.
1. Switch off notifications and tune into official information
As with many things that get picked up in the news, there is a lot of misinformation about coronavirus. It can be easy to get sucked into these articles, clicking on link after link until your head is swimming with panic-inducing headlines.
If you have news notifications set up and you’re finding they are triggering anxiety, switch them off. Try to limit yourself to only reading information from official sources such as the NHS and Public Health England. If you’re not UK based, take a look at World Health Organisation and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention for updates.
2. Spring clean your social
Sometimes it isn’t news outlets that trigger our anxiety, but the people in our social media feeds that have us worried. Perhaps you follow someone who is sharing unofficial news updates, or someone who is talking about it in a way that feels uncomfortable to you.
Whatever the reason, remember that there is no shame in unfollowing or even temporarily muting someone from your feed. Focus on following uplifting accounts that make you feel calm and in control.
3. Ask before analysing
With a subject as topical as coronavirus, many of us will find ourselves talking about it with our friends, family and co-workers. It’s hard, however, to know how they’re feeling about the situation and whether or not talking about it will trigger anxiety in them.
Before you start a conversation, check in with the person you’re talking to about it. Are they comfortable having a discussion or would they rather you talked about something else? Similarly, be sure to share your own boundaries around the subject if you’re finding it tough to listen to.
4. Try to understand opposing points of views
We all react to news like this differently, and rather than turning on each other, being kind and offering alternatives can be more productive. Remember, we’re all human and are doing the best we can with the tools we’ve got.
5. Shop mindfully, shop locally
According to Alastair George, Investment Strategist at Edison Investment Research, it’s fear rather than the coronavirus that may be the UK economy’s biggest enemy. You may have noticed a lot of shops are being emptied of their supplies and while it’s easy to understand how fear is driving this behaviour, try to only buy what you need and shop locally where you can. It’s small businesses that are most likely to be affected.
6. Be aware of who you can help
If you know of anyone who may be struggling to get what they need, whether that’s information, health supplies or someone to talk to, see if there’s any way you can help.
Consider older people who may not be online or those with pre-existing conditions who don’t want to risk a trip to the shops. Speak to them and see what would be helpful for them and see if you can support or signpost other support to them.
7. Consider where change to behaviour could be positive
It can be hard to see positives in a situation like this, but it may be helpful to consider how the changes we’re making to behaviour due to the outbreak could have positive implications. For example, China banned wildlife trade nationwide in January due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Providing a joint statement, China’s agricultural ministry, market watchdog and forestry bureau said any places that breed wildlife should be isolated and all transportation of wildlife banned. While unconfirmed, it has been reported that the coronavirus may have started in a wild animal market in Wuhan. Positive change can come from difficult situations.
8. Seek professional help
Whether you already have a condition like health anxiety or OCD that’s being triggered by the news or you’re simply finding your mental health is being affected, don’t be afraid to reach out for support. If you’re keen to see a counsellor but are worried about travelling to see them, look for a counsellor who offers online or telephone sessions instead.
You may also want to look into support groups and helplines that can provide peer support. Know that you’re not alone in this and it’s not ‘silly’ to be worried. You are well within your right to get help.
If you’re having to self isolate
If you do find yourself in a position where you have to self-isolate, taking care of both your mental and physical health is key. In her article Coronavirus anxiety, isolation, treatment – the emotional impact, counsellor Karin Seieger MA, BA (Hons), Reg. MBACP (Accred) includes the following recommendations:
- Ensure that you create a realistic and helpful daily routine and structure to your day and stick to it.
- Have regular times for getting up and going to bed as well as mealtimes.
- Have fresh air if you can open windows or have a safe outdoor space.
- Do keep in touch with others and keep connected.
- Keep a journal.
- Set yourself tasks and goals.
- Look at the time you have as an opportunity to learn a new skill.
Karin highlights that none of us want to be affected by coronavirus and instead continue with our plans, hopes and dreams. “But these are challenging times, which can play on our minds. Yet, our minds are the most important tool we have to make choices and decisions for how we want to cope.”