Engage: Looking after your mental health and wellbeing during coronavirus pandemic

During the COVID 19 pandemic there has been publicity in abundance about maintaining our physical health. We have been given copious amounts of public health advice and measures have been instigated in relation to lockdown, social distancing and wearing face masks. What has not been so forthcoming is much needed information about how we might care for our mental health. WHO (2020) clarify the importance of mental health alongside that of physical well being by defining health as being:

‘a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’

This view is supported by Ruth Allen, Chief Executive of BASW who states;

‘strategies should be put in place to mitigate the threat to psychological, social and spiritual health posed by the coronavirus’

This article focuses on the practical things that we can do to care for our mental health and wellbeing both now, whilst coping with the current pandemic, and in the future.

Selfcare tasks

There are many techniques and exercises to support mental health self-care. Several of these techniques, self-awareness questionnaire, breathing, reframing and writing a compassionate letter will be considered, mainly because they are relatively easy to practise.

Self-Awareness Questionnaire

It is important to be aware of how you are looking after your mental health and asking yourself the following questions will help you to do that.

Task 1:

Ask yourself:

    • How am I feeling?
    • What am I thinking about?
    • What are my plans for today?
    • Who am I going to speak to today?
    • What can I do to make me feel good today?

Breathing

The way we breathe significantly affects how we feel. In gestalt therapy, breathing is one of the most focused topics, and it is said that how we breathe is related to how we live.

Task 2:

Take a moment to focus on your breathing. Do you breathe in your chest or in your stomach? Is it slow or fast? Breathing is important for your self-care, because it is related to our soothing mind, where caring and compassion belong. By breathing deeply, we can activate our lymphatic system, helping the body to rid itself of unwanted materials. Take a moment now to repeat these two steps a couple of times, whilst paying attention to your soothing mind:

    • Place your hands on your stomach and breathe deeply.
    • Feel your stomach expand as you inhale, and feel it flatten as you exhale.

Reframing

Reframing relates to using our mind flexibly to see things from different perspectives, so that you will feel differently. It was found by Kotera and Van Gordon (2019) to be one of the most useful skills in Neuro Linguistic Programming. Reframing is particularly important for positive mental health because it supports emotional resilience, which is an essential psychological resource. With reframing, one seemingly negative quality or situation, can be perceived positively, leading to a more positive emotion. An example of this in current times is that; being in ‘lockdown’ makes one feel socially isolated and the situation is viewed as a negative consequence and emotion. On the other hand, considering ‘lockdown’ from a positive stance one might say that it has provided time for reflection.

The same applies to you too: what you perceive as a weakness or challenge, or some of your personal qualities that you do not appreciate, can be reframed positively. I spoke to a health and social care worker recently who said that she felt overwhelmed by feelings of how to keep her service users safe and well. She discussed this with her work colleagues, and they helped her to reframe this quality as a strong sense of caring and responsibility, which should be valued in the health and social care field. Once its positive intention was identified, she felt it was easier to relate to this personal quality, and to add some positive changes.

Task 3:

Write down a few qualities or situations that you do not appreciate much and ask family. friends or work colleagues to reframe them. How do you feel now? Were you surprised by comments from others and the way they perceive you in comparison to how you perceive yourself?

Writing a Compassionate Letter:

In addition to reframing, a compassion-focused exercise such as writing a compassionate letter to yourself might have positive effects on your mental health.

Task 4:

Imagine you want to show care and concern to yourself about the way you are feeling and the circumstances that are affecting your mental wellbeing. Write a letter to yourself offering positive advice and guidance and most importantly compassion. This is something that you do all the time with others when working in health and social care, now take the time to do this for yourself.

For those working in the health and social care sector caring for others is almost intuitive but caring for yourself might seem ‘unusual’. However, knowing how to care for oneself is crucial, not just at the present time, but also in the future. Hopefully, this article will have helped you and your colleagues to be more aware of the importance of mental health self-care, leading to practising it in your workplace and daily life.


About the Author

Dr Pauline Green, Academic Lead in Social Work and Social Care, and Senior Fellow of Advance Higher Education. Registered Social Worker. [email protected]

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