I have been asked to self-isolate for 14 days after returning from a trip to New York. For everyone right now the situation is constantly changing and I am not alone in the experiences I am facing. Being only five days in, I have not got it all figured out yet. But below are my current thoughts on my experience and how I am planning to manage it.
A deterioration in mental health
Whilst I have never experienced anything like this before, the only thing I can remotely draw upon is my experience of moving from London to Vancouver last year. I went from working remotely in London – where I had a full and busy schedule involving face-to-face meetings, seeing clients in person and attending numerous events – to working all day, every day at home in Vancouver. My environment became detrimental to my mental health. It triggered my depression and anxiety and resulted in me, for the first time, having panic attacks.
Depression and anxiety weren’t new to me. But I had for a long time been able to manage my mental health through having the right environment around me in London. With that taken away, it shone a light on what was underneath. Thankfully, with the help of others including my supportive team at the CMHA and finding a counsellor, I have come through that experience and learnt new skills and coping techniques. Looking back, the thing I am thinking about most right now is how changes in how I felt happened slowly and went unnoticed until suddenly I was in a very difficult place. I don’t want that to happen again.
A greater challenge than remote working
I am lucky that I am already used to working remotely. However, working remotely in response to the coronavirus outbreak is different to what it is usually like. I have spent time building my new routine in Vancouver. It heavily relies on things like; arranging face-to-face meetings, attending events, going for a walk at lunch, working at a co-working space or a coffee shop, going to gym classes and catching up with friends after work. All of these things are designed to give me human connection and activity.
However, self-isolating removes all of these things. Social distancing also removes much of this and with gyms, restaurants and cafes all closing the opportunity for someone who is remote working to maintain connection and activity is diminishing. What’s more, many people will have to work remotely with partners, flat mates or children at home too. The challenge is greater than just remote working in itself.
With my previous experience in mind, I have learnt that even though I feel in a good place right now, I can’t take that for granted. My situation has changed, and therefore, the last few days I have made a conscious effort to think about how I can set up my days so I can remain productive, mentally healthy and enjoy my day-to-day life. I have started to think about this in the context of the 5 ways to wellbeing:
- Connect – with my CMHA team we have set up two extra calls a week in addition to our usual team meetings. This is an opportunity to just catch up and listen to each other. I am also having lots of video calls with family and friends.
- Give – I am giving my time to those that need it. Listening to people who are going through a difficult time because they have lost their job, their main source of income or having to postpone their upcoming weddings. I am also continuing to pay for services to support small businesses I usually use such as my gym.
- Notice – I keep bringing my thoughts back to the present moment. Noticing my thoughts but not getting caught up in them. Mindful activities such as yoga, puzzles, playing cards and cooking (after a friend very kindly did a shop for us!) have been helpful.
- Learn – I listen to at least one podcast daily. In particular I love Beyond Today, How I Built This, The Happy Place and Feel Better Live More. Importantly, these are on topics not related to coronavirus!
- Be active – Exercise has always been a huge part of how I look after my mental health. I have found online workouts and my gym is providing some workouts to do at home – they even dropped off a weight for me to use!
A new normal?
We don’t know how long all of this will last and it’s going to take time to develop a new normal. However, this time around in facing a change in my circumstances, I am taking a proactive approach to maintaining good mental health. Alongside this, I am practising gratitude. It’s easy to get caught up with everything that is happening. But on a personal level, I am grateful to have a job right now, to have a flat with space to work and to have good health.
Lastly, if I do start to struggle, I will come back to mindful self-compassion, something that has greatly helped me in times of need before. I will be kind to myself, I will use techniques to help me stay in the present moment and, perhaps most significantly in the current situation, I will continue to remind myself that I am not alone in how I am feeling. We are all in this together.
If you are currently in need of support for your mental health, please see our help and advice lines: http://citymha.org.uk/help-and-advice-lines/