The coronavirus pandemic is causing increased stress and anxiety, particularly for people with existing mental health problems.
A mental health expert at Ulster University (UU) has provided some advice for those who have a fear of isolation on how to cope with these feelings.
Siobhan O’Neill is a Professor of Mental Health Sciences at UU. Her current research programmes focus on trauma and suicidal behaviour in Northern Ireland and novel interventions for mental health and suicidal behaviour.
She is therefore expertly placed to provide mental health guidance under the current circumstances in which anxiety levels have increased and many people are confined to their homes with little or no human interaction.
Ms O’Neill said it is important to focus on one day at a time, to not think too far into the future because you don’t really ever know what will happen.
A top tip is to structure each day to include time for healthy meals, exercise, connecting with loved ones - online or by phone - and relaxation.
At the moment coronavirus seems inescapable, it’s on the news, all over social media and the only subject on many people’s minds.
The UU professor has encouraged people to step away from their TV screens and mobile phones to focus on other activities.
It is also worth reminding ourselves that this period of isolation is for the common good.
She said: “It is really important to limit the amount of time you spend watching the news. Accept that you cannot change how others behave and what the government does, and listening to every news bulletin will make you feel worse.
“Also know that you have a huge role to play in preventing the spread of the virus and by staying indoors you are doing your bit to help keep health care staff and others safe.
“Exercise is really important, it is a natural antidepressant and will get rid of the chemicals that cause a low mood; exercise outside if it is safe for you to do that, a change of scenery is good for you.
“Mindfulness is effective, if you like that sort of thing, but not everyone is comfortable with it and other activities such as knitting, cooking, painting, exercise, prayer, or watching your favourite movie can have a similar calming effect.”
She added: “Try to go to bed and get up at the same time as usual, and if you can’t sleep, don’t lie in bed thinking, get up and do something in another room, only returning when you are tired. I count backwards from 600, and it can really help.
“Don’t nap during the day unless you really need to, it is better to sleep at night and be awake when it is daylight. Alcohol is a depressant and it also suppresses your immune system, it is therefore best not to use too much at this time.
“Stay in touch with your family, arrange calls every single day and let them know that you need them to stay connected with you. Always ask for help if you need it. There is lots of support out there. Samaritans are waiting for your call on 116 123 if you are feeling lonely or suicidal. Distract yourself, have a laugh, and stay connected to people. This will pass.
“There are numerous mental health charities in the city doing amazing work at this time.”
One of those charities is ME4MENTAL which understands that times like these can cause even more anxiety and stress for those already struggling with mental health issues.
It has promised to keep its phone lines open Monday to Thursday 12 to 4 for anyone who wants to talk.
The ME4MENTAL phone number is 02871413050. They have asked people to please call within the specified times and days and they will provide listening ear service via the phone.
“It's a very highly stressful time and we know that it heightens our anxieties so we want to be there to hopefully support you the best we can,” a spokesperson said.
Numerous other mental health services exist in the city including the Community Crisis Intervention Service (CCIS) which operates between 8pm on Thursday through to 8am on Sunday and can be reached on: 028 71262300
Catastrophising and rumination are when negative thoughts go around in your head and make you feel anxious and scared.
If you are doing this there are some good strategies to manage these thoughts at: www.nhs.uk/oneyou/every-mind-matters/coronavirus-covid-19-staying-at-home-tips/
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