Many years ago, when big daughter was not much more than a toddler and small daughter hadn’t even been thought of, we were in Canada on holiday with my brother. We were staying with relatives at either end of a three week holiday and travelling around in between – or at least, that was the plan until the Twin Towers in New York crashed to the ground.
Planes were grounded, people were frightened, nobody knew what was going on. The whole world ground to a halt. We headed straight back to my aunt and uncle’s house – we couldn’t have got home to England even if we had wanted to – and stayed there for the next week. During that time, we read all the newspapers and watched TV reports on endless loops. We cried as we read about families torn apart, or still searching for loved ones, never knowing what had happened to them. We hoped desperately for an answer to it all and for life to go back to normal, but in that week there was no answer, just speculation.
It wasn’t until we spotted big daughter, who really was very small back then, using sponges and shampoo bottles in her evening bath to re-enact aeroplanes flying into skyscrapers that we realised that it had to stop. No child needs to be playing those games. And co-incidentally, there was an article in that day’s paper from a psychologist imploring people to stop reading all the papers and watching all the TV reports. They were just emotion, and not facts – because nobody had any – and very addictive because people felt they should be keeping up with what was going on. Real stories, indeed, but not ones that were helping anybody to understand what was happening – and actually making things worse in some cases as people thought of and read nothing else. There was, the psychologist claimed, a real risk of PTSD being caused by absorbing too much traumatic information.
I’ve been thinking about that experience a lot over the last few weeks as the Coronavirus pandemic has unfolded across the world. Not for one minute am I suggesting that it’s not real, not scary or that it doesn’t have the potential to involve far more people than those poor souls caught up in the terrorist attack, but I am worried about how it is affecting us. It’s the not knowing, the waiting, the worrying about what might happen. As much as we need to look after our physical health, we need to look after our mental health.
There is so much more information available than there was back in 2001. There’s the internet, for a start, which means that at any second of any day, we can get information at the touch of our fingers. That in turn means that news channels are no longer reporting the news because the internet has transmitted it before the scheduled news programme, so the news channels focus on “the human side” of it all – Q&A slots, latest figures on the number of cases (but what about those who are getting better, are those people being removed from the total?), outside broadcasts from hospital car parks, Skype calls with overseas doctors … all of it valid and useful, but it never stops.
This isn’t my usual kind of blog post, I realise, but it’s something that I feel passionately about. Don’t stop washing your hands, coughing into your elbow or avoiding touching your face (ha! I don’t think I’ve ever touched my face as much as now when I’ve been told not to do it! 😀), but along with contingency plans for food or for work in the case of having to self-isolate, think about what you can do to keep your mental health well. In fact, why wait until self-isolation is imposed – it’s OK to start doing these things now!
💡 Think about whether you need to be checking the news channels or social media every few minutes for the latest update. The latest UK Government guidance is here, the NHS guidance is here and the World Health Organisation guidance is here. FutureLearn, the online learning organisation run by The Open University and The SEEK Group, is offering a course on Coronavirus by The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the UK Public Health Rapid Support Team which you can find here if that kind of thing would help you. There’s legitimate information around without resorting to consultations with Dr Google who is not always to be trusted!
💡 Is there anything you can do to help someone else? Too much time worrying about ourselves can make us lose perspective but thinking about what someone else might need is very good for reminding us that we’re not alone and at the mercy of our thoughts.
💡 There’s nothing like enforced isolation to rob you of the ability to find something positive to do, so think about it now. Make a list if you want to – and try to find things that are positive. If nothing else, doing something like this can help to focus an anxious mind and make us feel that we have some control.
💡 If box sets are your thing, try to avoid the ones with apocalyptic storylines (my husband’s favourite but even he is avoiding them at the moment). Read books that will make you feel good. Sit outside in the sunshine (being outside even in self-isolation is fine as long as you avoid other people). Work on a project or craft that you love. Learn a new one (I know someone who can help you to knit socks 😉 ). Sow seeds for the summer. At the moment, in the UK, we are not restricted unless we have had medical advice to stay away from others, so stock up on wellbeing essentials instead of worrying about toilet roll.
If you’ve got ideas for keeping mentally well during this period that you’d like to share, do add them to the comments. This virus will pass. Even if you do get it, it doesn’t mean that you will be any more poorly than you would have been with a bout of Winter flu, but please make sure that there are no lasting scars left in your head. We may not have any control over these germs, but we do have some control over how we keep our minds well during it all.