Home Mental Health & Well-Being Coping with COVID-19: Cognitive Tools to Look After Your Mental Health

Coping with COVID-19: Cognitive Tools to Look After Your Mental Health

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With COVID-19 still among us, many of us have been caught up in a pandemic of terrifying headlines. The language used around coronavirus and the government measures to manage the situation play a major role in the nation’s level of anxiety. Pandemic is panic, fear, overwhelm and the mitigation measures are lockdown, isolation, fight, fear. The announcement that one of the vaccines being trialled has passed its final tests and will be ready for use is welcome news indeed and begins to change the news narrative. Here psychotherapist Noel McDermott advises on how we can manage our own narrative to ensure we manage our psychological needs more effectively.

Noel explains: ‘The dialogue we have with ourselves and the messages we listen to about COVID-19 and the measures being taken to manage it are crucial in terms of how we experience this pandemic and ultimately will have a determinant effect on how we come out of it psychologically.’

Increasingly we are all understanding the role of internal and external dialogues in our health and well-being, especially in terms of psychological wellbeing. What we tell ourselves matters in terms of how we feel and how we function.

The language of coronavirus

Increasingly we are all understanding how important language is in mental health. As more people experience using cognitive behavioural therapy techniques, we are understanding that how we think about ourselves directly affects how we feel, and this leads to behaviour that confirms those thoughts and feelings. If we have depressed thoughts, such as this is worthless, we have a low mood and may choose not to do something that previously we enjoyed, meaning our ability to get pleasure in life actually decreases. Similarly, we can have thoughts that tell us something is worrying leading to feelings of anxiety, and a decision to avoid the things we feel are making us anxious, thereby confirming to ourselves it is bad.

Here psychotherapist Noel McDermott offers ways to boost your well-being at this time and provides cognitive restructuring tips you can do at home. These cognitive restructuring (thinking) tips can help you get through this in a way that will mean not only will you reduce any psychological harm to yourself, but in fact, you are more likely to come out of it healthier and better adjusted!

Cognitive restructuring tips you can do at home

  • Reframe the pandemic as part of the natural order of things rather than an alien event or something deliberately designed to attack you personally. It’s a regular and normal part of the natural cycle and as such we have adapted to previous ones and will adapt to this one.
  • Opportunities are as much part of this experience as threats, and finding the positives will help you reduce stress since the more we feel like agents in our own lives and the less like victims, the better we feel and the more we grow.
  • Humanise don’t politicise the pandemic. Don’t create conspiracy theories. We forget the people working to manage the pandemic are people, doing the best they can in extraordinary circumstances.
  • Here and now we can make things all right, and in fact make them pretty good. We have a lot of internal resources and capacity to make this moment a good one. We have absolutely no capacity to change the future or past. Bringing our focus to now and making now okay is a great skill.
  • Connect with those we love and who love us as this reminds us we are safe. Emotional safety helps us reduce stress and manage painful feelings much more effectively. Love connections release reward hormones into the body which make us feel good about ourselves.
  • Expand your awareness of the meaning of these times beyond your personal experience of fear and pain and look for the bigger messages you can learn. Messages about what is truly important in life. Finding the big picture messages will encourage a growth mindset meaning you come out of the pandemic better able to deal with life than when you went in.

Simple ways to boost your wellbeing in these testing times

  • Get enough sleep – sleep itself is one of the biggest things that can impact on our happiness, lack of sleep is really stressful.
  • Try meditation – spending a few minutes a day practising mindfulness and meditation can transform your mental health. It is the simplest thing in the world to do, but it can help you deal with the stressful situations that life throws at us.
  • Spend time with friends – if people are depressed, they are usually socially isolated. One of the key things to help this is to spend time with others, so get outside and go for a walk with a friend when you can.  This makes us feel good and produces hormones which make us feel better.
  • Ignore your phone – if you put down your phone to listen properly to a conversation, or even concentrate on a TV programme rather than scrolling through news stories about the virus, it can actually help you to feel more connected.
  • Exercise – walking is fantastic, getting up from your desk and going for a quick walk can have hugely positive effects on our health and well-being.
  • Go outside – being in nature has been shown to have fantastic effects on our mental health. Going to the local park has hugely positive effects. When we engage with natural objects like plants and trees we go into a meditative state, it moves our consciousness from one part of the brain to another, so we get some of the effects of meditation simply from being with nature.
  • Smile – the simple act of smiling has been found to reduce stress and increase happiness. Putting on a happy face actually makes you happier and if you smile at others, whether friends, family members or even a complete stranger, it can actually make them happier too.

Noel McDermott is a psychotherapist with over 25 years’ experience in health, social care, and education, with a range of online therapy resources to help clients.

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