As someone who has lived with depression and anxiety for most of my life, here are some things I’ve been doing to stay well amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Recent and sudden changes to how we live and work have been impacting the mental health of most people I know. As someone who was already dealing with mental illness for many years before all of this began, it has been a strange time, to say the least.
While living with depression and anxiety, this is how I’ve been trying to best take care of myself these past few weeks.
1. Make sure you’re eating
My mental illness has always impacted my relationship with food. Depression can make you too apathetic to eat anything, while anxiety can make it physically difficult to swallow.
Of course, healthy eating is known to have substantial effects on your mental wellbeing, but sometimes it’s difficult to get yourself to eat at all, let alone the ‘right’ things.
A couple of years ago, I learned something very important: when you’re feeling down, go easy on yourself with what you eat. If you can get yourself to eat at all – even if it’s a takeaway or chocolate – that’s much better for you than not eating at all. There’s no need to add an extra layer of guilt to everything else you’re feeling right now.
The current era is crap enough without having to feel guilt that we aren't learning Greek and painting watercolours of daffodils. If you brushed your teeth today and got showered and ate something and spent ten minutes not looking at the news then well done it's an achievement.
— Matt Haig (@matthaig1) March 27, 2020
2. Do things you know you like
On my worse days, I can’t focus well. Depression can make you feel like there’s no point in doing anything – whether it’s preparing food or reading a book you love.
If all you can manage to do is sit on the couch and watch a TV show you’ve already seen a hundred times, I say you should do exactly that.
It can be a stepping-stone to improving your mood and finding a bit of escapism from your own thoughts, which ultimately can lead to remembering something that you really enjoy and seeking that out instead.
3. Write things down
Depression has always made me look at things and wonder if there’s any point to them. I used to get frustrated at how many people and websites would recommend writing things down to help, but it has helped me so much. It’s something that helps subconsciously.
Sometimes, my anxiety gets so bad that I physically can’t get words out. It’s as if I’ve literally lost the ability to open my mouth and speak. When things like that happen, it’s crucial that you give those thoughts some sort of alternative channel.
Writing them down helps extract them from your inner self and express them without needing to utter a single word out loud.
4. Take a break from social media
Sometimes I have to snap myself out of directionless scrolling on my phone. This is another thing that relates to the subconscious for me – even if I’m looking at what I believe to be harmless media, so much screen time leads to a greater chance of racing thoughts, restlessness and difficulty relaxing.
I’ve tried to make a point of reacting differently when muscle memory tells me to reach for my phone. Instead, I try my best to do a 180 and pick up my book instead.
If, like me, you feel the need to do something with your hands while watching TV, I’ve found knitting to be a great replacement for my phone. I only started learning recently and already find it super comforting.
If you take solace in social media, there are a few accounts I highly recommend following. Matt Haig and Jameela Jamil are two great examples.
5. Go easy on yourself
There are lots of things we tell ourselves we should be doing on a normal day, and that can feel magnified on days where Covid-19 is constantly in the news and we’re trying to make successful working from home happen.
My best advice is to go easy on yourself. If you can’t get out of bed today, you’re not a failure. If you don’t feel up to getting out for a walk, that’s absolutely fine. Self-care comes in a range of guises.
Many people who live with depression and anxiety are much more prone to carrying intense feelings of guilt, myself included, so try your best to make peace with yourself right now. You’re doing all you can, and that’s enough.
6. Keep your recovery time a priority
I’m an introvert through and through, which means that while I love spending time with friends and family, I need time by myself to regenerate and revive my energy levels. One of the main aspects of managing my mental illness for the past few years has been listening to what I really want and not spending time with others purely because I think that I should.
We’re all physically distancing right now, but it almost feels like there is more of an onus to keep in touch with people as they set up group calls through Zoom and Houseparty. And it’s great that we have that opportunity to stay connected.
But last weekend, I realised that I need to treat this new way of socialising just like I previously did – and know when to say no. And if, deep down, I knew that I’d rather just stay in bed and watch Netflix, then that’s what I should do.
Did a podcast about my mental health journey with the lovely @johnmoe ❤️ Thanks for having me❤️ https://t.co/2PWgQxCtQh
— Jameela Jamil ? (@jameelajamil) March 25, 2020
7. If you can, stay organised
One of the main worries that has been sitting at the back of my mind since all of this began is my medical care. I have two appointments with my psychiatrist a year, and I depend on those for getting my medication prescription – something I’d be totally lost without.
Even though my next appointment is still a month away, I sent the practice an email over the weekend to ask about anything I need to keep in mind.
Them getting back to me completely put my mind at rest and eliminated that small but steady uncertainty about getting my medicine hassle-free.
8. Be outside
I’ve personally been finding it hard to get out for walks at the moment due to a mixture of low motivation levels and feeling a responsibility to physically distance as much as possible.
But when the weather is (reasonably) good, I’ve been making sure I take my lunch breaks – the full hour – out in my back garden. If it’s sunny but still cold, I just make sure to wrap up well so that I can sit in one of our sunchairs and read my book.
I feel genuinely revitalised after it and, despite it not being exercise, it helps to get out of the house and enjoy a change of scenery.
9. Be honest
If work feels too much, let your employer know. If they’re going to react badly and diminish your mental wellbeing, there is, in my opinion, absolutely zero point in continuing to work for them.
Of course, this all depends on how privileged you are, as some can afford to quit their job more than others. But if there’s any way you can figure out a new arrangement, I would. It’s a cliché, but nothing is more important than your health.
Treat it as if your employer was telling you off for having a broken bone or a vomiting bug. Mental illness is no less debilitating than physical illness and it’s imperative that you put your health first.