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How to manage your mental health when the world feels uncertain

If the current coronavirus outbreak is affecting your mental health, you may find these tips helpful

    Seeta Bhardwa's avatar

    Seeta Bhardwa

    Editor, THE Student
    March 19 2020
    World Mental Health Day


    The world feels like a scary and uncertain place right now, and for many it is having a negative impact on their mental health. For those students with pre-existing mental health conditions, they could be exacerbated, while some may be experiencing new feelings of anxiety or stress they may not have felt before. 

    Here are some tips to help you to manage those feelings. 

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    1. Limit the amount of news you consume

    The news can feel overwhelming right now, articles about Covid-19 are everywhere and it seems that there is little else being talked about. While it is important to stay informed, spending too much time reading this information could increase feelings of anxiety and stress. 

    If you are feeling overwhelmed, give yourself about half an hour or so each day to read all the latest updates and then try to avoid the news for the rest of the day. Mute certain words on Twitter that could be triggering and turn off notifications from news outlets to avoid being bombarded all day.

    2. Keep in touch with friends

    While you may be unable to see friends and family as regularly as you might like, try to keep in touch with them as much as you can. Try to identify one person that you will call each day and spend a little bit of time catching up with them. Sometimes just hearing a friendly voice on the end of the phone can help to boost your mental health. Even if you can't call someone, try to send out a few texts to check in with your nearest and dearest. 

    You could also schedule video calls and video hangouts with friends. With apps such as Skype or Whatsapp you can video call a group of friends and have a catch-up or even sit down to eat dinner or watch a movie together..

    Start a virtual book group with friends, find games that you can play with others online, agree to learn a skill together – there are many ways you can stay connected from afar. It might feel strange at first, but it’s important to adapt to the current situation and still fit in socialising. 

    3. Ensure that you find time to do the things you love

    Now that many universities have halted face-to-face learning and students are having to study more at home, it can be easy to spend all your time studying. Instead give yourself clear times to study and then pack away your things and fill your evenings with things that make you happy. It could be anything from reading books, watching films, drawing, writing, some at-home workouts – there are many things you could do. 

    Or alternatively you could use this time to learn something new. Whether it is juggling, learning how to bake the perfect loaf of bread or writing some poetry, you can finally get round to doing the things you’ve always wanted to do. 

    4. Get some fresh air

    If you are able to (and I’m aware that in some countries this is very limited) try to spend a little time outside every day. Breathing fresh air and feeling the sun on your face can really help to boost your mood. 

    Even if you aren’t able to get outside, keep your curtains open wide, and open your windows to get some air circulating around your home. 

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    5. Stay on top of university news

    The situation is changing every day and this means that your university is also having to change the way it functions. It could become quite stressful if you aren’t aware of any changes and are suddenly having to make big decisions without having a lot of time to make them. 

    Keep in touch with your tutor and check your university website and online portal each day. Ensure that your contact details are up to date and keep in touch with course mates to make sure that you don’t miss anything. 

    6. Take social media breaks or find positive people to follow

    Excessive social media usage can be taxing on your mental health at the best of times, but right now it can be even worse. If you’re finding that being on social media is raising your anxiety levels then consider staying away from it for a while. 

    Or curate your social media feed to be full of friends and public figures who are spreading positive messages. Follow book bloggers who may be posting about cheerful books to read right now, travel magazines or blogs, food bloggers who are sharing nutritious recipes, or anyone else creating uplifting content during this trying time. 

    Some musicians such as Coldplay and John Legend are streaming concerts online now, so you can tune in and enjoy a private concert from the comfort of your own home. 

    7. Stay active and healthy

    Again, this can be tricky if you are stuck in your house, but physical exercise can really help with improving your mental health. There are some great home workouts on YouTube that cover a huge range of exercises. Just 10 minutes of movement can help to boost your mood. 

    Or you can get creative. Throw some music on and have a dance in your room, set up an obstacle course – there are many ways that you can get your body moving and it can have a tremendous impact on your mental health. 

    8. Help your community

    It’s hard to know how one person can help right now when the situation seems so overwhelming. But finding ways to help in the community could help combat feelings of helplessness. 

    If you know of any elderly or vulnerable people near you, offer to pick up some groceries for them or give them a call just for a chat. You could donate money or products to food banks or homeless shelters, or offer to tutor a young student in your area. Find a local business or restaurant you can support in some way. Even a small gesture such as sending a friend a nice card can make a huge difference and won’t cost a lot. 

    But of course, if you are unable to do anything then that is also OK. Look after yourself first and don’t feel pressured to do something that you can’t manage. 

    9. Get help

    All the tips above can help those experiencing low-level mental health concerns and feel that they are able to manage them on their own. 

    However, if you are having real problems coping there are many places you can turn to for advice. Contact your university support services or get in touch with your tutor and be sure to share any concerns you have. It’s important to reach out if you are feeling overwhelmed and the university will have many resources to help you. 

    Speak to a healthcare professional for steps you can take to help your mental health or find an online resource or charity that can assist. 

    Read more: Coronavirus: will I be able to complete my master’s and study in the UK?

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