• Dr Anna Chiara Sicilia

Looking after each other during the coronavirus outbreak

"Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive" - Dalai Lama.

The last few weeks have seen the world go through a significant transformation, due to the #Covid19 pandemic.


Countries around the world are inevitably responding to the pandemic in different ways. Some imposing more extreme measures than others, causing people to feel anxious and confused about how to best manage. I am in no way qualified to comment on the biology of Covid19 and what we should do about it. If this is what you are looking for, I suggest you visit the UK Government Official Guidance Page.


However, I have been very interested in the psychological responses to such uncertainty. There seems to be a lot of confusion about what we should do at the moment. Confusion that has been perhaps exacerbated by the changing guidance from the government and other agencies. As a psychologist, I have been concerned about the impact of the current situation on our psychological wellbeing.


Many people will understandably be feeling worried about what is happening and what is to come. Some people might be away from their families, which can make the uncertainty of the sitution more difficult to bear. To those of you who are feeling worried or confused... It is understandable to feel worried about what is happening in the world at the moment. It is also understandable if you are not worried. I have not experienced anything like this in my lifetime and I can say that it is definitely something that is difficult to make sense of.


What is interesting about this pandemic is that it spreads primarily through social contact. This has led governments to start talking about "social distancing", as a measure to try and stop the spread of the virus. There are entire countries in lockdown with no certainty about when this will end. Many are struggling with this idea and this is not surprising when, as humans, one of our basic needs is that of social connection. We are social beings. Some more than others but all of us, in different ways, need some sense of connection with our fellow humans. We often take this for granted, because we live in a world where it is difficult to avoid people, even during times when we might want or need to.


The very things that we take for granted are now having to be carefully thought about. A trip to the shops... a visit to our local gym... having friends over... going to work... hugging our loved ones. Actions that, on a "normal" day, we don't even think about and might even postpone at times due to other life pressures. This situation is creating a sense of panic for many, which is especially evident in supermarkets with increasingly empty shelves.


So how can we look after ourselves and each other during this difficult time? I don't have a magic answer but for me it comes back to the very thing we are being invited to limit: "social connection".


I am not a fan of the term "social distancing", because what we are actually being invited to do is to keep physically distant from each other.


We can, however, keep connected with our fellow humans in different ways and my invitation to you is to try to do this as much as you can.

We are in a world where the technological advances allow us to creatively adapt to a less than ideal situation. And yes, I am also talking about social media... but with a caution to try to use it to connect with people and staying away from all the noise surrounding Covid-19... as much as you can at least.


Here are some tips to try to stay well if you are in the house, for whatever reason...


1. Keep some social contact - use technology to keep in touch with friends and family. Try to schedule in some time to connect with people, in the same way you would if you could go out. The trip to the pub or coffee shop might need to wait but the weekly chat with your family or best friends doesn't have to. Use video calling if you can. It can help you feel closer.


2. Foster some #compassion - be compassionate to yourself and other people. If you find yourself struggling with this situation, remember you are not alone. Think about what you might need to feel a little better and put things in place to look after yourself. Try to also be compassionate to others. Even if you are someone who is not too worried about the current situation, just remember that not everyone is reacting in the same way. Some people might be feeling worried, panicked, confused. Try to be understanding and treat people with kindness and compassion. No one wanted this situation to happen and we are all doing our best to deal with an incredibly difficult set of circumstances.


3. Think about others as well as yourself - if you find yourself with an urge to stack your shelves, please do think about others before you do. Think about people who might be more vulnerable during this time and try to be considerate of their needs as well. I am seeing a lot of lovely initiatives around to help older people and those who might not be able to go out and stack up shelves... if you can contribute in some way, every little helps.


4. Try to limit the amount of time you spend watching Covid-19 related news. It is important to keep updated with the situation and guidance but it is also important to protect our wellbeing. If you find yourself repeatedly watching the news and reading articles on Covid-19, try to schedule in a time to do this and put a time limit (e.g. only look at the news for 10 minutes a day at 7pm to check the latest developments).


5. Engage in hobbies - now, more than ever, it might be important to engage in some activities you enjoy. Try to reconnect with your hobbies or discover new ones. You'll be surprised at how much we can actually do in the house.


6. Try to keep active - try to find a way to stay active in your home, if going out is not a possibility. There are a lot of information online about how to do this. Even if it is just a 10-minute stretch every day, we know that any form of exercise is key to our wellbeing.


7. Plan how you will spend your time - your routine might be significantly impacted during the next few weeks so it is important that you think about how you might be able to plan your time, even if you are in the house. If it feels possible, think about ensuring that you are engaging in some activities that give you a sense of pleasure and mastery, as well as finding time to attend to chores and relax. Balance is key!


8. If you are working from home, make sure that you keep to some level of routine. It can be easy to work overtime when we are in front of a computer at home. Make sure you schedule your work day in the same way as if you were working from the office. If you work 9am to 5pm, make sure you stick to this and factor in your lunch and regular breaks.


9. If you are feeling particularly anxious or are experiencing flashbacks, there are some things that can help - the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) have some useful advice on their website. Mind UK and the Mental Health Foundation also offer some helpful advice on their websites. For OCD specific advice, please visit the OCD UK website.


10. If you feel unable to cope by yourself, please do reach out. Mental health services will be in high demand at the moment but it is important that you ask for support if you need. Though face to face sessions might be limited at this time, your local mental health team might be able to offer telephone or online support.


If you are experiencing #coronavirus symptoms, please visit the NHS UK website for further information and guidance on what to do.


#covid19 #compassion #mentalhealth

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