Looking after your mental and physical health during the coronavirus pandemic

If you can, take a daily walk in nature near your home (c) Jozef Polc/Alamy Stock Photo

If you can, take a daily walk in nature near your home (c) Jozef Polc/Alamy Stock Photo - Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

We’ve all been trying to adjust to the new realities of social distancing. It’s not easy, but the support on offer for our mental and physical health is terrific

The new coronavirus has rapidly brought forth a tranche of new phrases into the national conversation such as ‘self isolation’, ‘lockdown’ and ‘social distancing’ and we’ve all done our part to make these adjustment to our daily lives. But how do we deal with being housebound most of the time, potentially juggling work and children or isolated from friends and family, especially if the emergency measures are drawn out? Joy Rickard is a senior social worker for a Hertfordshire mental health trust who says she has spent her career encouraging individuals to be supported to prevent social isolation; to develop structure, purpose and quality of life. ‘As of now however, social distancing is a practical concept, which we are advised to implement in the best interest of our most vulnerable population.’

Her first advice is to keep to a routine as much as possible and to set goals (however small – they add up) throughout the day to develop a sense of achievement. ‘To do lists can provide satisfaction and accomplishment. And make time for mini perks during the day such as time to enjoy a cup of tea or having a homemade lunch.’

She suggests maintaining a healthy balance of pursuits throughout the day, not just screen time.

‘Ensure you are doing activities that don’t solely rely on electrical devices, such as yoga, reading a book, decluttering, self-pampering, gardening and puzzles,’ she advises. Keeping in touch with the outside is also important and Joy suggests keeping your windows open for fresh air and not to forget to get out in the sunlight. ‘Remember, walks are allowed providing you keep the recommended distance away from others. Utilise your garden if you have one.’ And a final word of advice: ‘Start on those long-overdue projects you were due to start but keep putting off.’

Watford mentor Kate Codrington has a section on her website (katecodrington.co.uk) entitled ‘self-help for challenging times’ with links to online yoga classes, meditation, support circles and workshops – all designed to reduce stress along with tips for self-soothing.

‘People in isolation are experiencing an absence of touch,’ says Kate. ‘Stroking your own skin produces oxytocin, which helps to manage cortisol, the stress response hormone.’ Controlling your breath is also beneficial to what she terms nervous system management. ‘In a panic, our breath is the first place to go. Breathe out softly as though you are blowing on a baby’s foot, then allow the breath to flow back in.’ Kate recommends repeating this sequence until breathing becomes more relaxed.

Anne Stevens, a physiotherapist at Bodyset in Bushey Heath, says exercise reduces stress levels by releasing endorphins that trigger a positive feeling in the body.

‘Exercise can be a great way to lift your mood and improve your ability to deal with stress. When you exercise, your body often feels more relaxed and calm.’ So what does she recommend we do at home? ‘If you have stairs, walk up and down them several times or just stand by the bottom step and step up/step down 10 times leading with the right leg first, then the left. You can also stand sideways and step up and down, alternating each leg. ‘Star jumps, small or big, are good, or if this is too hard, try stepping out and in, lifting the arms up and down at the same time which is less hard on the knees and back. Add arm movements to stepping, marching, jumping and running on the spot. ‘Stretch afterwards to release tension in the muscles you have just worked. When standing, pull one foot up behind you to your bottom and feel the front of your thigh stretch – hold for 20 seconds, then switch over to the other leg. Or sit on the edge of a chair with one leg straight out, heel resting on the floor. With a straight spine lean forward and feel the stretch at the back of the thigh, again, hold 20 seconds and switch legs.’ Of course, for added inspiration head online. Joe Wicks has become ‘the nation’s PE teacher’ with his morning exercise classes for kids and adults too. For some reason mums especially are tuning in... (The Body Coach TV on YouTube).

Herts has plenty of resources to help people stay informed and get the help they need. Check hertfordshire.gov.uk for service updates and general guidance. The website watford.gov.uk/coronavirus offers advice on topics such as support and care, health, care homes and older people and has an extensive list of websites to keep children busy. The NHS (nhs.uk) has a wealth of information on health and wellbeing at home with indoor exercises to improve strength and flexibility. Helping others is also a great way to stay positive. Herts Covid-19 Mutual Aid Group (facebook.com/groups/hertsmutualaid) supports local community groups countywide or you can sign up to HertsHelp (hertshelp.net) or #TeamHerts Volunteering (thvolunteering.org.uk). As well as offering advice and information, these groups can assist with grocery shops and deliveries of essential items and offer a friendly phone call to those in need. Apps such as nextdoor and helpfulpeeps are also great tools to exchange services, goods and information in your neighbourhood.

Joy says that what is most important for our mental health is to stay connected. ‘Keep in touch with friends and family by messaging, calling, group video calls and sending pictures.’

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Across the UK children are joining the global #rainbowtrail initiative by placing paintings of rainbows in their windows or chalking them on pavements to lift the spirits of others, often along with the hashtags #stayhomesavelives and #staysafestayhome. ‘Be positive’ was the rainbow message I saw down the road while taking my daily exercise walk. It certainly brightened up my day.

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