Around the world, people will be reacting to the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis differently. Perhaps you feel worried, anxious, sad, tearful, bored, exhausted, lonely, depressed or you have a short fuse and are quick to anger. You may have pre-existing anxiety and this is making it worse.
Worry can manifest itself in many different ways both mentally and physically. One day you might feel happy and confident and the next day the worry returns. It can be a rollercoaster of emotions and there is no right or wrong way to feel. Just remember that this particular situation is temporary — you won’t be experiencing this forever.
It is important that you focus on making sure that you can look after yourself and prioritise your health and wellbeing. Anxiety can trigger your flight-or-fight stress response and release a flood of hormones like cortisol and adrenaline and chemicals to weaken your immune system, putting stress on your body. Higher levels of cortisol have been linked to MS progression and severity.
Fortunately, there are a number of things you can do to improve your wellbeing during this time and many of them will be useful actions to go back to whenever you go through a stressful time.
When we think about leading a healthy lifestyle, thoughts often turn to diet and exercise, but in addition to that, social connection can improve our physical and mental health. When you are in isolation at home, your social interactions naturally decrease. This is why it is beneficial to set up video calls and messages instead of meeting in person. It can be such a relief to talk with friends and can leave you feeling recharged and positive. There are some fun things you can organise via video call, such as quizzes, games, sharing music, book groups and even dinner parties! Even if you don’t feel like it, once you get chatting you’ll feel better.
Don’t bottle up your worries
Sometimes we bottle up our feelings, even without realizing it. It can help to share any concerns you have with friends, family or within our OMS online community — it often helps to talk about something and have a ‘me too!’ response from someone so that you know you are not alone.
Offer support, if you are able
Giving to others can also help to improve your mental and physical health. It can help to take the focus off yourself and provide a sense of purpose. It is vital that you follow guidelines from your health provider, so if you are in isolation think how you can help others while still staying at home. Things like encouraging others on an OMS forum, messaging a friend or family member to tell them that you are thinking of them, or doing something for someone you live with like giving them a hug, cooking a meal or running them a bath.
Organization has been known to improve mental and physical health, reduce stress and improve sleep! Time at home will allow you to get organized.
If you haven’t done so, talk through the current situation with your employer and understand your rights and benefits if needed in the future.
Now is the time to sort out that closet, organize any paperwork or decorate the house if you want to. The sense of accomplishment will be positive, but make sure you take regular breaks if you feel any MS fatigue.
Don’t forget your physical health
Sometimes it can be easy during a stressful time to lapse on your healthy lifestyle. But now is actually the time to focus on it more than ever as it will make you feel good, boost your immune system and help to manage your MS symptoms. Worry and stress can cause physical symptoms such as chest pain, heart palpitations and muscle aches, which could be confused for coronavirus symptoms. If you haven’t already done so, take a look at the OMS recovery program and read through some of our stories of hope for inspiration.
Focus on the advice from your health service
There is a lot of misinformation about the coronavirus out there. Before sharing something on social media, check the facts out first. There are a number of fact-checking organizations, such as Snopes.
Follow the advice from your doctor and health service.
Limit the time you spend on social media and watching the news
It’s good to be informed, so set a time each day to check the news headlines. But don’t become absorbed by it. Social media can offer support, distraction and social connection for many, but again, too much can be overwhelming if it is coronavirus-related content, so limit yourself.
You can hide Facebook posts and mute WhatsApp groups if you find that they make you feel anxious. You can also mute keywords on Twitter and unfollow or mute accounts which are triggering worry.
Focus on things you can control
Anxiety is rooted in worrying about the unknown and the fear of being out of control. Lack of control about the world’s state of affairs can be depressing and can cause worry — the coronavirus is this on a macro scale.
Acknowledge that you can’t control the coronavirus, or the actions of other people and focus on the things you can control. You can choose who you want to talk to outside the home when in isolation so choose people who are encouraging and supportive. Choose where you get information from and prioritize your health.
Have some fun at home
Plan some fun things to do in the home — cinema nights, candlelit dinners with a loved one, making delicious OMS recipes, taking up a hobby such as painting or crafting, working out with a home gym, gardening, DIY projects (if you enjoy them!), scheduling in pamper nights — the list is endless.
Exercise produces endorphins (natural painkillers) which make you feel good and also improves the ability to sleep, which in turn reduces stress. In terms of exercising out of the house, such as a local walk, follow your current guidelines provided by your government and doctor. If you are inside, check out the online exercise videos available to suit all levels and abilities. To improve your sleep, avoid caffeine and limit screen time before bed.
It’s all about the here and now
MS breath-based meditation will help to focus your attention on your body and mind in the present. Consciously making the effort to direct your attention to the present, rather than worry about the future, is a very powerful tool. If you feel yourself worrying about the future, focus on your five senses: what you can hear, see, taste, feel, and smell. Practicing this technique eradicates all worries we may project in the future as it leaves no room for them.
If you still feel overwhelmed, seek professional advice from your doctor and remember that there are 24/7 helplines if you need to talk to someone in confidence. There are many things we can do to support and manage our wellbeing during times of uncertainty, and the OMS community are here to support you.