Living with a mental illness during COVID

While the COVID pandemic has created anxiety for everyone, those of us with mental illnesses like OCD, claustrophobia, hypochondria, depression, panic disorders and many others are dealing with a unique level of chaos that the virus has created. Individuals with mental disorders are going through waves of fearful thoughts and emotions. There are the fears of getting sick, not being able to go out, not being able to procure what you require, being cut off from people, etc. There could also be relief that it’s not just you, but others too are indulging in excessive hygiene and cleanliness.

Anxiety disorders (panic disorders, OCD, claustrophobia, etc) usually highlight negative thoughts and heightened emotions. Significant behavioural impacts would also be noticed ranging from disturbed sleep, consumption of alcohol/drugs, excessive cleaning, and trouble concentrating. The three additional triggers for individuals living with an anxiety disorder are a new danger (COVID), the uncertainty and the prompts of the danger and guidelines to follow. Guidelines are necessary and needed. But for a person with anxiety and OCD, it reinforces the obsessions and compulsions in almost every aspect.

For those dealing with depression, the symptoms might be heightened now with the coronavirus threat. You might find yourself struggling with a constant sinking feeling, sleep patterns might have changed and you might question life more than usual. 

In the current situation, which causes anxiety and depression in many people, it is hardly surprising if you feel your negative thoughts increasing. Along with everyone else, we need to find things to do that are under our control.

Here are a few guidelines for you to manage your mental illness during the age of COVID. While these points may help as an outline of things for you to try, you also deserve guidance with the steps, and we as counsellors are available for that.

  1. Identify and recognize the changes:
    • There will be changes as a result of the pandemic. Identifying what these changes are might help you prepare and accept what it would do to you.
  2. Set rules:
    • Excessive exposure can heighten thoughts and feelings of anxiety, depression and compulsion. Limit the amount of information you expose yourself to. Also, limit the number of times you check for new information. 
    • Refer only to credible sources. 
  3. Structure your day:
    • A pattern or routine is necessary to keep anxiety at bay. Plan what you are going to do from when you wake up to when you go to bed. Intersperse periods of work, rest & recreation.
  4. Reframe unhealthy and irrational thoughts to healthy thoughts:
    • For example: “The day is going to be boring and scary so I will sleep for as long as I can” to “Yes I might hear scary news about COVID, but I can still practice activities and keep myself occupied and healthy instead of sleeping for the entire day.”
  5. Consult your psychiatrist/therapist: 
    • Running short of medication or not being able to get your medication can be common. Call your psychiatrist to get alternative prescribed medication. And call your therapist if your thoughts prevent you from going out of the house to get your medicine. 
    • Talk to your counsellor and psychiatrist for ways to manage these times of additional stress, including how you could ensure being able to contact them should you need to. 
  6. Build support:
    • Use technology to talk to someone about how you can adjust and adapt during this time. This may need you to talk to your manager, psychiatrist, counsellor, family members or anyone else you have in your support network. 
  7. Process your emotions: 
    • Whether good or bad emotions, if it gets overwhelming, then find a way to release or process the emotion. For example journal writing, a grounding technique, mindfulness breathing or through an art form.

Most of all, go easy on yourself. This period in time is tough and to some extent, all of us are reacting similarly. If today isn’t going well, give yourself a break from the routine and get back as you can.

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