Blog | Coronavirus advice on staying well when social distancing

15th April 2020

We know that many people are worried about coronavirus, and lots of us will be looking for ways to stay mentally well when complying with government advice on social distancing. We asked Dr Chris Pell, Chair of the Royal College of Psychiatrist’s Scotland Adult Psychiatry Faculty, to answer a few questions.

For advice on coronavirus generally, visit NHS Inform. You can also visit SAMH’s information hub on coronavirus and mental wellbeing, and the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Scotland page for clinicians

Q.  I’m self-isolating and some of my usual self-care (meeting up with friends, going to the gym etc.) isn’t possible. What can I do to look after my wellbeing from home?

A. Keeping to a good routine is very important for our wellbeing, and the current situation forces us to think about different ways to maintain this. 

A good morning routine will set the scene for the rest of the day, so try to take time to: 

  • enjoy a good breakfast
  • get washed and dressed even if you are not going out, 
  • plan the day ahead - make a to do list to tick off as you go

During the day, try to make time for exercise, perhaps through a virtual gym class or activity group. Make use of technology – have  telephone contact regularly with loved ones or videochats where you are able to, through social media platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook or similar. Search YouTube for ideas and interests that you have and get creative. Do something crafty, build something, draw, read a good book - or write one! 

Q. How can I stop myself constantly checking the news and social media, which is making me more anxious?

A. This is the downside of being technologically connected to one another!

Think about temporarily muting hashtags that are about coronavirus, use privacy functions on your phone to turn off notifications for at least part of any day, and give yourself some distance. Yes, things are happening fast, but not so fast that you need to hear about it every minute. Information tends to be given out at set points in the day, so it may be worth thinking about tuning in to one news programme each day, rather than having a 24 hour news channel running in the background. The same is true for online searching. 

Q. How can I support someone with anxiety or OCD?

A. Be kind, be understanding that this is potentially an anxiety provoking time for all of us. Keep in contact and see if there are things that they might need - from food and supplies if self isolating, to a regular chat to keep socially connected.

Q. What are helpful distraction tips  or exercises people can do at home to help manage anxiety or OCD?

A.There are a range of approaches that can be of help in situations like this, and I’ve listed a few of them below. The  best idea is to do them regularly, ​at times of the day when you feel OK. Practicing them and finding what works best for you will help give you confidence that you will be able to remember how to use these techniques if your anxiety is heightened. Practicing them when you are already feeling very stressed is less helpful - put in the practice daily and it will pay off when you need it most. Use your phone, alarm clock or smart home device such as Alexa or Sirito remind you to do your activity each day.

  • Write down a plan - e.g. If I feel X, then I should try Y, and if this doesn't work I should call Z... Stick this somewhere obvious - like on your fridge and make sure you follow it! 
  • Hobbies, exercise, getting some sunlight, relaxation and mindfulness will all be of use if done regularly. 

Q. What can I do if I am are in crisis or feel like I need emergency help for mental health when self-isolating?

A. Mental health services across Scotland are working hard to find the best way to conintue to offer support to people who have symptoms, or who may need to self-isolate if a member of their household develops symptoms. Advice on how to access supports should be available to you through your usual sources of information - GP websites, telephone helplines, existing support workers and community teams. Check the SAMH website for details of who to contact in an emergency.

Thanks to Dr Chris Pell for answering our questions. If you’d like more information regarding anxiety and other mental health issues, check out our Understanding Anxiety publication. You can also find out the latest information for protecting your mental health during coronavirus via our information hub.