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How to protect your mental health in the time of coronavirus

If you're feeling worried and unsettled during these challenging times, you're certainly not alone.

While most people will be focusing on their physical health, it's just as important to look after your mental wellbeing. Here BACP-registered psychotherapist Sally Brown shares her simple tips to help you cope.

Limit your news exposure

Every anxiety expert agrees that too much news can undermine your peace of mind. Yes, you need to stay in touch with what is going on, but we all need to be conscious about what we consume. As an experiment, try watching just one news programme a day for five days. Check in with how you feel at the end of the experiment. If you feel happier and less anxious, there's a good chance rolling news feeds have been undermining your mental wellbeing. Social media can also be damaging if you scroll all day long.

Join a Zoom party

If you're missing your regular social get-togethers, try scheduling a Zoom video meeting at the time you would usually meet people, to maintain routine in your week. And it's a great time to 'virtually' catch up with old friends and family members that you've been out of touch with. Zoom is free to download at Zoom. Simply follow the straightforward instructions to invite friends to join you in a virtual meeting.

Learn something new

Boredom can take its toll on your mood, but you don't need to leave the house to broaden your horizons. Always wanted to learn Mandarin, master calligraphy, write a novel or immerse yourself in medieval history? Now's your chance. There are hundreds of online courses to choose from at Udemy, Open University, Future Learn, Masterclass and WEA.

Schedule worry time

Constant worrying depletes emotional resilience and can trigger low mood and anxiety. Try scheduling 15 minutes of 'worry time' at a specific part of the day, and park your anxieties until that time. When worry time comes, you may find you don't want to worry. If you do, then try 'triaging' your worries - ask yourself, "is this something I can do something about?"

If the answer is no, then park the worry by distracting yourself - talk to someone, have a walk, watch or read something engrossing. If the answer is yes, then ask yourself what you can do and what is the first step you need to take.

Stick to your daily self-care routine

It's more important than ever to maintain the daily habits that boost your mood, such as getting some exercise, sticking to a regular sleep routine, eating a balanced diet, keeping alcohol intake moderate and making time to relax every day. Think of it as a daily prescription for mental wellbeing.

Join a community support group

Dozens of community groups are springing up on Facebook and WhatsApp, linking people who need help with those who can offer practical support, such as dog-walking and food and prescription deliveries. If you're able to offer help, you'll receive a mood boost and it may help you feel more in control.

Do a daily gratitude exercise

Shifting your focus from what you don't have to what you do can make a huge difference to your happiness levels. Before you go to sleep, think of three things you are grateful for. Mentally running through what's going right in your life last thing at night can help you fall asleep quicker, and feel more refreshed when you wake up, according to research from the University of Manchester.

Get some ecotherapy

Studies show that spending time in a green environment reduces both blood pressure and stress hormones. In one study, 71 per cent said they felt less fatigued after a 30-minute walk in a green space. If you can't get out, sit near some indoor greenery. Having houseplants in the room has been shown to reduce mental fatigue.

If you are able to get outside, make sure you follow the Government's social distancing advice at all times.

Take time to savour

It's easy to drift through the day on autopilot, but bringing your mind back to the here and now, and savouring small moments of pleasure such as a great cup of tea, a clear blue sky or a shared joke can add regular injections of joy to your day.

Take a breath

Mindful breathing exercises done throughout the day can help to reduce anxiety and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, by activating your parasympathetic nervous system, the body's 'rest and relax' system.

Try 7-11 breathing: simply breathe in through your nose to a (mental) count of seven and out for a count of 11, then repeat. It's a good one to do when you're waiting for the kettle to boil. If 7-11 is too long, reduce the count to 5-7, or 3-5. The key is to always make the out-breath longer than the in-breath.

Talk to someone supportive

Verbalising your worries can help get them into perspective. If anxiety or low mood is affecting your relationships, or making daily life feel like hard work, consider getting some professional help. You can find a qualified therapist to work with online at

Always follow the Government's guidelines on self-isolation and social distancing – see for more information and the latest updates.

Sally is a trained psychotherapist and health and lifestyle writer, working for national newspapers and magazines.

Find out more about Sally Brown.