For the first time in living memory, the world is fighting the same enemy: Coronavirus. Economies have come to a standstill, whole nations are on lockdown and even popping to the shops can become an ordeal (especially if you’re after toilet paper). It’s a lot for anyone to process — and our collective mental health has understandably taken a serious nosedive. We look at the brands and organisations that are stepping up in these uncertain times to help keep anxiety at bay.
Coronavirus has turned our world upside down with unrelenting speed. As we go into lockdown, our kitchens have become classrooms, our living rooms home gyms and gardens (for those lucky enough to have them) havens where we can pretend the planet isn’t going into meltdown. Unlike the nation’s canines—including a pet dachshund who reportedly sprained its tail from wagging it so much—the idea of being housebound with all the family (or flatmates) is enough to make most start climbing the walls in frustration. For those being ‘shielded’ from the virus due to being in a high risk category, the opposite will no doubt apply. The NHS has written to people in these vulnerable groups directly, advising them to isolate for a period of at least 12 weeks. (The full government guidance for these people can be read here).
With the logistical nightmare of trying to live our lives indoors, our outlet has become the internet. And with the constant barrage of Covid-19 updates and climbing death tolls, it’s easy to catastrophize and become consumed with worry; particularly for those who already suffer from anxiety or conditions such as OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). And whatever we are feeling within the confines of our own homes, for those on the frontline of the fight against Coronavirus, the consequences of the pandemic are all the more horrific, especially when you’re having to decide who lives and who dies. Protecting mental health has never been so important as we navigate this crisis.
An army of volunteers
Stories of communities coming together to help those most vulnerable during the pandemic have been one of the more heartwarming outcomes over the past few tumultuous weeks. This has included 750,000 NHS volunteers in the UK signing up to help the healthcare system cope in a matter of days, including people offering their time to call and check in on those in isolation. Age UK are also running a Neighbourly Volunteering scheme to help older people who are staying at home, where people can simply watch a training video then download a ‘postcard’ with how they can help to pop through their neighbours’ letterboxes. Even if it’s just for a natter about Celebrity Bake Off (arguably the most wholesome programme on TV; a recommended watch at these times).
Online, a therapy service called Help Hub, which originally started as a community initiative in Oxford UK, is offering free 20-minute sessions on Skype or Facetime, aimed at vulnerable older people and others who are self-isolating or struggling, after therapists across the UK volunteered their help. “Thanks to the kindness of therapists right across the country willing to work for free, the idea snowballed in the space of less than a fortnight to the extent that we can now cover the whole of the UK,” Ruth Chaloner, the founder of the service, told The Guardian.
A problem shared is a problem halved, so they say, and interest in therapy has unsurprisingly skyrocketed in the past month. Crisis Text Line—a free volunteer 24/7 text service for anyone in crisis anytime, anywhere in the US, UK, and Canada—so far in March has seen texters in crisis mention ‘virus’, ‘COVID-19’, or ‘coronavirus’ at a 49x growth over mentions in February. Co-founder and data scientist Bob Filbin writes: “While it’s bad news that coronavirus is leading to extreme rates of anxiety, I think it’s good news that people are learning about our service. Our model has always been leveraging volunteers at home, on their couch. While other crisis centers are limiting hours or capacity, or even closing their doors, we’re ready and 100 percent open for business.”
Other virtual therapy sites, such as Talkspace—which connects you with a licenced therapist whenever you need support—and Better Help have also seen surges in sign ups, with the former setting up a whole programme aimed at Covid-19 Anxiety. They’ve also written a guide dedicated to workers to help them through this difficult time.
Meditation has been shown to help people stress less, focus more and sleep better and it’s more important than ever to switch off and focus the mind elsewhere, even if it’s just for five minutes. The current crisis is particularly acute for hospital staff, which is why mindfulness app Headspace has opened up access to its services for free for US healthcare professionals and NHS staff in the UK, including a vast library of guided meditations. It’s also released a raft of free content available to download via its app as part of its Weathering the Storm series, including sleep exercises and meditations for when you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed. Just what we need.
Ten Percent Happier, an app that provides guided meditations is also offering any healthcare worker a free subscription, as a thank you for their services. It’s also offering a regular sanity break, every weekday at 3pm Eastern Time, via YouTube, featuring host Dan Harris and renowned meditation teachers, streaming from their homes. And in a move that will be appreciated by thousands of the now unemployed—unfortunate financial casualties of the pandemic—Simple Habit announced free premium memberships until the end of April for “all people who are impacted by the pandemic and can no longer afford to pay”.
With gyms shut en masse and lockdown in place, our exercise routines have been thrown out the window—at a time when we’ve never needed exercise more. It’s proven to help us sleep, reduce anxiety and generally enhance mood thanks to production of endorphins and the reduction of the stress hormone cortisol. Being physically active also gives your brain something to focus on and can be a positive coping strategy for difficult times, according to Mind.org.
Thankfully, many personal trainers and studios have taken their expertise online, with one of the standout stars being Joe Wicks, a bubbly and lovable fitness guru. Already a household name for many, Wicks has stepped up to become the PE teacher for the nation—a move that has already had parents all over the world showering him with praise thanks to his daily workouts for the whole family. It has become a daily highlight for many to jump around, forget their troubles—and, most importantly, tire out the kids. It’s not just a hit in the UK, but the world over with over millions of views of his YouTube workouts. He’s even created some 10-minute home workouts for seniors, with gentle exercises to get everyone moving, no matter their age or mobility.
Blending mindfulness with movement, yoga is the perfect antidote for stress and all you need is a yoga mat. Yoga studios all over the world have taken to social media to share their classes, including UK-based MoreYoga and US-based CorePower, who are offering a timetable of virtual classes on YouTube, alongside a host of other studios and social media-savvy yogis. Namaste.