Feeling anxious or low about coronavirus
With everything going on and the changes to day-to-day life many of us may feel anxious and worried. Everything can feel a little overwhelming. It's natural to feel this way. However, there are things you can do to help look after yourself mentally and there's support available to you.
Lockdown and your mental health
With stricter lockdown measures in place, it's more important than ever to look after yourself mentally. It can be a particularly challenging time, but the suggestions and expert insight on this page can help you cope when things get difficult.
Is it normal to feel like this?
Over the last few months, everyone has been worried about their physical health and that of those they care about most. But staying at home, feeling lonely or isolated, the anxiety of either catching or spreading the virus and the worry of looking after yourself and those you care about can have an impact on how we feel mentally too. And that's perfectly natural.
You're not alone if you feel this way – 1 in 3 older people are feeling more anxious.
For many of us 2020 has been a long and hard year. We may be feeling exhausted with the restrictions and unsure if we can go through it all again. With it being cold and dark outside, and the unknowing of whether we’ll be able to spend the festive season with loved ones the restrictions may be taking more of a toll on us.
Although this winter will be different and hard for many of us, there are things you can do to look after your mental health.
Stay in touch with others
As we've become more used to staying at home, isolating and keeping our distance from others it can really take a toll and feel exactly that, isolating.
It can be easy to feel more withdrawn, lonely and affect our mood and how we feel. But if you are feeling this way, it's more important than ever to reach out to someone. The chances are you're not the only person feeling this way and that by reaching out, you could be really lifting someone else's spirits too.
As we go back into lockdown it may become harder to keep in touch with others but there are still plenty of ways to stay connected. Why not try a video call, pick up the phone or connect over social media? We've got some information about how to make a video call here.
You're still able to meet up by yourself with one other person from outside your household for exercise. You could try and meet up with a friend for a socially distanced walk.
Look after yourself physically
Our mental and physical health are interlinked, so looking after ourselves physically can help us feel better mentally.
It can be all to easy to feel a little sluggish when we're spending a lot more time at home than usual. Maybe you're finding it harder to stay motivated, you've lost confidence to do the things you used to do or you're just not really sure where to start.
You might feel less mobile or find moving about harder than before if you haven't been as active during lockdown. You might not feel motivated and it can all feel very disheartening. But there are things you can do around the house – focus on doing a little more each day.
What everyone can and can't do will be different, but find something that suits you and that you enjoy. This might be going outside for a walk, or you might rather stay active at home in the garden, walking the stairs or doing some chair exercises. We've put together some exercises suitable for everyone here.
Make sure you're eating enough
If you're not as active or you're worried and anxious then you might not feel like eating as much as you used to. But it's really important to keep your energy levels up by eating enough.
Ideally, this would be plenty of the things we all know are good for us, such as our 5 a day, but if you don't fancy that or are struggling to get everything from the shops, then it's better to eat something, anything, than nothing at all, especially when the weather's colder.
You can find out more about why it's important to eat enough here.
Relax and get a good night's sleep
Relaxing might be easier said than done. But doing things you enjoy, taking time to unwind and relax can really improve your mood. This might be having a nice long bath, seeing friends or getting lost in a good book.
You might struggle to relax, and this might impact on your sleep. Sleeping well can make a big difference to how you feel mentally and physically. If you're struggling to switch off, there are breathing techniques and mindfulness practices that can help. You can find out more about these here.
Look after yourself during the winter months
This winter is likely to be that bit tougher than usual. Being indoors when it's cold and miserable outside can feel cosy and be an excuse for a good book or cooking a good meal, though for some it might feel even more isolating.
But there are things you can do to look after yourself. For more information, have a read of our page with tips for keeping your spirits up during the winter.
Keep an eye on how you're feeling
Keep an eye on how you’re feeling. If you feel more anxious, sad or upset or are feeling particularly lonely, down or out of sorts, then don't ignore these feelings.
Whether you begin to experience physical symptoms such as changes to your heartbeat or loss of appetite or you’re feeling out of sorts and you're concerned about your mood and how you’re feeling, you should contact your GP or NHS 111 online.
If you have an existing mental health concern, this can be a particularly difficult time. Make sure to stay on top of any medication you may be taking and talk about how you’re feeling to those around you, or your GP or counsellor.
Talking about how you're feeling
Talking to someone about how you feel, especially when you might not know exactly how you're feeling or why you're feeling like it can be difficult. But it's so important to let someone know if you're not feeling your usual self.
It can be daunting, you might not want to feel like a burden or think that someone won't be interested in what you've got to say. Maybe you're just scared if you haven't felt like this before or you're worried about what someone might think. You might not want to cause a fuss or worry anyone. If you do feel like this, take a moment to think how you'd feel if someone you cared about was feeling this way – you wouldn't want them to deal with it alone, you'd want to listen and be there for them.
Who you talk to is up to you. There might be someone that you've spoken to before, or a loved one may have noticed that you're not quite yourself and has tried to bring it up before.
Or maybe you'd feel more comfortable talking to a professional, someone you're not as close with. Seeing a professional might make it seem like more of a 'thing', and be just as scary but your GP is there to support you. They will have supported lots of other people feeling how you're feeling, and they're there to listen and won't judge you.
There's lots of information below about seeing your GP and what you might expect when you do.
Who can I talk to about how I'm feeling?
If you're feeling anxious, out of sorts or you're just not feeling yourself then it's important to talk to your GP.
While some people will feel comfortable talking to their GP, we know that for others it may be a very daunting experience. So much so, you might put off going or end up not going all together.
But talking to a professional is often the best thing you can do to start feeling better.
If you prefer, you can also refer yourself to talking therapy, without going through your GP. Talking therapies are free NHS services and involve talking to someone who is specially trained to help you manage your thoughts and feelings. You can search for local talking therapies and refer yourself through the NHS website.
A GP explains why talking is important
We understand you might be hesitant to talk to the GP, especially at the moment with everything going on. So we spoke to Dr Carolyn Chew-Graham, a GP in central Manchester and Professor of General Practice Research focusing on mental health care in older adults.
Dr Chew-Graham helps us explain what happens when GPs talk to older people about their mental health and why these conversations are so important, especially at the moment.
Can I talk to my GP about how I'm feeling at the moment?
Yes, you can. People may consider their problems or how they feel not important enough to call the GP about at the moment. With all the coverage in the media about the burdens on the NHS, people are ignoring non-coronavirus problems. But you shouldn't. Whatever your health concern, physical or mental, coronavirus-related or not, your GP is there for you.
You may also be put off by going into your GP practice or the hospital because you're worried about catching coronavirus. Again, this is natural, but you don't have to worry. Lots of consultations are being done over the phone at the moment. But, if you are asked to come in for a face-to-face appointment, it will be only if it's felt it's necessary to do so and you'll be asked to follow certain safety measures. GP surgeries will also have their own processes in place to make sure you're kept safe at all times.
For some people the thought of contacting their GP over the phone may put them off. This could be because discussing mental health concerns over the phone can seem awkward and you might be worried about being overheard by people in their house. However, your GP is there to listen and wants to help. To make sure you get the most out of the conversation you should try and find a space that you feel comfortable in and write a list of the things you want to say to the GP so you don't forget anything. However, if this isn't possible, or you still don't feel comfortable talking over the phone, let your GP know at the start of any conversation to see if a face-to-face appointment may be more suitable.
It's about seeking help if you've got health problems. If you've got worries, then the Health Service is open for you.
What can I expect when I talk to the GP?
While talking about how you're feeling might seem daunting and you may feel like the only person with these feelings, the reality is that GPs are used to having these conversations with people.
Knowing what you might expect can help you prepare for these conversations and make you feel more at ease.
You can expect to be asked questions such as:
- How do you feel?
- What's your mood been like?
- How have you been sleeping?
- Do you feel worried, stressed or irritable?
- Have others noticed a change in your mood?
- Do you have thoughts of harming yourself?
Questions about self-harm or suicide can be upsetting, but they're important questions to ask as many people do feel this way, you may feel this way, especially following a period of lockdown which has been incredibly challenging.
This initial conversation may take place over the phone or in person. Following this conversation, you may have further conversations on the phone, be sent materials in the post or links for online resources or you may be asked to come in for a face-to-face appointment.
It's trying to talk to people about their worry... Let's just think about how we can help you with it, how we can manage it, what treatment you might need or what you think would help you.
Why is it important to talk to my GP?
It's important to talk to your GP because there can be a reluctance to talk about mental health, especially among older adults. It's either seen as not as important as your physical health, or people don't quite know how to talk about it because it's something they didn't grow up discussing.
Maybe you don't quite know how you feel or why you feel it. You might feel irritable, sad and upset or anxious. Maybe it's a feeling you haven't been able to shift for some time. The symptoms may even be physical, and often what someone thinks is a physical health problem can in fact be signs of a mental health concern.
But the GP is there to help you figure that bit out. Starting the conversation, talking about how you feel, can help the GP work with you to find out what the matter is and the best way to start making you feel better.
People often feel better for just having a conversation about how they're feeling. I often hear "I now understand why I feel like I do, and it's definitely helped."
Our mental health as things change
The rules we have to follow and what we can and can't do is changing – from easing of lockdown to future lockdowns and stricter measures. These transitions can affect how we feel.
Who you can contact
As well as your GP, there are other options for you if you want to talk to someone about how you're feeling or want more information.
- Local Minds have adapted their services and many now have helplines and are doing over the phone consultations. Contact your local Mind to see what they're doing.
- Anxiety UK has a helpline and lots of information on their website, including webinars to help you learn some tools for dealing with your mental health.
- Mental Health UK has an online form called Clic where you can connect with others, share how you're feeling and support one another.