Keeping mentally healthy despite worrying headlines

When outbreaks, new studies and guidelines make headlines, it can be easy to get caught up in the panic. Here we share five tips on how you can stay calm and grounded, and keep putting your mental health first

CREDIT: This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Happiful

The Mental Health Foundation (MHF), a leading charity seeking to help people better understand, protect and look after their mental health, has shared its tips on how you can best look after your mental health and wellbeing.

“Infectious disease outbreaks, like the current coronavirus, can be scary,” says Dr Antonis Kousoulis, director of the Mental Health Foundation. “While it is important to stay informed, there are many things we can do to manage our wellbeing. We have issued these tips because the virus is getting massive news coverage and there are things that people can do to look after their mental health.”

If you are worried that the headlines are causing you to feel worried, anxious, nervous or stressed, there are a number of different things you can do that may help.

Avoid speculation – use reputable sources for your information

“Rumour and speculation can fuel anxiety,” the Mental Health Foundation explains. “Having access to good quality information can help you feel more in control.”

For the latest, up-to-date information that is most likely to be accurate, try to stick to reputable websites; the NHS website, gov.uk, Health Protection Scotland, and Public Health England/Wales should all have regular updates during times when a virus, outbreak or some new research are making a big impact in the news.

Standard health and hygiene advice can often be applied. This can include washing your hands after using public transport or being in public spaces, using tissues when you cough or sneeze, and disposing of them properly, and staying home if you are feeling unwell.

There are simple things we can all do to slow the spread of almost any germs. Catch your cough or sneeze in a tissue, bin the tissue, and wash your hands with soap and water, or use sanitiser gel.

Stay calm and connected

MHF recommends keeping in contact with loved ones and trying to remain calm. “At times of stress, we work better in company and with support. Try and keep in touch with your friends and family, or contact a helpline for emotional support.”

Keeping to your regular routine can help you to feel calmer and more in control. If you find yourself feeling unusually worried or stressed, try some new stress management and relaxation tips. Keeping active, and ensuring you are eating a healthy, balanced diet, can act as natural mood boosters, supporting both your physical and mental wellbeing.

Be kind to yourself and others

In times of stress and uncertainty, it’s normal to feel overwhelmed, vulnerable, or uncertain – especially if you have experienced past mental ill-health. “It’s important to acknowledge these feelings and remind each other to look after both our physical and mental health,” says MHF. “We should also be aware of, and avoid, increasing habits that may not be helpful in the long term, like smoking and drinking. Try and reassure people you know who may be worried.”

During periods of stress it can be easy to develop, or fall back, on unhealthy coping mechanisms. These could include overworking to try and ignore other worries, or trying to ‘self-medicate’ with alcohol, over or under eating, smoking, sex, or any number of other habits.

If you’re worried that you may rely on unhealthy ways of coping with stress and uncertainty, it could be worth speaking with a counsellor. By working with a therapist, you can learn how to identify signs and behaviours that may not be good for your wellbeing in the long-run.

Be mindful of social media

With so much coverage, big issues can spill into our newsfeeds; before you know it, you’ve lost time scrolling through article after article that speculates on recent updates. MHF recommends you manage how you are following your news intake. “If you find that the news is stressing you out, it’s important to find a balance. It’s best that you don’t avoid all news; keep informing and educating yourself, but limit your news intake if it’s bothering you.”

Taking a break from social media, being more mindful about how you access news, and making a conscious effort to only read reputable news sources can all help you to minimise the stress and worry you may be feeling.

Talk with your children

Children and teens can be more perceptive than we might think; if we are feeling overwhelmed, chances are our children may pick up on the signs. With such easy access to online content, your child may also encounter posts or articles about the latest news that may cause them to feel worried or nervous. It’s important to speak with them about what they have heard, to gain a better understanding of how they are feeling, and to discuss their understanding of events.

It may be easier to avoid big, scary topics, but doing so can risk making them feel that they can’t come to you to talk about things that may make them feel nervous or scared so talk to your children about scary world news in an open and undramatic way – stick to the facts – and also discuss with them how to spot misleading headlines and ‘fake news’.

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