How to look after your mental health during the coronavirus outbreak

Last reviewed on 5 October 2020

Over the last few months, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has affected many countries, including the UK. The UK Government has put various safety measures in place, including lockdown restrictions, NHS Test and Trace and the NHS COVID-19 app.

As human beings, we are hardwired to protect ourselves from potential threats so it’s understandable that you might have concerns about coronavirus and that it could be affecting your mental health. After months of lockdown, you might be struggling with boredom or loneliness or you might be stressed about your job and finances. For those of you with an existing mental health condition, such as anxiety, depression or OCD, this might be a particularly difficult time.

Research by the Office for National Statistics showed that levels of anxiety have gone up during lockdown while King's College London/Ipsos MORI found that almost two-thirds (63%) of people in the UK say their sleep has been worse than usual during the coronavirus outbreak. As lockdown restrictions change, you might still be worried – according to a recent survey by Anxiety UK, key concerns include using public transport, going shopping and returning to work or education.

Good Thinking has lots of apps and other resources to support you if you feel anxious, sleep deprived, stressed or sad, including a self-assessment tool that has been updated in line with Public Health England’s guidance on coronavirus. We have also put together the following tips to help you look after your mental health over the coming weeks.

Follow expert advice

Some of the world’s leading medical and scientific professionals are helping the UK Government and Public Health England to slow the spread of coronavirus and provide up-to-date information and advice. The NHS and other emergency services have well-established plans to deal with outbreaks of infectious disease and patients are receiving specialist care.

One of the reasons you might feel anxious about coronavirus is because it is out of your control. If you follow the official advice, you can gain some control by helping to protect yourself and others.

As the Mental Health Foundation says, “Infectious disease outbreaks, like the current coronavirus, can be scary and affect our mental health. While it is important to stay informed, there are many things we can do to manage our wellbeing.” If you are experiencing anxiety, stress or any other mental health conditions as a result of coronavirus, there is lots of help available.

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You can also get the latest updates on Twitter from @DHSCgovuk, @MayorofLondon, @mentalhealth, @NHSEngland, @PHE_uk and @WHO.

Follow Expert Advice


Recognise fake news

Although online news and social media can be very useful for staying informed and in touch, not everything you read will be factually correct. Rumours, speculation and hoaxes about this particular virus may fuel anxiety and create disproportionate fear – for example, online images of long queues and empty shelves at supermarkets appear to have exacerbated panic buying.

Google, Facebook, TikTok and other leading technology companies are taking action to reduce misinformation on their services – such as blocking ads that capitalise on coronavirus, adding ‘fact check’ labels and including links to WHO guidance – but you still need to think critically when you’re looking for information on the internet.

At this time, it might be helpful to limit your media intake to trusted sources and only check the news once or twice a day. When you see something about coronavirus on social media, don’t take it at face value – ask yourself, ‘is this person an expert?’ and then try to fact check the information. You might even decide to only view certain pages or posts or switch off notifications. If you have children who watch the news and use social media, give them the same advice and let them know they can discuss any concerns with you.

Read Good Thinking's article about fake news.

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Stay connected

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Try to keep everyone in your family informed about coronavirus. Children’s sense of security comes largely from their parents so explain calmly to them what is happening and let them know that you’re there for them. Have conversations with relatives who are at high risk so that you can be sure they have the latest information.

It’s important to stay connected – even if you can’t do it face-to-face. Fortunately, there are lots of ways to maintain contact, including phone, email, text, WhatsApp, FaceTime and Skype. You might like to set up an email or WhatsApp group for the whole family or arrange a daily time for a ‘check in’ chat. If you haven’t used these tools before, you should be able to find guidance online. If you don’t have a smartphone or computer, try to stay in touch with regular phone calls from your landline.

If you normally have regular appointments with a counsellor or therapist for an existing mental health condition, ask about having your sessions on the phone, by video or online. There are also lots of online communities and helplines available if you’d like to discuss any feelings of anxiety or stress with trained advisors or with other people in a similar position.

Listen to the Good Thinking podcast about online communities.

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Practice good self-care

It’s perfectly normal to feel vulnerable and scared at the moment but try to keep things in perspective and don’t focus on the worst-case scenario.

Keep your mind stimulated – read a book, listen to music or take an online course – but also take time to relax. Doing yoga, watching a film on Netflix or playing a board game with the kids are all good ways to switch off. You might even find it useful to download a meditation or mindfulness app – you’ll find various options here on Good Thinking.

Try to follow your normal routine as much as possible – get up at the same time, eat at the same time, talk to the same people (virtually, if you don’t live with them). And if you’re worried about the financial impact of coronavirus (e.g. if you have to take time off work or if you’re self-employed), find out what sick pay and other benefits you’re entitled to.

Don’t forget to look after your physical health too. Maintain a balanced diet, stay hydrated and try to get enough sleep. Shop for essentials as infrequently as possible, order food deliveries online or ask a friend or neighbour to shop for you and drop it off at your door.

If you have an underlying health condition, such as diabetes or heart disease, it’s especially important that you focus on your self-care routine and keep taking your medication. You might be able to book a remote consultation with your GP and order repeat prescriptions by phone or online and get it delivered by your pharmacy.

Physical activity has a very positive impact on your mental wellbeing. Try to exercise regularly outdoors and also find something you can do at home – the NHS website has some 10-minute workouts and there are lots of free exercise routines on YouTube and other websites.

Read Good Thinking's article about healthy eating and listen to our podcasts about mindfulness and retaining hope. You can also get free access to 20 guided meditations from our partners at Wellmind Health (Meditainment).

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Read Good Thinking's articles about how to deal with the uncertainty of lockdown and beyond and how to get back into a routine after lockdown. You might also find the UK Government guidance on the mental health and wellbeing aspects of coronavirus useful.

Give your mental health a check-up with the Good Thinking self-assessment tool