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Coping with Covid : Looking after your Mental Health

By JCooper 26 Mar 2020

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Coping with Covid

We have put together some simple advice that you may find useful during this difficult period. The following advice is based on recommendations by Russ Harris, Psychotherapist and author of the Happiness Trap. Russ Harris is a leading figure in Acceptance & Commitment Therapy. ACT is a form of CBT which aims to change our relationship with our thoughts and feelings, it can help us consider the measures we can put in place to help us cope with periods of crisis and uncertainty. Please watch the video below which introduces some helpful techniques for coping with the current crisis, we have tried to offer some advice or links to further materials which you might find useful in relation to these measures.  

The video describes a series of steps that we can put in place to help us cope with the anxieties and difficult feelings that many of us will undoubtably encounter during the coronavirus pandemic. The different processes or stages that it describes are:

F = Focus on what’s in your control  
A = Acknowledge your thoughts and feelings  
C = Come back into your body  
E = Engage in what you’re doing 

C = Committed action  
O = Opening up 
V = Values 
I = Identify resources   
D = Disinfect & distance 

F = Focus on what’s in your control

In difficult periods it is easy to focus on the aspects of a crisis that are outwith our control. We can't change the scale of the pandemic, we can't change the measures which the government put in place and often we can't control how we feel about the situation. That doesn't mean that things are completely out with our control though. We can control how we react, we can control our behaviour and we can control how we treat ourselves and how we treat others. It is important to focus on the aspects of life that we can control, we can do this, in part, through the following steps.

A = Acknowledge your thoughts and feelings

Try to acknowledge your thoughts and feelings without them overwhelming you, try to step back and observe and acknowledge your feelings. If this process is new to you, you may find it useful to practice some meditation and mindfulness techniques. 

The following apps and services will help you develop a mindful practice.

Smiling Mind - Free app and web service featuring a wide range of mindfulness and meditation exercises.

Act Companion - ACT app from Russ Harris - free version and currently offers an extended free subscription with the promo code - together

Headspace  - Subscription based mindfulness app which offers a free trial

C = Come back into your body

Try to bring focus back to the immediate here and now by connecting with your physical body. You can do this using simple techniques such as:

  • Pushing your feet hard into the floor. 
  • Correcting your posture 
  • Slowly pressing your fingertips together 
  • Slowly stretching your arms or neck
  • Focusing on your breathing 

The mindfulness apps listed above will provide exercises that will help you connect with your body, in addition to this you may find that engaging in regular physical activity can help. Yoga combines aspects of meditation and physical exercise,  Yoga with Adriene provides a number of free 30 day programmes and individual videos you can follow on you tube such as this video which focuses on yoga for anxiety.

E = Engage in what you’re doing

It's easy to lose structure and focus during period of crisis or uncertainty, it's important to try to maintain structure and routine. Set a routine for your studies / workload and to give yourself fully to the individual task in hand, you may find it useful to adhere to your normal university timetable so that you don’t lose routine. The following services and techniques may be useful for setting your schedule and focusing your attention.

Trello - Free project management / super to-do-list software to help you manage your projects and your time. Available as an app and a web based service.

 Pomodoro technique - This is a popular time management technique to keep you focused, the basic steps are to create a to-do list and then:

• Choose a task to be accomplished.

• Set a timer to 25 minutes

• Work on the task until the timer rings, then put a check on your sheet of paper

• Take a short break (5 minutes is OK)

• Every 4 cycles take a longer break

C = Committed action

When things are rapidly changing around us it is sometimes difficult to feel that we are being true to ourselves. Act in a way that is driven by your core values, be kind to yourself and to others -Ask yourself, ‘ what other activities can I put in place to help myself, my family and others around me?’ - Perhaps you can get in contact with some of your family and friends to offer them support in some way, perhaps you have class mates that are struggling with an aspect of their course that you can help with? Think about what you can do to help yourself and each other.

O = Opening up

 It's normal to feel anxious, it's important to acknowledge this and to make room for upset or difficult emotions. Some of the steps outlined above can help manage this, but if things are feeling overwhelming, remember there are people around to speak to. Your tutors may be teaching remotely but they are still there to support you, get in touch with to discuss how you are feeling. The following services may be useful:

RGU Counselling and Wellbeing service -  counselling@rgu.ac.uk 01224 262120

Samaritans -  116 123 

Breathing Space - 0800 838587

V = Values

It is useful to consider the core values that guide us and that we stand for during crisis. How do we treat each other and ourselves? In difficult period it can be easy to forget our values and make harsh reactions / responses, take time to pause and consider how you respond to the situation.

 I = Identify resources  

What resources do we need for help, assistance, support and advice during this period? You should make sure you take time to identify support for your physical and mental well being. There are a number of sources of information and help below - you should add to this with your own key contacts.

a man looking at the camera

D = Disinfect & distance

As we hopefully all know by now, it's important to continue to disinfect surfaces and to distance ourselves from other. Its important to stress though that physical distancing doesn’t mean emotional distancing, your lecturers, tutors and classmates are all still here, make sure you stay in touch via email, video chat, Facebook etc.

Please see the original FACE COVID article here

The information in this article is based on recommendations by Russ Harris, Psychotherapist and author of the Happiness Trap and was adapted by Jack Keenan, Senior Lecturer at RGU to include information for students and useful links to local and national services. 

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