Mental health and recovery during Coronavirus

When 2020 is recorded in the history books, one impactful event will trump all others: the COVID 19, also known as the Coronavirus.

To say that the rapid spread of the Coronavirus has devastated the world and affected all of our lives would be an understatement, and what’s even more unsettling is that we have no idea when this pandemic will end. 

The constant stream of information through the media informs us that the Coronavirus is a worldwide threat to public health.

The increasing levels of mortality are creating an intense level of fear and anxiety only previously seen during world wars or plagues. 

This fear is manifesting itself in the behaviours of many of us. From the ‘panic buying’ that has left the shelves bare for the elderly and infirmed to the flouting rules and regulations that have been ordered by officials, most of our actions are motivated by fear. 

However, it would be one-sided to look only at the adverse effects of this pandemic on our behaviours. Fear, while nearly always seen as a negative, can be used as a catalyst for positivity.

In such times our ‘powerlessness’ in the world is accentuated, and our need to trust is heightened. 

It is not difficult to find examples of this around the world —  from the selfless work of many ‘essential workers’ who risk their lives daily to the emotional instances of community and togetherness that many feared was lost. 

Our daily appreciation for these workers shows as we stand on our balconies and terraces and to applaud these heroes.

How can this impact our lives going forward?

covid19

As with most tragedies, long after the physical effects of this virus have diminished, we will be left with the mental effects.

Many of us are asked to live in unfamiliar and unhealthy ways, and these behaviours will have long-lasting effects. 

Isolation

Over recent weeks, ‘social distancing’ has been introduced to not only our vocabularies but our behaviors. 

For some, this may be an opportunity to spend time with loved ones; however, it can be immensely challenging for those living on their own or in a toxic environment.

For some, it can mean being locked down and isolated from the world with their abuser. 

Isolation has long been recognised as a trait of those suffering from addiction and depression.

To an addict, it is a fertile breeding ground for relapse.

In these times, taking necessary action to combat isolation is essential.

Here are some practical ways this can be done: 

Help others. There are always people worse off than you, so make yourselves aware of the needs of others and be willing to help.

The older lady who lives on the corner may appreciate a note through the door, asking if she needs some groceries or even a quick afternoon chat.

In helping others, you will be helping yourself.

Online meetings. The explosion of online meetings, both locally and worldwide, means that we can go online at any time of the day or night and find a meeting from any of the many fellowships that exist. 

Ring family and friends. Make a couple of calls a day, even if it feels awkward at first. Call that Auntie you have meant to check on since Christmas.

How about that friend you haven’t heard from in months? 

If we see this isolation as a “gift of time,” we can learn to use it constructively.

Online learning – Have you ever fancied learning a new language? Wished you could learn an instrument?

Maybe you just want to read and learn all you can about something.  What better time than now than to pursue those goals?  

Do the small things – Work on those jobs, like painting the fence or organizing your closet, that you have been putting off.

That feeling of uselessness will only be compounded by sitting around doing nothing. 

Get dressed – This may seem silly, but given that we are in lockdown, it would be easy to walk around in our pyjamas all day.

Simple acts of self-care like taking a shower, getting dressed, and brushing your teeth can immeasurably improve mental health. 

ExerciseExercise is a highly effective antidote to anxiety and depression.  Endorphins, such as dopamine and serotonin, are naturally produced in your brain during physical activity and will boost your mood and sense of well being. 

The internet offers endless free exercise videos from yoga or pilates to interval training and weight lifting. Take advantage of them.

Another common bi-product of anxiety is a lack of sleep; however, physical exhaustion encourages sleep, so exercise proves many positive benefits. 

Lack of mental stimulation.

single and lonely, isolation

Mental stimulation is as important as physical stimulation. Many of us meet this need through work or socialising with friends.

In the absence of both, we need to find other ways to stimulate our brain.

Reading – The daily demands of modern life mean we rarely have the time to find a quiet spot and read. Now is an ideal time to catch up on these books on our “want-to-read” list.  

Writing – Something as simple as a written daily inventory can stimulate and increase our awareness of our behaviours and the detrimental effect they may have on us and others. Writing is also an excellent way to reflect on our thoughts and feelings. 

Conversation – Effective, meaningful conversation has been lost amongst all the technologies, like WhatsApp, SMS, and social media, as we attempt to express our feelings in snippets of characters.

Instead, pick up the phone and talk with a  friend rather than sending them a text. Speak to your wife or husband rather than sit in front of the TV in silence all night.  

Social interaction As a species, we survive and thrive on social interaction. We need each other on so many levels, and in the absence of this, we will invariably suffer. 

Bereavement

The inevitable reality of this virus is that death will occur on an unprecedented scale.

We must allow ourselves to go through the five stages of the grieving process: 

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

In order to find serenity in acceptance, this grieving process is inevitable. Later this month, we will explore this topic more. 

But for the majority of people, there’s a massive sense of uncertainty and impending doom. 

After all, people have died, the economy has taken an enormous hit, and the streets are barren. What we are living through today is like nothing we have been through before. 

Looming mental health crisis

A recent paper, published in Lancet Psychiatry, highlighted some serious and very worrying trends in mental health – with over two dozen leading mental health scientists including neuroscientists, psychiatrists, psychologists, and public health experts demanding the UK government prioritises research and monitoring.

As Professor Rory O’Connor, from the University of Glasgow, and one of the paper authors said:


“Increased social isolation, loneliness, health anxiety, stress and an economic downturn are a perfect storm to harm people’s mental health and wellbeing.”

Is it all doom and gloom?

However, even in the midst of all this fear, anxiety, and turmoil, the sense of togetherness in human nature has shown us some beautiful observations.

Specifically, here are four positive things we’ve noticed. 

Communities are coming together: From flash-mobs singing on balconies to the police leading dance classes underneath apartment blocks, it’s apparent that the divide that once kept us separated has, in many ways, dissipated.

This shared appreciation and sense of community spirit invokes a teary reaction in all of us. 

A shift in perspective: When reflecting on our pre-COVID-19 days, we now realize how much we took for granted and how guilty we all were of putting unnecessary importance on things such as cars, clothes, possessions, and other things that didn’t matter that much. 

The recent shutdown of Spain (and the locking down of other countries) has been a real leveller. What was important last week no longer matters this week. This shift clearly illustrates the power of the human spirit.

Fear can be used as a positive force: Whether we are conscious of it or not, many of our decisions stem from some degree of fear.

On some level, this fear separates us both individually and collectively from those around us.

The recent pandemic has induced a sense of responsibility towards the vulnerable, particularly for those in recovery. People want to reach out and help one another.

The realisation that we are genuinely powerless: Ironically, it’s empowering when people realise just how helpless they are.

And individual powerlessness is more relevant today than ever before. In many ways, people have surrendered to this and have realised just how insignificant some of their previous worries were.

While powerlessness holds a negative connotation, we know that with powerlessness comes strength. 

What about recovery?

hope and life

COVID-19 has inevitably changed the world, bringing challenging times to all of us.

For many of us in recovery, the 12 Step philosophy is more valuable than ever. 

However, there are many principles within these steps that could prove equally as helpful to non-addicts and alcoholics.

The first step asks us to accept our powerlessness and acknowledge the detrimental effect of us not accepting that.  

It has never been more apparent that individually we are unable to control this pandemic and that our desire to do so will inevitably lead to frustration, fear, and anxiety.

Steps 2 and 3 suggest that we ask for help.

It is commonly misunderstood that at this point, the 12 Steps are exclusively for those with religious beliefs. This is not necessarily the case; indeed, the authors of the AA steps desired that they not be perceived or constrained by a religious ethos.

All that we are being asked to do is to have some kind of faith. 

Steps 4 to 9 ask us to explore our own fears, anxieties, actions, and resentments in order to give us clarity, which will ultimately help us manage our lives on a solid footing.

Ultimately the 12th Step asks us to go out and help others.

Our communities, neighbours, and countries are beginning to do this. For example,    

  • Neighbours are asking each other if they need physical and emotional support. 
  • Social media is awash with offers of help. 
  • The evening ritual of clapping the key workers daily brings a tear to your eyes.
  • Police are spontaneously breaking into song on the streets as communities look on from their balconies.
  • 600.000 Uk citizens have volunteered to help the NHS…a number that exceeded government expectations.

There are many online publications relating to different 12 Step fellowships. 

Interestingly, the need for rehabilitation centres has increased as establishments like pubs and clubs are being shut down.

Essentially, patients are seeing this as a time to take part in detox programs and focus on recovery and self-care. 

Marty Nemko (PhD) and author of Psychology Today, wrote that boredom, anxiety, and rebelliousness are all contributing factors, particularly for those suffering from addiction (and even more so during this time of crisis).

Nemko says that substance abuse has inevitably increased because people have more time on their hands and more stress in their lives. 

Equally, with more people ordered to stay at home and self-isolate, a bigger demand for mental health services has increased. 

This only reinforces the unfortunate reality that although the Coronavirus is a massive threat to the human population right now – poor mental health is still (and always will be) the biggest killer. 


We’re here to help.

If you’re feeling anxious and overcome by anxiety or noticing any new symptoms surrounding addiction or any other unhealthy life patterns, contact us today for a confidential and free chat with one of our highly-trained professionals.

Email: enquiries@caminorecovery.com or call us in Spain  +34 951 107 195 or UK +44 (0)7492 426615

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