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Stress is what happens when we perceive that a situation requires more of us than we are able to give. Whatever your situation at the moment, it is likely to be making greater demands of you than you are accustomed to.

It can add to our stress to know that we are without some of the coping mechanisms that keep us calm and buoyant – whether that is time alone or time with loved ones, regular sessions at the gym or at the pub, a holiday to look forward to, or a sense of how to plan for the future. But it can help to know there are other ways we can support our resilience and buffer ourselves against low moods and anxiety. Here are some suggestions:

Know that it is normal

Feeling unusually low, unable to concentrate, or fretful, are all normal responses to a global pandemic. They are not pleasant feelings, but trying to make them go away may increase the demands on your emotional energy and leave you depleted. See instead if you can accept that you may not feel your best while this situation persists. 

Engage with the outdoors

Research has shown that spending time in green spaces positively affects our mental health. You don’t need to exercise or meditate or do anything else in order to reap the benefits – just spend time in nature. If you are self-isolating or do not have easy access to a garden, then opening the windows, focusing on the sounds and the smells of spring, and noting the seasonal changes as they unfold, can offer similar benefits. Throughout April, the University’s Spotlight on Biodiversity month will offer further ideas on how to engage with the natural world, as well as useful resources, opportunities, and chances to connect with others.

Plan from moment to moment

In anxious moments, ‘what will I do next?’ can be a more useful question to ask of ourselves than ‘what will I do?’ It keeps us from catastrophising, and helps us recognise the feelings that could tip us into destructive or compulsive behaviours, so that we can choose something more constructive instead.

Use your brain in different ways

Turning our minds to a variety of different activities can help buffer us against adverse experiences. See if you can find opportunities in your day to rest, to be playful, to focus deeply on something, to connect with others (virtually or within your household), and to ‘check in’ with your thoughts and feelings.

Remember: we are all different

Some people will do best with a strict routine, others will need the freedom of flexibility. You know yourself and your circumstances, what helps you feel good and what doesn’t – put this understanding at the centre of your coping strategies.

Finally, be compassionate with yourself

If you are being hard on yourself, take a moment to acknowledge your distress and name the feelings you are experiencing. Offer yourself some words of comfort and consider what it is reasonable to expect of someone in your circumstances, as you might if you were considering someone else.  

  • If you are experiencing a mental health emergency, please contact the Samaritans, or dial 111 option 2.
  • The NHS has compiled a list of tips supporting mental wellbeing while staying home.
  • Mental Health UK and Anxiety UK both offer a range of support and advice particular to the Covid-19 crisis.
  • A variety of free self-compassion and mindfulness resources can be found here.

Written by Kate Ahl, College Staff Counsellor at the Staff Counselling Centre