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Mental health experts offer 10 practical tips to those feeling stressed, anxious, depressed, and lonely as lockdown continues

  • Nearly two thirds (62%) of Britons are finding it more challenging to stay positive
  • Leading Priory psychiatrists and therapists offer 10 practical ways to look after your mental health
  • Pandemic is having a major psychological impact on the population

Protecting people’s mental health has become vital amid reports of elevated levels of anxiety, depression and stress, Priory experts say.

They have put together 10 practical tips which they say can be useful for those who need it, while those in serious need should access digital help while physical distancing continues.

A poll by Ipsos MORI found that over half (55%) of Britons are finding its harder to stay positive day-to-day, and nearly two thirds (62%) are finding it more challenging to stay positive about the future. At the same time, Prof Rory O’Connor from the University of Glasgow’s Institute of Health and Wellbeing is heading what is believed to be the largest national representative survey of the adult population’s response to the crisis.

Dr Natasha Bijlani, consultant psychiatrist at the Priory’s Hospital in Roehampton said: “Every single one of us is going to be emotionally affected by the uncertainty of the pandemic, as

it poses a very real threat to our lives regardless of our wealth or status in society. Anxiety is likely to be the most common emotion experienced.

Keep your routine going

She emphasises the importance of maintaining structure and routine: “Maintaining a routine can undoubtedly help give you a sense of purpose and productivity and offer you some distraction from stress and anxiety.”

Dr Paul McLaren, consultant psychiatrist and medical director at Priory’s Hayes Grove Hospital, adds: “People need rhythm and pattern in their lives. To ease stress, take a step back and think about the usual pattern of your life. How does it work when you’re at your most content? Break it down into its main elements and see if you can quantify them. For example, social time, family time, partner time, food, exercise and work. Then see how you can replicate that in continued lockdown. You will need to be proactive and organise your time. Socialising 

through video calls will never be as powerful as face-to-face, but it could also produce some soothing.”

Dealing with stress

Alison Hardy, cognitive behavioural therapist at the Priory’s Hospital in Chelmsford says there are practical ways to help resolve stress.

“When we become anxious, the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response is activated. It is a series of changes in the body including the release of adrenaline and an increase in heart rate which are designed to help you be stronger (fight) or to help you move faster (flight), all very useful if we are under attack, not very useful if you are going out to the supermarket.”

She suggests:

“Breathing deeply – this can help the body settle down to its more natural equilibrium. I think it is useful to imagine

  • you are blowing up a balloon of your favourite colour. Take a deep breath in and notice how your stomach rises as you inhale which allows your lungs to take in maximum air, then let a long, slow breath out as if you are filling your balloon with air, and do this three times.

  • Question your thoughts – our mind can play ticks on us when we are anxious, and our thinking can become distorted. For example, an abrupt work email may lead you to think that you have made a mistake, or a friend failing to return a text may lead you to think that they are not thinking of you. Before you accept the thought, which will undoubtedly fuel your anxiety, ask yourself is that anxious thought a ‘fact or an opinion?’ If it is an opinion, you may be getting anxious for nothing.

  • Acceptance – anxiety, although uncomfortable, is a normal emotion and no matter how much you want to get rid of it, we all feel anxious. Accepting anxiety, and the way things are at the moment, can be just like accepting that sometimes we feel angry, or sometimes we feel sad and sometimes we feel happy, and just like those other emotions, anxiety will pass. However, if your anxiety is long-term and really affecting your day-to-day life you should seek professional support.”

Challenging your thought processes

Dr Niall Campbell, consultant psychiatrist at the Priory’s Roehampton Hospital in London, says: “Mindfulness, relaxation techniques and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy are all genuinely useful. Many apps such as Headspace or Calm offer different types of meditation for different concerns, or simply basic meditation. These typically offer meditation as short as 3 minutes and up to 20-minute sessions. You can also access video therapy with a trained professional via Skype or online.

“Progressive Muscle Relaxation can also be done at any time during the day. PMR involves tensing and releasing muscles in certain intervals. There are guided versions available online for free on YouTube.

“Try to stop the train of thought that will always lead you to imagine the worst case scenario. Challenge your negative thoughts. Separate what is in your control and what isn’t. Stay in the present.

“Give yourself a short period each day to think through your worries but then stop and don’t allow intrusive thoughts to impact on your entire day. Think of negative thoughts as a train that you are getting off. Then give yourself a boost by talking to others or listening to music.

“It’s a very worrying time for many but this period will pass.

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Use music
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Coping with panic
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Learn to use positive coping statements
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Keep a journal
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Notes to editors

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About Priory Group

The Priory Group is the leading provider of behavioural care in the UK, caring for around 30,000 people a year for conditions including depression, anxiety, drugs and alcohol addiction, eating disorders and self-harming. The Group is organised into four divisions – healthcare, education and children’s services, adult care and the Middle East. The Priory Group is owned by NASDAQ-listed Acadia Healthcare, which is recognised as a global leader in behavioural health.

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