COVID-19: A checklist on how to look after yourself physically and mentally in the coming weeks

In her new weekly health and wellness column in WoW! Dr Michelle O'Driscoll shares some tips as we tackle this global health pandemic
COVID-19: A checklist on how to look after yourself physically and mentally in the coming weeks
KEEP IN TOUCH: Use technology to connect with loved ones that you may not currently be able tomeet.

IT feels like everybody is already bombarded with information from the television, radio and social media about COVID-19 and the unprecedented times we find ourselves in.

However, not addressing this global health pandemic in a health and wellness column didn’t feel right. I just had to acknowledge the enormity of it, the challenges that it’s posing, and the importance of how we face it.

While there is plenty of information circulating around symptoms, containment measures and vulnerable populations, I wanted to offer a checklist of what we can do to look after ourselves and one another physically and mentally over the coming weeks and months.

We are all worried about work arrangements, childcare, finances, and the health of ourselves or our loved ones. Couples are cancelling weddings, conferences and concerts are being postponed. Uncertainty and upheaval are rife. While appropriate action is key to beating this virus and flattening the curve, we must remember that this a marathon, not a sprint. It’s vital that we pace ourselves in order to make the distance.

I spent the first few days after the closure of schools in a bit of a daze, if I’m honest. It was impossible to get my head around what was happening, it was all so surreal, and still is. I felt fearful, worried, and as if the rug had been pulled from under me — from all of us. These feelings haven’t disappeared, they do ebb and flow, but changing my approach has helped me to handle them better.

First, reassure yourself that what you’re feeling is an absolutely normal human reaction to the situation that we find ourselves in. But from that point forwards, you can choose to expend your energy on to controlling the controllable — your own day-to-day actions. Even they can make a difference. Don’t look too far past them, because it’s beyond them that overwhelm begins.

Just Do It!

I cannot reiterate enough, do as the authorities advise, it’s that simple. Whether that’s reporting symptoms to your GP, social distancing or hand hygiene, just do it! Instructions are clear, concise and straightforward. Empower yourself by following them. If you think that you yourself are healthy and safe, do it anyway for your vulnerable family members, your elderly neighbours, the healthcare professionals on the frontline. Your adherence is keeping your loved ones safe. It’s everybody’s social responsibility to comply with the guidance. You can then take comfort from the fact that you’re playing your part.

Choose Your Sources

Another crucial piece of advice — choose your information sources wisely. Panic has been spread by false news reports and hearsay. Stop excessive scrolling — now! It’s so easy to get sucked into a black hole of Doomsday news. No doubt it is very important to be informed and kept up to date, but be selective about what you read or listen to, and how often you do so. I spent days with my phone glued to my hand, but just had to stop. Pick one or two daily news bulletins to tune into, and refer to the HSE and WHO websites for updates, the most reliable sources of information. After that, limit what you consume to preserve your peace of mind.

Create a Routine

This whole situation is made even more unnerving by the fact that our existing routine is no more. It helps so much to create a new one. Maintain set times for going to bed and getting up. Create a work station if working from home. Make sure to still shower and dress each day (even though there may be nowhere to go!).

Take breaks and get fresh air. We thrive on routine, so foster that sense of security through these little constants interspersed throughout your day.

Connect, Connect, Connect

One of my favourite childhood films was Riche Rich. I loved the idea of the big screen that he had to contact his dad, something only the child of a millionaire could dream of owning. Now, most of us are lucky enough to have them in our pockets.

Use technology to connect with loved ones that you may not currently be able to meet. Call grandparents, FaceTime friends. Connection is key to getting through this with our mental health intact, because the ill-effects of isolation and loneliness should not be underestimated. This indefinite separation period is exceedingly tough but despite having to stay apart, we can still very much stick together by thinking outside the box and utilising the various means of communication we have access to.

Cultivate Kindness

Remember, too, that however challenging you’re finding this, there are others finding it even tougher that could do with a helping hand.

Get involved, and give your day an added sense of purpose. It could be dropping shopping to an elderly neighbour, or buying a voucher for a small business that’s facing financial uncertainty, do your best to reach out.

The act of making a difference can help with your own feelings of helplessness too. Kindness is what is needed right now, it’s the glue that will keep society together for whenever normality is restored.

The Gift of Time

While the enormity of the situation is undeniable, the extra time that we find ourselves with can be turned into a silver lining in this very large storm cloud. You can choose now how to spend it. Cleaning out a wardrobe? Baking with the kids? Catching up on some reading? Starting an online course? Or maybe a chance just to pause? There are so many ways to use this time constructively, productively and creatively. See it as a little gift to be cherished, and put it to good use.

Slow and Steady

The final message that I have is really just to take it one day at a time. Whether it’s being confined with a toddler, turning up for work in ICU, or caring for an immunocompromised parent, these are just some of the various hurdles that are being overcome on a daily basis by each one of us.

Take it one day at a time, and the mountain seems just a little smaller. Be proud of the resilience and strength of our little nation. Be inspired by those who are selflessly working around the clock and around the country to minimise the effects of this.

Be reassured that we’re taking the right steps, and remember that by pulling together we will overcome the biggest health challenge of our generation. There’s no doubt though, COVID-19 will be one for Reeling in the Years!

By pulling together we will overcome the biggest health challenge of our generation.

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