How to protect your mental health during the coronavirus pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic is creating stress in the global population. Empty store shelves, fear about the disease and quarantine or self-isolation can negatively impact depression and anxiety. The mental health implications of the pandemic will impact everyone differently, and clinical psychologists at Flow Neuroscience have offered a guide to support and manage one’s mental health and those of others during these times.

“Global concern about coronavirus means it’s very important to keep the normal routine as much as possible when it comes to sleep, nutrition and exercise, particularly in people with existing mental health problems,” says Daniel Mansson, clinical psychologist and co-founder of Flow Neuroscience. “In the current situation, finding ways to maintain your normal routine is essential to reducing stress and potential depressive thoughts that may appear.”

First things first – filter news and social media

The constant news about the pandemic can feel relentless and may exacerbate existing mental health problems. Be careful about the balance of watching important news and the news that could cause you to feel depressed. Seek trusted information, such as the NHS website, at specific times to take practical steps to protect yourself and loved ones. Have breaks from social media and mute triggering keywords and accounts.

Have breaks from social media and mute triggering keywords and accounts

Talk openly

Some people might feel that talking about their depression and anxiety requires no additional attention during these unprecedented times. People should be encouraged to talk about their feelings. Various support helplines are available, including Samaritans, as well as mental health crisis services, details of which can be found via the mental health charity Mind.

Eat an ‘anti-depression diet’

Anxiety is likely to increase during the current crisis, but a well-nourished body is better at handling stress. Traditional Mediterranean food, sometimes referred to as the ‘anti-depression diet’, for its anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, includes whole grains, vegetables (particularly green leaves), fruit, berries, nuts (including almonds), seeds and olive oil. The Flow app, free to download on iOS and Android, can help people to improve their nutrition and reduce the risk of depression at home.

Get therapeutic sleep

90% of depressed people struggle with sleep, which is likely to increase with fears over coronavirus. Good quality sleep is a form of overnight therapy, and increases the chance of handling strong emotions. Try to wake up and go to bed at the same time every day. Achieving eight hours of sleep, taking a hot bath, setting the bedroom temperature to 18 degrees and having no screen time 2 hours before bedtime will also help.

Try and eat an ‘anti-depression diet’

Exercise as depression treatment

With months of the coronavirus pandemic ahead, it is important to keep exercising. Clinical studies show that regular exercise produces chemicals, such as dopamine and serotonin, which are as effective as antidepressant medication or psychotherapy for treating milder depression. Most people will not have access to a gym during the crisis, so it is important to create a daily exercise routine at home. Experts recommend between 30-40 minutes of exercise, 3-4 times a week to work up a sweat. People with depression often struggle with exercise, so start small with a 10 minute walk, then add a few minutes daily.

Home treatment for depression with brain stimulation

If you are suffering from clinical depression, it is important to contact your doctor or psychologist should your symptoms worsen. As the coronavirus epidemic approaches though, many NHS services will be strained to cope with the demand to save lives. A modern drug-free treatment for depression, which does not require NHS services, is available in the UK since June of 2019.

Created by Flow Neuroscience, the brain stimulation headset is the only one in the EU to be medically approved as a home treatment for depression. The headset uses tDCS, a type of brain stimulation which is now listed as a treatment for depression on the NHS website. Clinical studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine and the British Journal of Psychiatry showed that the type of tDCS brain stimulation used in the Flow headset had a similar impact to antidepressants.