Your most common worries about social distancing and self-isolation, answered by therapists

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Coronavirus is affecting our lives in completely unprecedented ways, which can be hard on our mental health.

Spill is a London-based startup that provides emotional support to employees. Over our Slack app, users can message a therapist a question, access mental health tools, or book video therapy sessions. As well as providing extra support to employees during these uncertain times, we're also donating all our unused therapy sessions to people who've lost their jobs as a result of coronavirus.

We've seen demand for Spill's services increase substantially during the last few weeks, as people battle with the uncertainty of the situation and adjust to their newly housebound lives. 

Here are some of the questions our therapists are asked most often, and the thoughts they shared in return.

🗣The sense of uncertainty about what will happen in the coming weeks and months is making me really anxious. What can I do?

A level of anxiousness is a natural response to the uncertainty that all of us are feeling right now. But it's worth focusing on what might be pushing your anxiety above that level. 

  • Try to limit your intake of news and notifications if you can, as these encourage us to ruminate. 

  • Move your thoughts away from things you can't control, like upcoming trips or work plans, and towards the things you still have control over, like your daily schedule.

  • Practice simple meditation exercises and find hobbies that get you in 'flow' to make you focus on the present moment instead of the future. 

Lastly, anxiety is exacerbated when we feel like we're experiencing it alone, so you might find some solace knowing many, many people are having similar feelings right now.

🗣I'm working from home, but I feel distant from my colleagues and worry that I'm being left out. How can I reconnect?

When transferring from office work to remote work, the tendency is to have a couple of short meetings a day, as this feels more efficient. But when we're around people in an office, the majority of our interactions are 'small and often': we ask a question when it pops into our heads, or comment out loud when we get an exciting email. 

This 'small and often' freeform communication not only gives us a deep sense of comfort and connectedness, but can also be how our best ideas are formed. So try to replicate this style of communication at home: 

  • Put freeform time at the beginning or end of meetings. 

  • For questions, go for a short (2-3min) call instead of an email or Slack message.

  • Leave a video call on mute or in the background so that conversation can happen more randomly.

🗣 I'm not working at the moment because of coronavirus. How do I stop feeling overwhelmed about all this newfound free time?

Humans like habit. And that's because habit is safe. Being forced to change your habits is like being dropped naked in the middle of a dark forest: suddenly, you're extremely alert and see a monster behind every tree. That's just natural. You should meet unfamiliar situations with peak alertness! But by cutting us off from our habits, coronavirus is taking an axe to a very important pillar of our wellbeing. 

As you'll have heard by now, one of the key pieces of advice for staying sane is to bring some structure to your day. And that means forming a new habit. A new normal. 

This, for most of us, will just happen. We can't help forming habits. But it will take a few days, maybe a few weeks. But even the strangest of situations can stop feeling unnerving once you're used to it. Eventually, you’ll adjust to your new normal.

🗣How should I cope if I'm trapped at home with people who give me anxiety?

This is a challenging situation. Having to isolate with anyone already puts a strain on your mental wellbeing – and that’s especially true with people who give you anxiety. 

The fact you've identified this already shows you have a high level of self-awareness. So aim to develop this further. 

Firstly, try to spot when you feel yourself beginning to get anxious, reflect on why you're feeling that way, what triggered the emotion, and then think about how you want to react. You can't control what others say or do, but you can control how you react to them. No one can take this agency away from you. 

Secondly, remember that a key part of pain management is acceptance. We will feel anxious. We will feel trapped and sad and overwhelmed. We will lose our temper with someone we’re locked in with. And this too will pass.

We’ve invited charities and organisations working hard to support people through coronavirus to share their work and answer your questions.

Look out for more guest blog posts and tell us what else you’d like to hear about 💚