With life shifting rapidly, Liz Connor speaks to a mental
health expert about how to keep day-to-day anxieties in check.
The coronavirus lockdown has seen our lives change like never before,
with supermarkets stripped bare, public gatherings banned and schools,
pubs, and restaurants closed.
While we should all be taking hygiene practices, social distancing and
government advice very seriously, it’s important safeguard your mental
health by keep your worries in perspective.
With the situation still unfolding, it’s hard to not worry about what
the future may hold though. We asked psychologist Dr Meg Arroll
(healthspan.co.uk) to explain how we can stay strong amidst the
How can we deal with the fears and worry right now in these fearful
“First of all, acknowledge your fears and worries – trying to ignore,
repress or displace your fears will only make them bubble up in other
ways such as comfort eating, alcohol over-use and lack of self-care,”
As well as affecting your mental wellbeing, Arroll says that these
behaviours can result in poor sleep, fatigue and quite possibly a
lowered immune system.
“Just as you’d help a child confront the monster under their bed, by
acknowledging fears or concerns, you take away some of their influence
over you,” she says.
“Focus on controlling what you can – whilst you may not be able control
the worldwide spread of this virus, you can follow recommended
guidelines, monitor how much you check the news to moderate your anxiety
and manage your response to the pandemic.”
She adds that you should also try to challenge any unhelpful beliefs
such as “catastrophising, personalising and ‘all-or-nothing’ thought
How can we build a strong mind?
Arroll says to be resilient is to be able to weather life’s sometimes
very harsh storms, but having a strong mind is not just about toughing
“Research consistently shows that when we adopt a mental outlook that
learns from our experiences and views them with curiosity, rather than
self-criticism, we can build mental strength that can be carried over
from one situation to another,” she says.
She calls this ‘psychological immunity’. “The idea is that we can
understand emotional reliance as akin to viral immunity. Just like when
our immune system builds up a defence to an infection, learning to see
past misdemeanours as necessary to build-up psychological immunity, we
can let go of negative feelings towards ourselves.
“By viewing negative events as ’emotional vaccines’ which help us to
develop coping strategies, it is possible to take something positive
from difficult experiences and prepare ourselves for more significant
In other words, by experiencing small hurts, we are then better prepared
and more resilient to life’s hard knocks. “A strong mind is just the
same as a strong immune system in that it means being able to cope well
with life’s demands,” says Arroll.
Can we train our minds to be strong?
“It’s important to recognise and challenge unhelpful thinking patterns
and build a truly compassionate approach to ourselves. Often we are much
more critical of ourselves than we’d ever be with others so if you start
to have these types of thought patterns, challenge each judgement by
asking yourself if this was a friend how you’d view the situation,” says
This new approach takes time and patience – “Just as you wouldn’t go to
the gym once and expect to maintain physical fitness, we must all
‘train’ our minds to be strong with practise,” she adds.
Here are a few of Arroll’s top tips for building a strong mind.
Practice gratitude: do this by noting down three things you’re grateful
for every day.
Explore and sit with the full range of human emotion: even those which
Develop your own emotional first aid kit: which should include items
that trigger all your senses, such as your favourite music, scents and
comfy clothes for touch.
Anchor new mental habits to pre-existing ones: Try doing your gratitude
practise every morning when you’re brushing your teeth so that over
time, your mind will be wired to see the good in every morning.