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The Coronavirus pandemic has had an impact on all aspects of our lives, including our mental health and wellbeing.

To celebrate Mental Health Awareness Week, we asked our staff to share their story of what lock down has meant for their mental wellbeing. Here Jess who works as the Evaluation Lead for Building Better Opportunities, shares her experience.

How has the Coronavirus impacted on your mental health?

At work I try to give off the demeanour of being calm and highly efficient, but privately I’m an anxious drama queen. So, the emotional ups and downs of everyday life don’t seem to have changed that much for me, but the feelings seem more accessible than before. I wonder if that’s because, since we haven’t known what to expect from one day to the next, we’re sort of being pushed into being ‘in the moment’ and sitting with our feelings more intensely. Like a kind of enforced, collective mindfulness experiment. Maybe paying more attention to how we feel just got easier (whether we like it or not!), because the usual stuff that keeps us entertained and distracted from ourselves has suddenly become much more restricted.

There have been days when I’ve struggled to focus on my work. I’m used to working in solitude and writing a lot, now I have to share my office (a wobbly table in the front room) with my partner, who I’ve discovered spends a lot of his working day talking loudly on the phone.

There have also been nights when I’ve struggled to sleep. We’re expecting a baby in September, so the number one thought on my mind for about the first three weeks of lockdown was: what a scary time to be bringing a tiny human life into the world! Also, my Dad had a heart attack recently (thankfully he survived), and not being able to go and see him in hospital was really tough. I feel for anyone who is apart from a loved one who is ill and isolated at this time.

There’s been a lot going on, and to be really honest I’m not sure whether I’m taking it all in my stride and coping like an absolute trouper, or, I’m subconsciously stockpiling all of the Covid-related existential angst to process at a later date when ‘all this has blown over’, whenever that might be.

How are you managing your mental health?

I’ve been trying various different activities and techniques to maintain my mental wellbeing, depending on what else I have got to do that day, how I feel, and what the weather is like. I tend to lose my thread with the same old routines, so my general approach is to try and strike a balance between being flexible/spontaneous, and maintaining some semblance of structure each day, if possible.

The two bits of advice I give to myself are:

  1. Don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t work out how you planned or you’re having a bad day. Sometimes it’s best just to draw a line under it and try again another time
  2. Stay in touch with yourself and other people: write a journal, say what’s on your mind, ask someone how they are, do a creative thing, practice listening, ask for help, offer help, send letters or gifts…however you choose to express yourself will impact on those around you, so keep ‘checking in’, and mind how you go.

Do you have any advice for anyone who maybe struggling at this time?

If you’re struggling, talk to someone. Don’t wait for someone to notice and ask you how you are – you could be waiting a long while – not because people don’t care, but because it’s not always easy to tell when someone is struggling. Don’t bottle things up. You might not know how to say exactly how you feel or what you need – that’s ok. Sometimes, just saying, ‘today has been a really crap day’, will help you to start feeling better again. That could be to a manager, a friend, a helpline adviser, a neighbour, a family member or a colleague…whoever you chose to talk to, don’t be afraid, the hardest part is that first step. A problem shared and all that