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Looking After Your Physical and Mental Wellbeing During Covid-19 (Coronavirus)

Our world has changed very quickly in the last few weeks. It’s an uncertain and worrying time for many at the moment. However, the good news is that there are things you can do to help look after yourself.

Amidst the recent outbreak of Covid-19 (Coronavirus) and the current government guidance, Occupational Therapist, Julie Jennings Dip COT HCPC has given us some general advice relating to maintaining your overall health and wellbeing throughout any period of self-isolation or social distancing.

We’ll walk you through all the things you can do to look after yourself and your loved ones:

Hand Hygiene

It might seem overly simple, but washing your hands is one of the easiest ways to protect yourself. As such, it is important you understand the recommended technique when doing it. The NHS guidance suggests you should wash your hands each time after the following:

  • after using the toilet or changing a nappy
  • before and after handling raw foods such as meat and vegetables
  • before eating or handling food
  • after blowing your nose, sneezing or coughing
  • before and after treating a cut or wound
  • after touching animals, including pets, their food and after cleaning their cages/bedding

Washing your hands gets rid of harmful bacteria, dirt and viruses which can be transferred between people and onto surfaces. Do your best to follow the guidance, and you can reduce the risk of cross-contamination of bacterial or viral infection for yourself, your family and your friends.

General principles suggest washing your hands with soap and hot water for at least 20 seconds. A popular way of keeping tabs on how long you’ve been there is by singing happy birthday twice. Why not change up the name to keep it interesting?

An extra, recommended precaution is to use hand sanitizer if you sneeze, cough or handle food. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands and avoid close contact with others who have any active “flu like” symptoms.

Ideally, disposable tissues should be used to cough or sneeze into, and then dispose of them immediately. Avoid using a handkerchief as this will keep the bacteria around. Regularly used surfaces should be cleaned and disinfected after each use.

You may think that you’ve got a lifetime’s practice washing your hands, but many people don’t do it properly. Follow the advice in the image below on how to wash your hands in a way that will best protect you:

Hand Washing Technique

Exercises to maintain your physical health

To maintain your overall physical health we recommend you try to engage in some form of exercise as often as you can. The NHS guidance suggests adults between the ages of 19-64 should aim to exercise daily for at least 30 minutes (moderate intensity); plus 75 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise per week. For those over 65, they recommend you be physically active every day, wherever possible. The NHS suggest doing exercises that improves strength, balance and flexibility.

Exercise supports the maintenance of healthy muscle and movement for our joints. Often people who don’t move a lot in their average day will find they experience stiffness, tightness or loss of range of movement in their joints.

Given the current government recommendations relating to social distancing and social isolation; we have considered the types of activities that will contribute towards your exercise needs, assisting you to maintain your physical health.

Exercises

  • gardening
  • domestic tasks
  • Walks i.e. around your home or garden space
  • chair based/home exercise programmes

Don’t forget to warm up and cool down when carrying out all exercises to reduce the risk of muscle fatigue/damage.

Here are two links for exercise programmes recommended by the NHS that will help to support the maintenance of strength. These exercises can be done at home and you can use a chair or other household items to support the routine.

Sitting Exercises

Strength Exercises 

Nutrition and Hydration

As well as maintaining your physical health, it is important to consider good nutrition and hydration. Eating diets that consist of predominantly carbohydrates (especially if, during self-isolation, you are not as active as you usually are) could lead to weight gain.

A healthy balanced diet will support your body to maintain its natural defences and ensure you have the vitamins and probiotics needed to fight off common infections. To ensure you are taking in a balanced healthy diet you should (as outlined in the NHS Eat Well guide):

  • Eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day
  • Eat small portions of higher fibre starchy foods like potatoes, bread, rice or pasta
  • Include dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soya drinks)
  • Eat beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other protein
  • Choose unsaturated oils and spreads; eat them in small amounts
  • Drink plenty of fluids (at least 6 to 8 glasses a day)

You might find drinking the recommended 6-8 glasses of water per day difficult; instead tending to drink larger amounts of caffeinated drinks instead (teas/coffee). Remember, caffeine acts as a stimulant which, in turn, can lead to an increase in your blood pressure and heart rate.

It’s very well documented that caffeine is addictive and can cause withdrawal effects, anxiety and restlessness should you consume too much.

Here are some ways you can make drinking water easier:

  • Keep a water bottle with you throughout the day and take regular small drinks
  • Sometimes when you feel hungry, you are actually thirsty; have a drink first and wait 10 minutes to see if the hunger feelings subside. If they does, it might be time to eat
  • Associate specific tasks with drinking water i.e. mealtimes or every time you boil the kettle
  • Drink water both before and after a workout/exercise (see exercise tips above)
  • You can purchase fruit diffuser bottles or add slices of fruit into your water to sweeten/improve the taste
  • If you really don’t like the taste of water, you could try to drink sugar free cordials (preferably quite weak).

Your sleep matters

When considering sleep hygiene, it is key to remember that we each respond to changing routines and activity differently; it is best to find a method that works well for you and factor this into your evening routine.

Quality sleep can be achieved through practising good sleep hygiene techniques. The Sleep Foundation state that to maintain a good sleep pattern you should aim for the following:

  • Limit your daytime naps to 30 minutes (over the whole day)
  • Avoid stimulants i.e. caffeine or nicotine close to bedtime
  • Daily exercise can help quality sleep however, you should avoid strenuous exercise close to bedtime
  • Avoid foods before bed that can disrupt sleep i.e. heavy or rich foods, spicy dishes or carbonated drinks
  • Exposure to sunlight – throughout the day ensuring you are exposed to daylight and exposure to darkness at night can promote a good sleep cycle
  • Establish a relaxing bedtime routine and ensure the environment is relaxing – this will be different for everyone. You could avoid the use of tablets or screens before bed, take a bath or shower, read books, use blackout blinds and make sure your mattress and pillows are comfortable

Current recommendations and government advice

The government are currently providing daily updates through briefings regarding the restrictions and measures required to maintain the safety of the general population. These updates are informing our current economic climate, practises and refer to social distancing.

Social distancing is the term used to describe measures put in place to either slow down or stop the spread of contagious diseases and infections. The following recommendations have been issued to ensure we are maintaining social distancing properly:

  • Avoid contact with others who are displaying symptoms of Covid-19; symptoms include individuals with a high temperate and/or a new and continuous cough
  • Avoid non-essential use of public transport and varying your travel times to avoid rush hour when possible
  • Work from home if you can
  • Avoid large gatherings and gatherings in smaller places (see below)
  • Use telephone or online services to contact your GP or other essential services

The current advice is for all members of the public to avoid social gatherings or social locations i.e. pubs, theatres, cinemas and restaurants. Companies are taking the decision to close their business in line with the guidance offered and healthcare workers are considering procedures to maintain the safety of front-line staff and their patients.

Individuals who fall within the ‘at risk’ category are being recommended to reduce social contact where possible and work from home for 12 weeks.

At risk individuals are:

  • People over the age of 70
  • People who would routinely be offered the flu vaccine for non-work-related reasons or have underlying health conditions, such as:
    • Chronic long-term respiratory diseases such as asthma, COPD, emphysema or bronchitis
    • Chronic heart disease such as heart failure
    • Chronic kidney disease
    • Chronic liver disease such as hepatitis
    • Chronic neurological conditions i.e. Parkinson’s, MND, MS, Learning difficulties or cerebral palsy
    • Diabetes
    • Problem with your spleen i.e. sickle cell disease
    • A weak immune system through conditions such as HIV or AIDS or due to treatment i.e. steroid tablets or chemotherapy
    • Being seriously overweight
    • Pregnancy

There is however another category of individuals who are considered ‘high-risk’ and the current advice is that the NHS will directly contact you to discuss more stringent methods of protection. However, it is recommended that if you fall into this high risk category, you socially isolate for 12 weeks. The people who fall into this group will include:

  • People who have received an organ transplant and remain on ongoing immunosuppression medication
  • People with cancer who are undergoing active chemotherapy or radiotherapy
  • People with cancers of the blood or bone marrow such as leukaemia who are at any stage of the treatment
  • People with severe chest conditions such as cystic fibrosis or severe asthma (requiring hospital admissions or course of steroid tablets)
  • People with severe diseases of body systems, such as severe kidney disease (dialysis)

Please remember that the current situation is being monitored and updated daily. It is important to ensure you are accessing and receiving information from reliable and recognised sources; e.g.

Maintaining contact and supporting others

Given the advice listed above, it is more important than ever that we all check in with family, friends and neighbours to maintain physical and mental wellbeing during this difficult time.

Individuals who are not currently advised to self-isolate could provide support to those who have been advised to do so through acts as simple as telephone contact or through picking up food/medicines and running errands were possible.

As most people are aware, there has been a sense of fear which has caused panic buying in the larger supermarket chains. The supermarkets have since issued a statement asking people to be considerate towards others as there is “enough for everyone”.

This is another area where we can all support each other. Make sure you have the appropriate amount of food and resources to see both yourself and your friends, family and neighbours through the coming weeks.  Remember, however, as our normal working/exercising habits will be affected, we may not need to consume as many calories and our diets should reflect the energy demands needed.

Social media is a good method of maintaining contact and offering support to others. It is also important to check information currently circulating around social media for reliability and accuracy. The websites listed earlier will ensure you have a direct and clear understanding of the government’s current knowledge and advice as it develops. There are many false statements (“fake news”) being circulated via social media so exercise caution if you use this source.

Mindfulness and mental wellbeing

While good sleep hygiene, nutrition, hydration and exercise will support your physical health over the coming weeks/months, they will also support your mental health needs.

Mindfulness is a grounding technique used to support your focus on the present whilst acknowledging and accepting your thoughts, feelings, sensations and emotions.  It is a widely used technique to support the de-escalation of anxiety and heightened emotional states, as well as for depression.

The following steps to engage in Mindfulness were taken from Mindful.org

  1. Set aside some time. You don’t need a meditation cushion or bench, or any sort of special equipment to access your mindfulness skills—but you do need to set aside some time and space.
  2. Observe the present moment as it is. The aim of mindfulness is not quieting the mind or attempting to achieve a state of eternal calm. The goal is simple: aim to pay attention to the present moment, without judgment.
  3. Let your judgments roll by. If you notice judgments arise during your mindfulness practice, make a mental note of them, and then let them pass.
  4. Return to observing the present moment as it is. Our minds often get carried away in thought. That’s why mindfulness is the practice of returning, again and again, to the present moment.
  5. Be kind to your wandering mind. Don’t judge yourself for whatever thoughts crop up, just practice recognizing when your mind has wandered off, and gently bring it back to the here and now.

If you find a visual/auditory walkthrough easier, or are new to the concept there are many mindfulness guides available on YouTube. The key is practice – the more you do it, the more the process becomes easier and more effective.

Further guidance from RCOT

The Royal College of Occupational Therapy has issued the following guidance to assist people over the coming months as we see our usual daily routines being challenged and changed:

  • Establish a daily routine. Routines provide structure and purpose.
  • Balance your weekly routine so you have a good mix of work (activities that must be done), rest and leisure.
  • Think about the regular activities that are most important to you. What are the important elements to these? Can you adapt them to carry out in the home? For example, instead of an exercise class, follow an online strength and balance routine.
  • Set daily goals to provide purpose and a sense of achievement. This might include working through that list of the things you keep meaning to do but never get around to
  • Identify the triggers that make you feel low and look for ways to reduce or manage them.
  • Talk with family, friends and neighbours to help them understand how you feel and how they can help. Can they talk you through using apps on your mobile phone, for instance?
  • Take care of yourself. Eat and drink healthily with plenty of fruit, vegetables and water, to help boost your immune system and energy levels.
  • Avoid staying still for too long. Exercise and regular movement will maintain fitness and strength. If you are working from home, take breaks and eat away from your “desk.”
  • Have a good sleep routine. If you are struggling, try avoiding tea and coffee in the late afternoon and evening, take a bath, using blackout curtains, listening to gentle music or deep breathing exercises.
  • Keep in touch. Arrange to speak to someone every day on the phone, through social media or over the garden fence.

If you find you are feeling alone and would like someone to speak to, you are always welcome to call us at HSL for a chat. Alternatively, there are charities who are always there to listen.

We wish everyone well during this uncertain time. We’re a community who is strong and, through following the advice above, we’re sure we can work through this together.

Websites used:

For further support and guidance please refer to the following websites: