Surviving the COVID-19 pandemic from a psychological perspective
Neuropsychologists Professor Gus Baker and Professor Steven Kemp write about ways to cope during the COVID-19 pandemic:
Our responses to the COVID-19 pandemic at an individual level will vary based on our experience of coping with health issues and other life problems generally. For some individuals and their families, they may develop stress due to the uncertainty of the pandemic and the risk of being infected. Stress reactions can include low or depressed mood, anxiety, frustration, irritability, anger and social isolation.
This article aims to address the concerns that people with epilepsy may have about the condition and what practical solutions may be taken to help them cope from a physical, psychological and cognitive perspective.
Feeling out of control
Some individuals may well feel overwhelmed by their thoughts and fears about contracting the virus or managing the lockdown. It is important to recognise that we cannot control what happens in the pandemic, such as restricting movements, social distancing, closing down workplaces and changes to employment. However, we can try and control some aspects of our everyday life.
- Share your thoughts and fears with others including a family member or friend
- If worry plays on your mind and bothers you or interferes with your day, then ask yourself can you control what you are worrying about? If you can, then spend 10-15-minutes thinking of solutions and plan what you can do now
- If you are worrying about a problem that you can’t control, then try postponing the worry or distract yourself from the worrying thoughts. Or remind yourself that your worry is just a thought and that thoughts come and go
- Try to pay attention to the present and not think too far ahead at this time
- Find pleasure in the smaller things that we usually take for granted or don’t have time to do, like growing things, cooking, and sitting outdoors to feel the warmth of the sun
Education and knowledge
The World Health Organisation suggests that you should minimise watching, reading or listening to news about COVID-19 that causes you to feel anxious or distressed.
- Find information from sources you trust, that helps you take practical steps to prepare plans and protect yourself and loved ones
- Seek information updates at specific times during the day, not more than once or twice daily. The sudden and near-constant stream of news reports about an outbreak can cause anyone to feel worried
- Get the facts - not rumours or misinformation. Gather information at regular intervals from reliable sources like the NHS website to help you distinguish facts from rumours. Facts can help to minimise fears
Epilepsy Action has information about epilepsy and COVID-19.
Communication is central to our ability to stay emotionally well. Although contact is challenged by the current circumstances it is more important to maintain than ever.
- Keep in regular contact with loved ones through telephone conversations, e-mail, social media or video chats
- Share worries or concerns you have with people you trust
- There are helplines and online forums for people with epilepsy, including the Epilepsy Action Helpline, forum4e and Epilepsy Action’s virtual groups
Taking care of yourself
In times of uncertainty it is important to look after yourself physically, psychologically and emotionally.
- Be prepared and know in advance where and how to get practical help if you need it. This could include arranging taxis, having food delivered or requesting medical care
- Make sure you have up to two weeks supply of all your regular medicines
- Learn simple daily physical exercises to perform at home, in quarantine or isolation so you can maintain mobility and reduce boredom
- If you have a garden, spend some time there or alternatively go for a walk
- Make sure you get enough sleep and try to maintain a regular sleeping pattern
- It is important to keep your mind active as well as your body. This could mean learning a new hobby, improving existing skills, or making a music playlist
We don’t normally spend so much time at home with our partners and family. We all need to develop a new normal for all being at home together.
- If you or your partner are working from home, talk about how this is working for you both. You may need to get creative with the space if you are both working from home. Take turns to share comfortable and quiet places and share childcare so that you can both get some work done
- Try to deal with disagreements by talking about the shared frustration coronavirus is causing and realise that we are all in this together
- Big and difficult decisions or conversations may need to be put on hold while you handle the current situation. If these issues have been the cause of arguments with your partner, then call a truce during this time to make living under one roof more bearable
- Treat each other with kindness and compassion especially as the outside world can feel quite threatening
- If you are getting frustrated or upset, count to 10, take some deep breaths, walk away and find ways to feel calm
- If you’re getting frustrated with others in the house, it might be an idea to share how you’re feeling by contacting a friend you trust
- Remember that children will see and learn from how you deal with conflict, so keep this in mind when you are all under one roof
Routine and structure
Getting into a good routine and controlling your worry, as well as looking after yourself generally, will help with your epilepsy. Regular exercising, daily chores, singing, painting or other activities are all important.
- Keep regular routines and schedules as much as possible or help create new ones for the new environment
- Write a timetable for the week ahead
- Set yourself goals and create a weekly plan to meet those goals
- Keep the same routine with taking your medication and with your sleep
- Use techniques to support your memory and reminders that work for you for everyday life and taking your antiepileptic medication. That could be a dosette box for your medication or a smartphone app to remind you when to take your medication
- For memory generally, keeping a diary, using lists, notes, a white board with reminders and generally having a routine can all help
- Set a routine. If you are spending more time at home it is important to continue with a regular routine
- Stay mentally and physically active
- Notice worry triggers and try to limit the time that you are exposed to them each day
- Rely on reputable news sources
- Stay connected to others
Epilepsy Action would like to thank Professor Gus Baker and Professor Steven Kemp for writing this article. This is an edited version of an article written for the International Bureau for Epilepsy (IBE). To read the full article, visit the IBE website.
Professor Gus Baker is Emeritus Professor and Consultant Clinical Neuropsychologist at the University of Liverpool and is Vice-President of Epilepsy Action. Professor Steven Kemp is Professor of Clinical Neuropsychology at Leeds Beckett University.