Coping with scary world events if you already have mental health problems

Scary world events may be especially challenging for those of us with mental health problems – wherever we are on that journey.

If we are currently struggling, we may find it harder to get support, and if we manage well most of the time, it might be harder to follow our usual ways of coping. It’s important to be aware of how we are doing daily and weekly. Early recognition of any bumps can make getting back on track easier.

Many of us can cope well and use skills we’ve learned through experience and support to manage this crisis. 

It’s important that we don’t assume that everyone with mental health issues is vulnerable or unable to cope, which can be damaging and lean into stigma.

If you are finding it hard to cope right now, please see a list of helplines and resources to get help

Man looking thoughtful

What steps could we try to take to look after our mental health?

Many tips are often shared, many of which are helpful for those with mental health problems. Some suggestions can also seem overwhelming or out of reach - financially or socially. Things like taking on new hobbies, cooking new things or paying for expensive deliveries or subscriptions. 

Some advice can seem more aimed at people who don’t usually struggle with mental health so it might seem simple or just not intended for us. The ideas below are intended as a start for you to consider, try out and ultimately, take or leave according to what you find works for you.

Whatever we can manage, and feels OK, is good enough.

1. Try to do the basics when you can

Eating, sleeping, moving (either inside or outside) and making sure we keep hydrated are the building blocks of life and are important to our mental health – but they can sometimes seem overwhelming.

If you can keep your routine or establish a new one, it may be easier to keep well. This is not easy to do. Writing down a new routine may help at first.

2. Try to accept that you are worthy of support

It’s hard to ask for help, and it can be hard to believe that we are worthy of people’s time. It can also be hard to believe that we have things to offer. We are worthy of support.

Try to be kind to yourself. Self-compassion is always important – though it may be challenging, especially when trying to make it a habit.

Health services such as your GP and pharmacy always help, even under pressure, whether it’s with your mental or physical health.

Don’t suffer in silence or ignore early warning signs – responding to them might prevent a crisis.

3. Try to make a plan with your support team and professionals

Mental health staff face the same pressures as other NHS teams, managing staff absence and new ways of working. Even so, they are still there.

Try to ask for what you need, if you can. If you are unable to explain difficulties, see if a friend or family member can help, or try writing it down.

If things need to change and that's difficult for you, give the new way a chance – it might be OK.

Speak with your pharmacist or GP about prescriptions and blood tests. If you have to speak with other agencies, such as the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), your landlord or banks, remember you can get advice about your rights from various sources.

4. Try to build a circle of support

A circle of support is a group of people and tools you gather when times are hard. This may be practical or emotional support, such as someone to look after you or your pet if you are unwell, someone who could do your shopping if you feel unable to, or a friend to text you each morning to check if you are up.

A circle of support can be in person or through digital channels.

5. Try to build and maintain connections, even when it seems hard

Most of us need a balance of time between ourselves and being with others. Being forced on our own can be damaging, and connecting with others is important to our mental health.

Connecting with people online or on the phone can be helpful but also overwhelming or confusing. It can take time to figure out how different apps or online tools work and which ones (if any) are right for you.

Perhaps you’ve always known the value of online communities and can rely on peer support from online friends. If you have skills you could share, then consider doing that if you can.

6. Try to lean on your experiences of coping in the past

If you’ve experienced mental health issues, there’s a chance you’ve gone through periods where you’ve been isolated, withdrawn or challenged. You might have surprised yourself in the past with what you’ve been able to cope with, even when it seemed too awful to contemplate. Remember those times and use that experience.

You may have a plan or even a 'toolbox' you know can help when things are hard. If you don’t and are feeling well now, this might be a good time to gather some things together. 

You could include relaxation soundtracks or breathing exercises, diversions like colouring, music or video games, or doing something creative. You could even build a den or safe space in your home. There are a lot of free online events – theatre, virtual tours of museums and similar – so you may find something that interests you.

Try to do something nice for yourself every day and celebrate small wins – even if it’s as simple as washing your hair or going outside for a walk.

7. Try to express yourself – to others and in private

It can be hard to express our feelings when times are hard. Getting it out can be helpful – whether we share or not. You could keep a private journal or blog, carry a notebook or use social media or creative arts. Writing down your thoughts and emotions can help a lot.

It’s great if you have people you can confide in, but even if you don’t, writing things down to revisit can really help. Some people find it helps to note things they are grateful for or learned, however small.

If you use social media or blogs, make sure you remember to check your privacy settings and think through how comfortable you are about sharing before you post.

8. Try to limit your exposure to the news

Watching, reading or listening to the news may add to our worries, where we chew over every thought. 

It might help to try just one news bulletin a day, switch it off and do other things.

9. Try to be 'in the present'

Many of us have past things that affect how we live our lives now. Many of us also worry about how the future will pan out. Both are important in understanding our lives and planning, but it may be helpful to try and live in the present. Take it one day at a time, if you can. That means respecting the past and what it means but passing each minute, hour and day as a new opportunity.

If we can work to forgive ourselves and take care of ourselves, it will help.

10. Try to be a part of your community and help, if you are able

If you are feeling well, there may be things you can do in the community to help out - especially if you are at home. Walking neighbourhood dogs, helping to deliver food or volunteering for local community initiatives can be great ways to give back. 

This piece was authored by Mental Health Foundation staff with lived experience of distress and improved by the input of peers across the organisation. We are particularly grateful for the advice of external reviewers – particularly the valuable suggestions made by Akiko Hart, Chief Executive of NSUN
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