Living and looking after ourselves in a new normal

I think we can all agree that getting used to the current restrictions to our way of life is not at all easy.  Change rarely is.  We are all learning to live with this virus and with lockdown – possibly for some time to come.  We cannot stay in complete lockdown indefinitely though and we’re hopeful of seeing some degree of normality restored, with restrictions lifted gradually in the weeks and months to come.  But for as long as lockdown is the new normal, safeguarding our mental health, as well as our physical health, will be vital. 

I’ve been encouraged to see how the governments and their partners and the many voluntary organisations that support our veterans are responding to this.  There is a clear acknowledgement of the effects this period is having on our emotions and the very real risks to our mental health and wellbeing.

I was struck recently by the First Minister’s words when she said: “The current lockdown is really tough.  It’s OK not to feel OK.”  I think we would all do well to remember this.  At a time when we need each other more, but are being told to stay apart physically, we must deliberately practice self-care, look after our mental health and reach out when we feel overwhelmed or just need a reassuring chat with another human being.

I am no expert, but I’d like to share with you some ideas I’ve picked up for how we can better cope during lockdown, and details where you can get help and support.

Human beings are social creatures, so reach out by telephone, Skype, Zoom etc. or just a shout out across the street or the garden fence – good mental health can start with a simple conversation.  Try to develop a daily structure and routine, set goals, no matter how small.  Keep up to date with things but do take a break from news and social media.  Stay physically active where possible, and focus on the positives – look at what we can control rather than what we cannot.  

People are amazingly resilient, but of course it’s not easy.  These are unprecedented and uncertain times when we naturally feel anxious about what the coming weeks will throw at us.  For anyone struggling help is available any day of the week.  Some examples are:

NHS Inform is Scotland’s NHS information service and one of the best sites for up-to-date reliable support and information. You can find advice on everything from shielding and social distancing to money worries, and how to get help and support to cope with anxiety and stress.

Help for Heroes recently produced a ‘Field Guide to Self-Care: Body, Emotion and Mind in Action’, for the men and women providing healthcare around the UK right now. Not only a useful resource for our NHS, but for anyone who may be feeling stressed or anxious. 

V1P Lothian has developed this incredibly useful interactive Resilience Guide to help veterans navigate through this very difficult time. 

Combat Stress has produced new resources aimed at boosting and protecting your mental health during Coronavirus.  Details can be found here.

Breathing Space is a confidential phone line and web based service for anyone over the age of 16 in Scotland feeling low, anxious or depressed. 

Clear Your Head is a new campaign launched this week by the Scottish Government which provides practical steps for good mental health.  Details can be found here

Distress Brief Intervention (DBI) is a Scottish Government programme aimed at those in immediate need. Currently running as a pilot in four areas, DBI will be extended to the whole country in the next few weeks. It will enable front-line services to respond to people presenting in distress.  Referrals will be made within 24 hours of the distressed person’s first presentation.

Of course there are many other organisations and charities, both military and non-military who are there to provide advice, help and support.  Do use them.  The way they deliver their services may have changed but they are all still very much ‘open for business’ and stand ready to help.

As it seems likely we are going to be in this for the long haul it will become more and more important that we not only protect ourselves physically but mentally as well. Good mental health starts with a conversation – so keep talking and keep in touch.

However, please don’t forget, we are still in a position where the message of the past few weeks “Stay at Home, Protect the NHS and Save Lives” is as important as ever.