At Target Ovarian Cancer we're hearing from lots of women and their families about how the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic is causing them to experience emotional distress. Here we address some of the questions that we've received about how to care for your emotional wellbeing. You'll find ideas about things that you can do to help yourself as well as information on other resources and organisations that can help.
In the current situation where coronavirus has dramatically changed the way we all live our lives, it's understandable that many members of our community will be feeling more anxious, stressed or frightened at these times.
The videos and supporting information here include tips and advice from our Nurse Advisers to address some of the questions that we've received about how to care for your emotional wellbeing.
[We make every effort to ensure that the information we provide is accurate. If you're concerned about your health, you should consult your doctor. Target Ovarian Cancer cannot accept liability for any loss or damage resulting from any inaccuracy in this information or third party information on websites to which we link.]
Q. The situation with coronavirus is making me feel anxious. What can I do to help myself?
Anxiety is the body's natural human response when we perceive we are in danger. This perception of danger leads to the activation of something called the stress response. This response, which is also known as the 'fight or flight response', is a survival instinct that kicks in to help prepare our bodies to either fight off or run away from a physical threat. This response was really useful in prehistoric times when humans needed to run away from the woolly mammoth and remains useful today when we see a car approaching us at speed. However, the stress response can also be triggered by difficult thoughts or psychological threats. When the stress response is activated, stress hormones surge through our body, causing both physical and emotional symptoms such as a rapid heart rate, feelings of irritability, dread or impending doom.
It's not surprising that in these uncertain times the threats that are being posed to our wellbeing by coronavirus are triggering our stress response frequently. Even if you haven't been told that you're in a vulnerable group, the amount of information we're hearing about coronavirus means that your brain's threat perception mechanisms are in overdrive. But there are things you can be doing to help you cope.
Manage how you hear news about coronavirus
It is easy to feel overwhelmed with information and news about coronavirus and it can be helpful to take proactive steps to manage this. Try to focus on the things that you can control – your own behaviours, who you talk to and where you get information from. For example it may be useful to:
turn off any 'breaking news' notifications on your phone and stick to the main briefing of the day if you want to keep up-to-date
mute key words that might be triggering on Twitter and unfollow or mute Facebook accounts and WhatsApp groups
Media outlets regularly use targeted adverts on social media to get more people to read their news articles. If you do use social media, try to find a good balance between using it to stay in contact with your friends and family and just scrolling through posts so that you can avoid seeing too many of these adverts.
Look after your physical health to boost emotional wellbeing
eat a balanced diet
get some gentle exercise each day, whether you're staying in your home or getting out and about
have a good bedtime routine and try to get enough sleep – YouTube has lots of free videos for guided meditation to help you sleep, and subscription apps such as Calm and Headspace also provide programmes of mindfulness and meditation to help you sleep better (both provide free trials)
maintain a structured daily routine and have set times for your usual activities (waking up, getting ready for the day, having breakfast, lunch and dinner etc.) to try to maintain some normality in your day
Being outside in nature can benefit both your mental and physical wellbeing. If possible try to spend some time outdoors every day, if you can’t be outside, you could try:
having flowers or pot plants in the room where you spend a lot of time
opening windows to let in the fresh air
arranging a space to sit by the window to enjoy a nice view or some natural sunlight
When you are anxious, lonely or low you may do things that you usually enjoy less often, or not at all. Focusing on your favourite hobby, learning something new or simply taking time to relax indoors should give you some relief from anxious thoughts and feelings and can boost your mood.
There are a number of ways that you can soothe yourself during difficult emotions.
Positive statements: to help you to feel more grounded in the current moment in time you may find it helpful to have a phrase or sentence that you can repeat, either in your head or out loud, when worrying thoughts start to escalate. This may be something like, "right here, right now, I am safe."
Emergency box: find a box or bag and fill it with items that you find comforting or soothing. Place it in a prominent place and if you feel overwhelmed or distressed you can go to your bag or box and find something that makes you feel better.
It is often late at night when all is quiet that troublesome thoughts take over. This is because it tends to be when our minds are less occupied and become trickier, throwing in uncomfortable thoughts that make us feel anxious. Our brains crave certainty and when they don’t find it they invent their own stories instead. Keeping busy can be a really useful way of distracting ourselves from uncomfortable thoughts.
You could try to:
read a new book or join a virtual book club
write (letters, poetry, stories etc)
play games, do crossword puzzles, or jigsaws
explore a new hobby
talk to or message family and friends via telephone or video call (WhatsApp, FaceTime, Zoom, Skype)
join our In Touch Facebook group to chat with other women with ovarian cancer or to find out how other people are coping
Distraction is a really useful short term remedy for anxious thoughts. If your anxious thoughts persist for more than a couple of weeks it is recommended that you should seek professional help.
Q. I'm struggling mentally with not knowing what’s going to happen with my treatment. What can I do?
Dealing with uncertainty about the future can cause lots of anxious feelings. There are a number of techniques that you can use to help with uncertainty. The worry tree is one of them.
The worry tree activity
The worry tree is a really useful decision making tool for worrying thoughts. If you're worrying because of uncertainty about your treatment, you could use the worry tree to think about how you take action on this. You could for example contact your medical team to ask what impact coronavirus will have on your treatment or you could contact our support line to talk to us about your concerns and needs.
For those worries that you can't do something about at that particular time, it's important to acknowledge that it is a worry for you but then to move on and try some distraction or relaxation techniques, such as doing an enjoyable activity or a mindfulness exercise.
Allow some worry time
Many people find allocating 'worry time' useful. If you find that anxious thoughts are taking over your day, you can decide to limit your worrying to a specific time interval, for example just 10 minutes every day. If worrying thoughts come into your head at other times, write them down, distract yourself and wait to address it during your daily worry time.
Q. My mood is very low at the moment – what can I do to make myself feel better at this time?
Feeling low is a part of all of our lives at some stage. Everyone feels upset, sad or disheartened from time to time and when our lives are being severely restricted it is no surprise that many people are feeling this way.
Eating a balanced diet, regular exercise and getting enough sleep can really help. You might also want to try to do the following:
Prioritise your activities. Low mood can cause us to feel tired all the time and this then stops us from doing those things that are important or enjoyable to us. It's important to try to get a balance in life. When your energy levels are low, try to prioritise activities that will give you a sense of achievement, enjoyment or closeness, as these are the ones that will boost your sense of self-esteem or enhance relationships with your loved ones.
Be kind to yourself. We are all guilty of speaking to ourselves in negative ways. The negative mental conversations that we have in our own heads can be destructive and certainly lower our moods.
Talk to someone. Staying connected with people is really important when your mood is low and staying in contact with people is more important than ever at the moment. Talk to family and friends about how you are feeling. There are lots of ways you can do this, including WhatsApp, Skype, Zoom and FaceTime. You could also join our In Touch Facebook group or contact our support line.
If you're still feeling down or no longer get pleasure from things for most of each day, and this lasts for several weeks, you may be experiencing depression. If you think you're experiencing depression you can talk to your GP about things that might help. Find out more about the symptoms of depression.
Q. I'm feeling very isolated. What can I do to help me to stay connected to friends and family and help me stay mentally well?
While both shielding and social distancing guidelines continue to be relaxed, we know that the ability to socialise face-to-face is still limited. Not being able to spend time physically in the same room as those people you care about and who make you feel good can be really very difficult. Fortunately technology can still make it possible to connect in different ways and actually help you to increase your number of social contacts.
Here are some ideas for using technology to stay connected:
Videoconference with friends or family using online platforms such as WhatsApp, Skype, Zoom, or FaceTime.
Organise an online quiz or other activity.
Connect with other people who share a mutual interest by using websites such as Meetup.
Join in with virtual pub quizzes on Facebook or YouTube.
Livestream theatre productions.
It's quite common to feel worried, scared or helpless about the current situation. Remember that this is a difficult time for everyone and sharing how you're feeling and the things you are doing to cope with family and friends can help them too.
If you have any questions or concerns, or just need someone to talk to you can contact our specialist nurses on our support line by calling 020 7923 5475.