NCG's Hannah Holden and psychologist Matt Shaw explain how to protect your mental well-being in these trying times

Understandably there will be a lot of people struggling with their mental health over the coming weeks as we face the unknowing challenges that lie ahead due to the coronavirus. I sat down with psychologist Matt Shaw to discuss why it is completely normal to feel anxious at the moment, why we feel that way, and what you can do to help your mental health at this time.

Understand why you feel this way

“There are two main reasons why people become stressed in these situations – uncertainty and lack of control,” Matt explains.

“We are in an uncertain time and no one really has too much control over what’s going to happen. So mentally that can lead to you feeling quite stressed or becoming anxious. The first thing to note is that is OK, that’s pretty normal. Everyone is going to feel like that due to two main reasons.

“First, there’s uncertainty. People don’t really know what is going to happen for the next few weeks or even months. The reality is there is not a lot people can do to control what’s going to happen past the advice they are being given anyway.

“Then there’s emotional contagion. Essentially this is a mechanism by where people can catch emotions from others, almost through like a form of osmosis. So if someone feels quite nervous and anxious they can pass it on to person two. Person two might feel quite anxious and pass it to person three and person four and obviously they go off and pass it to everyone else. So we know there is a mechanism that works like that so the more people that are around the more other people can also feel anxious.”

Knowledge brings power

A big source of mis-information and emotional contagion comes from social media so if you are feeling anxious it is important to monitor these channels.

This includes setting time limits on your apps to reduce how much information you are seeing, unfollowing or muting people or accounts whose posts are making you feel stressed – on Twitter you can even mute key words that you wish to avoid – and follow official accounts that are putting out correct information about the current situation.

“What information people are getting is really crucial,” Matt says.

“People need to be really careful about what and where they are getting their information from as there is lots of mis-information out there.

“This is because everyone, regardless of what they are being told, has their own opinion on what is going on. So make sure to be cautious about what information you are getting and how it makes you feel.”

Question how you are feeling

“Questioning how you feel is really important as well,” Matt says. “So if you do feel really nervous or stressed take a minute to challenge that original thought and try and understand why you feel like that where it has come from and what you can do going forward to reduce that.”

I’ve found a great way to track how you’re feeling is by keeping a daily journal, writing down not only how you are feeling but things you feel grateful for.

Routine is key

Matt explains that if you are self isolating or can’t go about your usual plans to “try to keep some form of routine or create a new set of daily habits for you to stick to”.

If you are working from home, get up, ready, and dressed as normal and set up a quiet place you can work free of distraction.

Also stick to regular wake and sleep times as well as meal times to keep your circadian rhythm in check.

And make time for fun relaxing activities to distract the mind.

Communicate

“Communication is really important. We know when people get isolated this is sometimes an indicator for mental health problems so it is really important to keep communicating with others.”

These are some things I’ve been doing:

1. Setting up a call or video chat with a close friend at a regular time each day.

2. Creating Facebook or WhatsApp chats for close friends and family to stay in contact.

3. Setting up a digital book or film club so you can talk to friends about them.

Get good quality rest

Try and wake up and go to sleep at the same time each day and, if possible, stay out of your bedroom throughout the day and keep it a tidy, relaxing space for sleeping, and avoid caffeine in the afternoon where possible.

“Where possible try and get the same amount of sleep as normal,” Matt adds. “Lack of sleep breeds negative thoughts and negative moods so getting a good sleep routine in place is really important.”

Stay active

Get as much sunlight as possible. If you don’t feel able to leave the house, sit in a well-lit area near the window. You could even grow some plants on your window sill.

Also, build exercise into your daily routine. It could be as simple as cleaning the house, dancing to some music, or going out for a walk or run – or to play golf! There are lots of fitness tutorials on YouTube you could also follow while at home.

Finally, think about your diet try eat healthy foods that make you feel good and make sure to stay hydrated.

“Keeping your diet healthy and staying as physically active as possible is really important,” Matt says. “We know that not only is there a lack of positive mood when people don’t exercise enough but we also know that by exercising you are actually alleviating those negative emotions and helping yourself have a more positive mood as well.”

If you have any questions for me or for Matt, please feel free to get in touch in the comments below or you can reach out on Twitter.

About Matt Shaw

Matt Shaw is a performance psychologist at InnerDrive who has worked with highly-skilled amateurs and tour professionals. InnerDrive’s team of sport and performance psychologists have been helping elite athletes perform at the top of their game, and even win medals for Team GB at the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Olympics. On top of their one-on-one coaching and workshops for golfers, coaches and parents, they regularly produce resources to help every player improve their mental game. Visit their website or follow them on Twitter to learn more.