Dr. Alex Blackman
Mental Health Expert
Dr Alex Blackman is a forensic psychiatrist in South London with a passion for how the creative arts can positively impact mental health. She was very proud to recently act as expert advisor for ‘Wonderful’, a fantastic play at the Oval House Theatre focussed on the mental health of young care leavers, and enjoys any excuse to organise a mental health themed book or film club when we’re allowed outside!
This is a new and bizarre time for all of us; not just in terms of worrying about the
Covid-19 virus, but the massive changes to our society and day to day lives. The little safe-spaces we go to each day to cheer ourselves up, like hanging out with friends at lunchtime, going out for a meal, after-school clubs, sports, dancing and singing groups are suddenly not so accessible any more. It’s important to recognise what effect this might have on how we feel, and how well we cope with things. My usual advice to anyone struggling with feeling low or anxious would be to avoid keeping yourself socially isolated, so how do we cope with these feelings when that isn’t an option?
Firstly, I would say that we live in a magical age where reaching out to people is easier than boiling the kettle. If you think that someone might be struggling with loneliness or feeling cut off from people at the moment, take the time to reach-out. Facebook and Instagram are great for connecting people, but not necessarily for people to connect; hearing someone’s voice and seeing their face through Face-time or similar apps is a much better way to actually feel like you’re spending time together.
Fresh-air and exercise are also really important. If you haven’t got a garden there are some great channels on Youtube to help you exercise at home. Parents have particularly recommended “The Body Coach TV”, “Little Sports” and “Zumba Kids” for younger people.
Without your normal routine it’s important to keep your mind and body active! Something that can often get us down is feeling like we don’t have a purpose or goal. This feeling can get worse when you take the normal structure of life away (like going to school or work). This is a great time to do something creative that we might not get a chance to do normally.
Think about writing or drawing; this could be about you (for example keeping a diary or writing a poem about how you feel at the moment) or it could be about a fantastical magical world straight out of your imagination. Music can also be really important, even if you just love listening. If you’re a musician this is a perfect time to practice or try something new – maybe try writing a song, or start a new instrument. Having a sense of achievement is a really important way of keeping our mood up.
They don’t have to be big achievements – in fact it’s better to aim at something that seems really small and manage to complete it than try to tackle a massive project that you can’t finish. In short – be proud of that new chord you learnt today, not disappointed you haven’t finished the whole song yet!
If you’re struggling with feeling anxious or stressed, there are a few relaxation exercises you can try:
Find a space where you feel safe and close your eyes. Notice all the sounds around you. Pick out one sound and focus on it. Now try and find another one and focus on the two sounds; think about how you can tell one from the other. Keep picking out sounds until you have 5 different ones to focus on. Spend a few minutes focussing on only these 5 sounds. After a few practices you’ll be able to do this wherever you are even if it’s really busy!
For a simple breathing exercise when you’re feeling anxious, find something square that makes you feel calm or happy when you look at it, maybe a view from a window or a picture that you really like. Start looking at the bottom left corner. Now really slowly breathe in as you let your eyes move up the left-hand side of the frame, counting to 5 in your head at the same time.
When you hit the top left corner, hold your breath whilst counting to 5 in your head and move your eyes across the top. At the top right corner, breathe out whilst moving your eyes slowly down the right-hand side, and lastly hold your breath again and move your eyes across the bottom to where you started. Repeat this ten times or until you feel calmer.
Lastly, although this is hopefully rare, I’m aware that there are some young people who feel that they have to spend a lot more time in households they don’t feel comfortable in at the moment. If you feel this is more than a temporary problem, and particularly if you don’t feel safe at home, it’s really important to reach out and get some help. There will always be someone to listen and to help, virus or no virus!
It’s important to remember that all of us get down or anxious from time to time. It’s completely normal and doesn’t make you weird or weak or silly, it makes you a wonderfully complete human! If you’re feeling sad or anxious most of the time then it’s important to talk about how you’re feeling and get help. Please, please get support from one of the links below if you feel you need to talk to someone about how you’re feeling.
Let’s keep an eye on each other during this strange time and make sure that no-one feels alone. We are all in this together and together we will deal with anything!
Approved Counselling Sites for Younger People
Big White Wall (for over 16s only)
IF YOU FEEL YOU NEED TO TALK TO SOMEONE URGENTLY