Mental health, COVID-19 and why it’s important right now

Mental health is as essential to care for and maintain as physical health, and the two are firmly intertwined. Taking physical activity, maintaining a good level of vitamin D, keeping alcohol and smoking to a minimum, and getting good quality sleep are all physical things which impact massively on the health of our brain and of our mind.

Anxiety and depression are reasonably common symptoms for someone living with multiple sclerosis (MS), and stress is something which can compound other symptoms and even trigger relapse. It is essential for healthcare professionals to encourage positive self-management and a healthy lifestyle, as far as possible, during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Additionally, this same positive action to achieve and maintain a healthy mind, is essential for those healthcare professionals themselves, as the pressure in the NHS continues to build.

Neurology Academy has provided a number of different resources around positive mental health, including webinars aimed at both professionals and people living with MS, written question-responses around mental health, signposted mental health resources and more.

Practical advice

Jo Johnson, consultant neuropsychologist and author of ‘Surviving Me’, spoke at both mental health webinars to date, and shared some useful tips for building mental resilience and developing a strong, healthy mind during this pandemic and beyond.

Know your values

Knowing your personal values - what you feel strongly about - makes you far more capable of managing a whole range of physical and mental challenges in times of crisis. Jo noted that all values can be expressed in an action, and that following your values takes you more towards the person you want to be and what we feel is important.

If you knew you were being filmed at the moment, and that the video would be played back to you in time to demonstrate the version of yourself that you most like to be...

  1. How would you spend your time?
  2. How would you treat those around you?
  3. What would you be saying, and to whom?
  4. Who would you be calling, face timing, and spending time with?
  5. How much would you be moving?
  6. What would you stop doing?
  7. What would you be putting in your mouth?

Jo says that answering these questions helps to identify our personal values. We can then notice when we are acting in ways that take us towards those values, and towards the person we want to be, or away from them. Jo shared that the more our actions carry us towards our values, the better our mind’s health is.

Figure 1: the two gears of the mind

Slide taken from Webinar: Ask the experts – #MSCovid19 mind health session for MSers on 9th April 2020

Our mind’s two gears

Jo advocates considering the two ‘gears of the mind’ (fig 1), and notes that both gears are important, and both are needed in different scenarios.

She highlights that ‘thinking gear’ is essential for thinking things through, planning, remembering, and such. However, by staying in it all of the time, that can lead to stress, anxiety and sleeplessness. Often our ‘thinking gear’ can take us away from our values and the actions we want to take to be more ourselves.

‘Sensing gear’ is when we are in the present, experiencing our current situation, calling on our senses, and just ‘being’. When we are in ‘sensing gear’ we notice our thoughts, notice how we feel, and can make better choices about what we do as a result of them. Learning to get back into ‘sensing gear’ more often allows us to make choices that take us further towards the person we want to be, or actions that are more in line with our values.

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