How to manage your mental health in uncertain times

There are limits to what we can control in the world, but there’s a lot we can do to control our mental response to it. Gosia Bowling, Emotional Wellbeing National Lead at Nuffield Health, explains why you may be feeling anxious and provides some advice for managing your mental wellbeing.

Anxiety can often stem from the unknown. However, by understanding anxiety and how it works, there are many things we can do to stay calm.

A small amount of stress can be helpful

Stress can trigger our ‘fight-or-flight’ survival response, which helps us act quickly when we’re feeling under pressure. But chronic stress – staying in this heightened state of stress for too long – can have a negative impact on our physical and mental wellbeing, and potentially lead to anxiety.

That’s why it’s important to make your mental health a priority through the continued uncertainty, especailly at this time of year when the lack of sunlight and colder weather can contribute to a low mood.

How to look after your emotional wellbeing

Focusing on the following four areas can help you balance your emotions, as well as manage any symptoms of anxiety.

Making small changes can make a big difference. But what might be beneficial for one person, might not be for another, so you should try a few things to see what works best for you:

1. Work with your thoughts

  • Be kind to yourself: Practice self-kindness and compassion – speak to yourself as you would to a friend to reassure them, or the way an encouraging coach would, rather than a critic
  • Don’t accept your thoughts as facts: Just because something feels scary, it doesn’t always mean something bad will happen. When you notice a change in your mood, ask yourself, “What was I thinking about just before that?”. Was the thought helpful or unhelpful? It can help to imagine a friend saying your thought out loud – if it’s unhelpful, what would you say to them to challenge their thinking?
  • Accept that there will be some uncertainty: Letting go of worries about the future is easier said than done, but like any skill, it gets easier with practice. If you find yourself stuck in a cycle of anxious thoughts, you can use something called ‘Worry Time’. Tell yourself ‘I’ll worry about this later’ and then let yourself worry about it for half an hour in the evening, for example. Then, if there’s something you can do about your worry, make a plan, and if not, let it go
  • Put pen to paper: Putting your emotions into words can also help you get through stressful events. Don’t worry about crafting a literary masterpiece. Instead, try writing about your feelings for a few minutes nonstop. This can help you organise your thoughts and better cope with your emotions.

2. Stay connected

  • Keep in touch with friends and family: You should especially reach out to those who make you feel positive and energised
  • Form community groups: Network, share resources and look out for each other. Knowing you have each other’s backs can be a huge comfort
  • Talk to someone you trust: Speaking to people who help you rationalise the situation, or have a calming influence, can help you work through any worries.

3. Look after your physical wellbeing

  • Exercise regularly: Physical activity releases anxiety-reducing chemicals, while acting as a healthy distraction. Why not try this HIIT session or this Pilates class?
  • Eat healthily: Good nutrition has a positive impact on your mood, while boosting your energy and immunity
  • Improve your sleep hygiene: Having a good bedtime routine will help you to switch off and rest easier. For more sleep advice, check out our sleep articles
  • Avoid stimulants and sedatives: Caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol can make anxiety symptoms worse.

4. Build your emotional resilience

  • Write down a list of all your strengths: Remember times when you've overcome difficulties and remind yourself of all your resources and positive coping strategies
  • Access nature: Nature can be very healing for our mental health, so make sure you get plenty of fresh air and light, go for a walk in a park or by a river when you can, and when you’re inside, sit near a window and open it every now and again
  • Remember to breathe: When we experience stress, our breathing gets faster and shallower. When you feel yourself getting worked up, breathe slowly and deeply into your belly to override your stress response so that you feel calmer
  • Find ways to relax: Relaxation techniques such as meditation and mindfulness can help you become more aware and accepting of your thoughts. They can also teach you to direct your attention away from worries by focusing on one thing, such as your breath. All this can help you unwind more easily
  • Take part in activities that bring you into the present: Whether you’re reading, cooking, cleaning, or doing something creative, you’re concentrating on the task at hand, so you won’t be worrying about what's going to happen in the future
  • Use wellbeing apps: Here are 25 essential apps for a healthy mind and body.

Let’s look after ourselves and each other

It’s important to look after our mental wellbeing in uncertain times, not only so we can try to keep calm and stay positive, but so others around us can too. Ask for help when you need to, but also offer support to those who need it as well.

If you feel like you need some extra mental health support, you can speak to one of our therapists.

Last updated Friday 7 October 2022

First published on Monday 23 March 2020