29 April 2020

Some advice and resources to assist with mental wellbeing during the Coronavirus pandemic

I am one of the people fortunate enough to have some extra time on my hands during the pandemic. I do not have school age children I need to educate at home whilst trying to work. My practice has reduced in size during the pandemic, especially as I can only offer video or telephone sessions during the government mandated lockdown. This has given me some time to process some of the ever-changing situation we are all facing in this unusual and unsettling time. As a therapist I find myself in the unusual situation of being impacted by a situation in similar ways and at the same time as our clients. I have utilised my spare time in what I believe to be the best way possible for me; I have spent time reflecting on the impact of this whole situation on not just me as an individual but also on all people in all the different manifestations of how the virus is disrupting our lives. I have spent time meditating, reflecting, and focusing on being rather than doing; something I have not tended to have the time to do prior to the lockdown.

A recent poll by King's College London and Ipsos Mori shows that half of respondents are more depressed and anxious than usual and 15% are finding the restrictions very challenging.

With that in mind I thought it might be useful to share some things that I personally find helpful in terms of helping with mental wellbeing.

The News as an exacerbator of depression and anxiety

As with during more "normal" times, I advise everyone to avoid the news. The news is not there to make us better people or even to simply inform us. Many sources of "news" are there to also serve as clickbait and how better to do that then to dramatise and find ways to make us react on a purely emotional level? By design the News triggers our fears, uncertainties, anger and anxieties. I am not suggesting we live in a bubble of complete denial (well maybe a smidgen) but watching the news (a reputable source) once a day is all that is required. I would argue that every few days is probably enough but our curiosity and national obsession with the news generally makes that difficult. Ask yourself, when partaking of this compulsion; has it helped my wellbeing in any way to consume this "information"?

I digress. The purpose of this blogpost is to share some information regarding some free resources which I highly recommend clients/friends/everyone consider utilising to assist with mental wellbeing particularly during this unusual time:

1) Thrive

This is CBT therapy based, NHS endorsed App Thrive is currently free. I have been testing it over the last few weeks having been recommended by a therapist friend.

Why I think it is helpful

Even though it is a basic training in CBT concepts, sometimes we need to go back to basics. Even as an experienced therapist, I too sometimes value hearing things in a simplistic way. During this pandemic many of us are noticing that we can be triggered into a Child Ego State, as we feel more vulnerable and uncertain. This is normal. If we are feeling a little wobbly or anxious then some basic and reassuring words can be more powerful than we realise. The narrator on the App has a lovely, calming voice with a  Scottish accent. She talks you through the basics of understanding how our thoughts, feelings and behaviours interact and not always in a helpful way. There are exercises to do and a tool to journal your mood with a Mood Meter. There are also sections on challenging core beliefs.

What I don't particularly like

There are also meditation exercises and a breathing tool. I do not personally rate the meditations or breathing and use different Apps for these (see below) which I find more suitable for me. Please note that the App is not a substitute for one-to-one therapy.

2) Headspace Mindfulness App

I have used Headspace Plus for several years for guided meditations. I find Andy's voice so soothing I have often used it just to help me get to sleep, which is a bit naughty as mediation/mindfulness should be something we do sitting upright and alert. Ah well. I tend to do unguided mediations now anyway but fall back to Headspace for any sleep issues as they recently introduced a whole section on sleep including sleepcasts, stories, white noise etc.

Why I think it is helpful

Headspace are currently offering a selection of meditations free to all, plus you can sign up for a free trial of Headspace Plus and sample more of their package. They are currently offering free access Headspace Plus to all NHS workers. Plus they are also offering free resources aimed specifically at the workplace and also for educators. It is a solid, easy introduction to the basis of mindfulness and there are so many packs one you subscribe that it takes a long time (years for me) to get bored.

What I don't particularly like

I really wish the entire package was free for all at the moment, like Thrive.

3) Calm Breathing Tool

Calm is a mindfulness based app which has a few meditations and a Breathe tool which are free of charge. I have used the Breathe tool for a few years and often recommend to clients. You can choose your own backdrop with a picture and sounds of various landscapes (rainforest, lake, seashore etc) and then use the adjustable breathe tool to guide you to breathe in, hold and breathe out:

Why I think it is helpful

Breathing is a key component in relaxing and calming the body. The tool helps you to focus on breathing in a way that induces a more calm state. It is easy to use and the choice of tranquil background sounds enhances the experience. I have subscribed to the paid Calm package and have worked my way through various meditation courses. I particular like the voice of John Armstrong on the stress and anxiety courses.

What I don't particularly like

The free Breathe function is great. I find some of the voices on the guided meditations slightly irritating.

4) Down Dog

Down Dog is a yoga app which is currently free to use until 1st June. A different therapist friend recommended this to me. I have attended weekly yoga for five years and it is an intrinsic part of my selfcare. For the last three years I have attended Jax's Hatha yoga session at her Lotus Loft studio which is only two doors away from my therapy practice. The classes are now taking place via Zoom however they clash with my therapy practice hours so I have been doing my own routines at home. Five weeks in and I am finding it hard to motivate myself so I have tried the Down Dog app and it is a decent alternative for now. Research continues to demonstrate that yoga is good for the mind as well as the body. Trauma research conducted by Bessel van der Kolk demonstrates that yoga is helpful in healing from trauma (PTSD, Complex PTSD).

Why I think it is helpful

There are many choices of settings on this App so it is suitable for beginners right through to advanced. You can select different components to your practice (i.e. Hatha, Restorative, Ashtanga, Yoga Nidra etc. Yoga Nidra is great for relaxation and helping with sleep.  For some selections you can then choose differing levels from Beginner to Advanced. I initially selected Intermediate 2 (the fourth of five levels) of Hatha Yoga and it was slightly too advanced for me. There's lots to play with and it's an appealing process. There are six voices to choose from! Once you have made your selection a video plays of the session (audio only for Yoga Nidra which is a form of guided meditation). I really like this App!

What I don't particularly like

Nothing so far.


I do not want to be another voice adding to the endless advice about what you should be doing. Please consider investing some time in your own wellbeing. Yoga and mindfulness will help give you the space to reflect and process the fact that the world has turned upside down and that nothing is as it was. This is big stuff.

*I am currently offering online sessions via Zoom, Skype, FaceTime and telephone.

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