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Ways to keep connected – tips for helping us feel less lonely

Created:

14 April 2020

Our Information Officer, Julia Dangerfield looks at ways to stay connected while social distancing and shares advice from our psychology team about coping with anxiety.

Many, if not all, of us may be feeling isolated, now that we are mostly confined to home. The latest message from the government is to

Stay at home to stop coronavirus spreading.

As I’m writing this blog I’m struck by words and messages which keep recurring and two of them are ‘kindness’ and ‘together’. We can all play our part, and even if we can’t go out,

simple acts of kindness, like making a phone call to a neighbour who is vulnerable, can help bring us together and help fight any feelings of loneliness that we might have.

Here at Epilepsy Society we are doing our very best to support you during this difficult time. We have been working hard to make sure that both our telephone helpline, and email service are there for you.

Thanks to all of you, and your generous donations, we have now been able to extend our Helpline service to a full five-day-a-week operation from 6 April. And in these troubled times, we are relieved that we will be able to be there throughout the week when you need to talk.

Remember you’re not alone. Our helpline is there for you. It’s confidential, providing information and emotional support.

Helpline 01494 601400

Mondays and Tuesdays 9am-4pm

Wednesdays  9am-7.30pm

Thursdays and Fridays  9am-4pm

You can also email us at helpline@epilepsysociety.org.uk

We have a FAQ around coronavirus and epilepsy from our Medical Director Professor Ley Sander. Hopefully this will answer many of your questions.

Coping with the new challenges

There is a lot of change for us all to keep up with and the following may help.

  • Try to create a routine to your day.
  • Stay well by following a well balanced diet and keeping hydrated.
  • Keep taking your medication regularly and make sure you take your prescription to your pharmacy in good time - up to seven days before you actually need the medication.
  • Ask for help through volunteering organisations – further details are below.
  • Follow us on social media and join in the conversation. You can follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Just search for Epilepsy Society
  • If you are feeling anxious, try to avoid watching too much news. Stay informed but also take a break
  • Phone friends and relatives for a chat each day, or ask a volunteering organisation to put you in touch with others.
  • Plan activities throughout the day including, favourite tv programmes, hobbies, or try out new hobbies.
  • If you are social distancing but are able to go for a walk, make sure you take the advantage of regular exercise. If you are worried you might have a seizure, think about wearing a medicalert badge or carry one of our id cards. You can get one for free by calling or emailing the helpline.Tell a neighbour or friend you are going out so they can check you return safely.
  • If you are self isolating, find ways to get exercise in your home. There are lots of free videos at the moment on YouTube.

Staying in touch

Here are some more ideas to help us all stay in touch. There are many organisations to help us, including these umbrella organisations that are co-ordinating volunteers nationally and will be able to put you in touch with someone in your area.

https://covidmutualaid.org/

https://acorntheunion.org.uk/corona/

Taking care of our mental health

Being at home more than usual, may make it more difficult for us to take care of our mental health. Anxiety is a very common problem for many people with epilepsy, and social distancing and self isolation may make this issue worse.

Here we look back at some ways for coping with anxiety, shared by Epilepsy Society's psychology department in our magazine Epilepsy Review. You can read the full article about epilepsy and anxiety here. Please note that the article was written in 2014, before the coronavirus. The advice relates to epilepsy and anxiety in general so may not be applicable in the current situation.

“Anxiety is a normal response to a stressful situation and can cause  feelings ranging from uneasiness to severe panic. 

The following steps offer specific strategies to manage feelings of anxiety and help you to take more control. However it is important to remember that not all problems are within our control. There is nothing to be achieved from worrying about something you have no control over.

Understanding more about anxiety

This can be a first step to helping you address your anxiety more objectively. Anxiety is a word we often use when we feel uptight, irritable, nervous or wound up. When we are anxious we often experience uncomfortable physical sensations such as increased heart rate, muscular tension and sweating.

Anxiety can affect us mentally too. If we are anxious, we often worry for large periods of time, so that worries can feel out of control. Recognising that we are anxious, means we can find ways to tackle those feelings.

Challenging unhelpful thoughts

We are all prone to negative or unhelpful thinking at times. One effective strategy is to replace this type of thinking with realistic thinking. This means considering all aspects of a situation - the positive, the negative and the neutral - before drawing a conclusion. It means looking at yourself, others and the world in a balanced way.

Challenge any unhelpful thoughts with questions. Ask yourself:

  • are you imagining the worst possible thing is about to happen?
  • are you confusing your own thoughts with facts?
  • what would you tell a friend if they had similar anxieties?
  • what is the worst that could happen?
  • if it did happen could you cope?
  • Is there another way of looking at the situation?
  • how will you feel about this in six months time?

Testing your thoughts to make sure they are realistic and balanced, can help to reduce levels of anxiety. Try coming up with some coping statements such as 'if I become anxious, I will try some calm breathing', 'this happened before and I know how to handle it', 'my anxiety won't last forever.'

Practice positive self statements. Be kind to yourself rather than critical.

Limiting worrying time

Cutting back on the amount of time you spend worrying can help to reduce anxiety. One way you can do this is to set aside a 15-20 minute worry time each day. If worries occur at other times, jot them down  on a piece of paper and only tackle them during your worry time.

Try to resolve your worries but remain realistic. Some worries are outside of our control.

Relaxation

Relaxation calms the body and mind and helps to reduce anxiety levels. Without taking time out to unwind it is easy to feel overwhelmed and stressed.

You might like to relax by doing something you enjoy such as exercise, reading, listening to music, watching television or painting.

Calm breathing

This is a technique that may help you calm down your breathing when feeling stressed or anxious. Our breathing changes when we feel anxious. We tend to take short, quick, shallow breaths and can even  hyperventilate. This is called over-breathing and can actually make you feel more anxious or even cause a seizure.

Calm breathing involves taking smooth, slow and regular breaths. This is usually best done sitting upright as it increases the capacity of your lungs to fill with air. There are five steps:

  • take a slow, deep breath through the nose for about four seconds
  • hold your breath for one to two seconds
  • exhale slowly through the mouth for about four seconds
  • wait a few seconds before taking another breath
  • repeat this action for a few minutes, completing six to eight breathing cycles
  • Try calm breathing for at least five minutes, twice a day.

It is a good idea to try and incorporate these strategies as part of your daily routine, but do be patient and give them a chance to work. If , however, you are still feeling anxious it would be good to discuss other treatment options with your GP or epilepsy specialist nurse. “

Following government advice

The messages around Coronavirus are clear and we all need to follow the Government’s advice, to:

Stay at home

Coronavirus (COVID-19): what you need to do:

  • Only go outside for food, health reasons or work (but only if you cannot work from home)
  • Stay 2 metres (6ft) away from other people
  • Wash your hands as soon as you get home
  • You can spread the virus even if you don’t have symptoms.

For those who are self-isolating the restrictions are even more challenging. More information can be found here

If you think you may have the virus, find out more here

And always remember, if you need to talk to someone, please call our Helpline on 01494 601400. There will be someone there to listen and understand. Or you can email us on helpline@epilepsysociety.org.uk