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DR MAX THE MIND DOCTOR: My mental toolkit to help you through these difficult coronavirus times

Well, what a week it was for all of us to come to terms with a world dominated by the coronavirus and the limitations on lives that seemed unthinkable less than a week ago.

Yes, it happened in Italy, France, Spain, New York and California. But certainly not here?

Today we are confronted with the reality of life in a closed state and it is grim and set against a backdrop of escalating cases of infection, rising death rates and an NHS under pressure like never before.

As a psychiatrist, of course, I am deeply concerned about the adverse impact this will have on the mental health of my patients, my readers, and the nation.

Dr. Max writes that today we are confronted with the reality of life in a lockdown, combined with the background of infections and an increasing death rate

Dr. Max writes that today we are confronted with the reality of life in a lockdown, combined with the background of infections and an increasing death rate

Whether it’s depression or anxiety, our emotional well-being will be a hit. And we must be prepared.

Most of us can go to work for a week or so. But a few weeks, possibly months, of isolation, of juggling family requirements with working from home, of not seeing our loved ones in person, of worrying about grandparents and your job and cash flow … the list is endless.

The truth is, we all struggle.

There are a number of general principles that can help us through this terrible period – not only to survive lockdown, but to really thrive in it. Yes, thrive! Here are my tips to get you through this difficult time …

Routine: this is the most important. We are creatures of habit and find it comforting to have order and structure in our lives. So divide your day into sensible sections or even write down a timetable.

No matter how small your living space is, take the time to break down areas – work, exercise, relaxation – for different activities and “commute” between them.

Stick to meals and bedtimes: Many people work from home and have a schedule. Still, there may be a temptation to not get up and continue to work in bed all morning on your laptop and phone. Not!

And for those who don’t work, lounging on the couch watching Netflix while snacking thoughtfully on comfort food and staying up late would be a no-no. Especially when alcohol plays a role. It is bad for the mind and body at a time when protecting your health is a priority. Yes, watch TV to relax, but make sure you are in a …

He suggests that one way to break lockdown is to take advantage of Boris Johnson's offer to train once a day

He suggests that one way to break lockdown is to take advantage of Boris Johnson's offer to train once a day

He suggests that one way to break lockdown is to take advantage of Boris Johnson’s offer to train once a day

… Exercise too! I cannot emphasize the importance of this for both our physical and mental health. And the great thing is that you don’t even have to leave the house.

March on the spot, take an online aerobics or yoga class, vacuum the stairs – which you can also do for at least 30 minutes to catch your breath. It will help with appetite and sleep – and it will strengthen your immune system.

Read about the lives of others: nothing helps us better contextualize our own struggles and difficulties than learning about others who faced and overcame enormous challenges. It helps us maintain a sense of positivity and perspective.

After all, if Nelson Mandela could survive years of loneliness on Robben Island and then lead to South Africa, then we can certainly face a few months in our cozy homes.

Learn a skill: there is a huge range of courses available to us online. By keeping your mind stimulated with intellectual or fun tasks, you will not wallow in the corona crisis.

It also means that when the lockdown is over, you will see something positive – fluent in French or an experienced juggler, for example!

Set a goal: have you always wanted to read all of Dickens’s novels? Maybe the attic needs a clearance? Or could that flower bed be redesigned? OK then, now is your chance. Once some of those things are done, it feels incredibly rewarding.

Schedule rest times: There will be times when you feel a little lost, desperate, alone, or angry. That’s okay and perfectly normal. Find out what helps you feel better – call a friend, write about your concerns in a journal (very helpful), listen to uplifting music, or just take a warm, fragrant bath. Be kind to yourself!

Finally, remember that you are not alone during all this. We’ll get through it and, with a little luck, get out of the lockdown stronger than ever.

Why an old virus test doesn’t work

There is no doubt that we need a reliable test to determine whether or not NHS employees have Covid-19. At this time, any employee who exhibits symptoms that may be coronavirus should go off for seven days. If one of their family members is symptomatic, it will take 14 days.

Hundreds of doctors, nurses and paramedics are in this position away from the frontline – and the pandemic has not even peaked here.

The government has bought antibody tests, but these can only tell if someone has had the infection and is now immune, not if they currently have the infection.

Government antibody tests can only confirm whether a person is immune

Government antibody tests can only confirm whether a person is immune

Government antibody tests can only confirm whether a person is immune

Some kits have produced false negative results (falsely saying that someone does not have the virus, when they do). For example, Spain withdrew 9,000 tests made in China after it was found that they only had an accurate detection between 20 and 30 percent. That is a large margin of error and very risky.

The answer is not to demand that the government simply introduce tests, but to wait for the industry to make accurate tests and detect who has corona so that our NHS staff can get back to the frontline where we need them.

Many people, including members of my own family, are very afraid of Covid-19. And of course they are right, but not if fear paralyzes them. Here’s what I tell my loved ones: just remember that a virus is some genetic material, surrounded by a dollop of lipid – fat – with a few proteins on it. That is it. It’s a blob of fat. Good old soap and hot water will conquer your hands if you wash them well. So don’t let your mental health suffer from a microbe that can kill a splash of Fairy Liquid!

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am the kind of person who normally looks positive. However, this week I have struggled to stay fragmented as I am one of those NHS employees struggling to tackle one of the biggest challenges this country has faced.

Then came a call from the health secretary, Matt Hancock, and more than 700,000 of you have now volunteered at the NHS. This was followed by that fantastic statement of support – Clap For Carers – on Thursday evening.

I cannot thank you enough for boosting our morale. Can we continue with this when it’s all over?

How vulnerable children can catch up

With schools closed, home education is now the norm and an enriching experience for many children. They will also have more quality time with their parents – something hardworking moms and dads sometimes put in the effort.

I am concerned about those children who do not come from happy and stable families. For them, school is a form of escape, or the place where they can be sure of one hot meal a day. What should be done with these victims of neglect, whose parents are not interested in their education?

Homeschooling has become the norm in the closed UK, as schools are closed due to the coronavirus outbreak

Homeschooling has become the norm in the closed UK, as schools are closed due to the coronavirus outbreak

Homeschooling has become the norm in the closed UK, as schools are closed due to the coronavirus outbreak

Children’s brains are developing so fast that even a few weeks, let alone a few months, away from the classroom without intellectual stimulation will have a lasting impact.

Perhaps there should be a plea for the scrapping of this year’s summer holidays (if schools are allowed to open then) so that all children – especially the vulnerable – can catch up.

Dr. Max prescribes … Turning off that news

If you find yourself overwhelmed with grim news, just step away. Turn off the TV and radio and sign out of social media.

Check in only once a day for updates on this pandemic and don’t believe all the rumors floating around.

For up-to-date coronavirus science, you can’t do better than the Center for Evidence-Based Medicine – they have a dedicated Covid page that debunks fake news and is updated daily: www.cebm.net/oxford-covid -19

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