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Mental wellbeing

You can find some tips here on how to maintain your mental health.

The corona crisis has changed our lives. We are working from home and the way that we work has changed. For some this offers new perspectives, whereas for others it causes uncertainty. Besides concerns about your own health and that of those around you, working from home can create an additional burden. Especially if you are having to combine studying or working with caring for children, elderly parents or others. Or if you are suddenly having to come to grips with being stuck home alone all the time and are having to socialise online. Below you will find information and tips on how to maintain your mental health during this crisis. If you need professional support, contact one of the support groups or helplines below.

These are extraordinary times for all of us. We all react differently to uncertainty. Every day we are receiving a lot of information and messages about the severity of the corona crisis. It is important to realise that it is normal to experience stress and to discuss this with your manager or lecturer. It is only natural to experience fear, anxiety and insecurity. However, stress can exacerbate physical and mental symptoms, have a negative effect (in Dutch) on our beahviour and affect our nervous system. It is important to try and realise when you are feeling stressed, in order to be able to do something about it.

There are several methods that can help you reduce stress. Here are a few suggestions. These based on scientific research and may help you take care of your mental wellbeing. Try and see which ones best suit your personal circumstances and work for you.

Stay in touch with others

Because of the coronavirus outbreak, we are having less contact with our social network. Epidemiological studies have shown that social isolation is a risk for the symptoms of stress. Without social support most people are more sensitive to symptoms such as anxiety and depression. Research has shown, for instance, that students are more susceptible to viruses during exam periods and that wounds heal faster during holidays. This makes it important to stay in contact with others. Be creative in finding ways to do this.

Talking to people you know and trust helps to reduce feelings of isolation, fear, boredom or vulnerability. Try to enlist the support of family, friends, neighbours and/or spiritual or religious leaders such as spiritual workers, pastors, imams or others. Also support others. Not everyone will find it easy to ask others for help, so try to contact others whom you think may be finding things difficult.

Lower the bar

You may find yourself setting the unrealistic goal of wanting to maintain pre-corona levels of productivity or wanting to achieve all sorts of things while at home. In these extraordinary times, we shouldn’t expect to achieve what we normally would achieve. Lower your expectations and do what you can. Adjust your idea of ‘a successful day’ to the current circumstances and give yourself permission to feel the working from home blues (in Dutch)  every now and then. Take a break between stressful activities and do something you enjoy after having completed a difficult task.

Accept your emotions instead of suppressing them

Realise that it is normal to be anxious or worried about all the things that might happen. Especially if things in your daily life are uncertain or changing and you feel as if you have lost control. Remind yourself that people can cope with even the most negative of emotions and that they will pass eventually. By acknowledging these emotions (in Dutch), it will actually become easier to accept the things you cannot control and help you focus on the things you can control.

Limit your daily news and social media 

During the corona pandemic we are confronted daily with news about the number of hospital admission,the death toll and fear of a further spread of the virus or economic disaster. These are given much more prominence than resilience and community spirit. From an evolutionary perspective, we prioritise negative information and remember this much better than positive information. Many of us will know this from personal feedback when we remember that one small note of criticism rather than the dozens of compliments that we also received. Negative triggers a subconscious stress response of increased alertness and activates our flight or fight response.

If you notice that watching the news or looking at social media makes you feel stressed, try to avoid doing this. In particular, try to avoid checking for news or the other latest updates in one of the many WhatsApp groups before you go to sleep. And also focus on positive news. In a period in which the negative experiences are mounting up around us and we are having to get used to a new, much more limited reality, it is important to balance this with positive information. This will help prevent the nocebo effect (in Dutch).

It can also be difficult to put down your smartphone, but some time without it is good for your brain. For tips on resisting your smartphone see the Leiden Psychology Blog.

Relax your body and mind

Make sure to plan enough moments for rest and relaxation, both mentally and physically. Time-pressed? A session of only five or ten minutes can still be very effective. A lot of people benefit from yoga, sports, walking, listening to music or reading in order to relax. Try to breathe slowly and make a conscious effort to relax your muscles. The USC Instagram channel offers free live workouts, including meditation and yoga.

Focus on positive thoughts

Try to see positive aspects of this period and to redirect negative thoughts to become more empowering statements. Instead of thinking ‘these are terrifying times’, try thinking ‘this situation is temporary and I am now looking very differently at what I consider to be important’. Make a list of things that are going well and things that you are grateful for. Keeping track of things you are grateful for or enjoy doing, however small, will help you focus on the positive side. Also compliment others to help motivate them.

Continue doing the things you enjoy and allow yourself to enjoy them

Make plans for your free time, so that you have something fun to do after a hard day’s work. Here too you may have to be more creative with the opportunities that there are. You may already have received more links and tips than a person could ever need, but in case you haven’t, here are some examples of museums, theatres and other great ideas:

Daily routines and good ‘sleep hygiene’

Flexibility can be a good thing during these extraordinary times, but it can also cause a lot of anxiety and stress (in Dutch) because you suddenly have to make all these choices. Sticking to a fixed schedule can help you get through the day and keep a grip on the situation. Add some structure to your day by taking regular breaks and going for a quick walk around the block. 

A good night’s sleep will help you deal with stress. Some rules for practising ‘sleep hygiene’: go to bed at approximately the same time each night and get up at approximately the same time each morning. For instance, get up at your usual time even though you are working from home and try not to stay up too late in the evenings. Try to avoid afternoon naps.

Try to get enough exercise and eat a healthy diet

Eating a healthy diet and taking regular exercise will help you sleep and will help reduce stress too. When you are feeling a bit down you are less likely to feel like exercising or eating healthy food, but these actually have a very positive effect. And whether you exercise alone or with others (online), sport can even improve your social circle and vice versa. Exercising with family, friends or teammates through video calls or online races makes it more fun and also encourages you to keep active. For more information on food and exercise and tips for sports and online support, see the Physical health page.

Professional support

The degree to which you are affected by the corona situation depends on a number of different factors. People with existing mental health problems or less support around them and those who have experienced traumatic events will tend to be more badly affected. If you notice that your response to stress has been seriously affecting your mental health for several days in a row, call a medical professional such as your GP. You can find more information and tips on these Dutch and international websites:

There are a number of free e-health apps that you can use at home to help you cope with corona-related stress. Our psychologists recommend the following:

Therapieland (in Dutch)

Therapieland offers a free online programme aimed at helping you to deal with corona stress. Although you may be powerless to influence many of the things happening around you, Therapieland helps you to identify the things you can influence. It provides concrete tools that help you to deal with unpleasant thoughts or feelings. These tools enable you to relax and focus on the things that are important to you.

InsightTimer

InsightTimer offers a free app that teaches you to deal better with sleep issues, anxiety and stress.

Youper

The Youper emotional health assistant helps you examine your negative thoughts and feelings and provides advice and suggestions on how to change your mind in a positive direction.

What’s UP

What’s UP is another good app that helps you cope with symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression. It also helps you identify helpful and counterproductive habits (iOS/Android)

MindShift

MindShift uses strategies based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to help you learn to relax and be mindful, develop more effective ways of thinking, and use active steps to take charge of your anxiety (iOS/Android)

Sanvello

This is a popular app for stress, anxiety, and depression based on CBT and mindfulness (iOS/Android)

For students

Student Support Groups

Are you feeling isolated, lonely or anxious? Are you looking for structural support in these times of corona? Do you want to form new connections with fellow students? If so, join a Student Support Group! These online groups are the initiative of the POPcorner student support organisation. By joining a group, you can both receive support from and offer support to fellow students. The aim of the initiative is to form sustainable networks in these difficult times. We can get through this together! Students of all disciplines, both Dutch and international, are welcome to join. You can ask to join a Student Support Group by sending an email to popcornerthehague@leidenuniv.nl.

Leiden University Student Helpline: the Listening Phone

Are you feeling anxious, stressed or lonely in these difficult times? Contact the Listening Phone, a helpline staffed by the members of the Student Support Services. Call 071 527 1132 or send an email to studentsupport@leidenuniv.nl and we will call you back. The Listening Phone is available Monday to Friday from 9:00 to 17:00.

National Listening Line (Luisterlijn)

The national Listening Line (De Luisterlijn) is available 24/7. You can share your personal story in full anonimity with the volunteers, also via e-mail or chat.

Leiden: 071 - 512 52 02
Den Haag: 070 - 345 45 00

Most volunteers do speak English, but please note that because of the anonymity, the Luisterlijn cannot guarantee that you’ll be connected to an English speaking volunteer.

 

Rapenburg 100 Student Helpline: for corona crisis support

We all need a sense of where we are going in life and what our purpose is. Normally we take this for granted, but sometimes we feel the need to talk about this. The life coaches/spiritual counsellers of Rapenburg 100 are available Monday to Sunday from 16:00 to 18:00 and 20:00 to 22:00. Tel.: 071 744 0168.

Moodpep

Students who suffer from mood issues are welcome to take part in Moodpep. Moodpep is an online programme aimed at helping students and young people who suffer from low moods. The programme was designed by psychologists Nadia Garnefski and Vivian Kraaij. You will be invited to follow a number of online modules and offered support via short weekly coaching sessions over the phone. There is no waiting list – you can take part whenever and wherever you want – and there is a coach on hand to offer support. The programme consists of eight lessons and covers topics such as positive activities, negative thoughts, stress, relaxation and working towards achievable goals. The whole programme lasts six to eight weeks, spread over weekly sessions of one to two hours. For questions and to take part, send an email to: Moodpep@fsw.leidenuniv.nl.

For staff

HRM coaches

Has your social life been affected because of the corona crisis? Are you feeling (extra) lonely? The current crisis has resulted in uncertain times for everyone. You might be worried about your own health or that of loved ones. Or maybe you are trying to combine work with looking after children or caring for a family member. All these things can lead to stress, especially when the situation seems likely to continue for some time. If this sounds all too familiar and you feel the need to talk to a professional, you can contact one of the HRM coaches. Make an appointment by sending an email to: coacheshealthyuniversity@bb.leidenuniv.nl or calling 071 527 3193. After your appointment, the HRM coach may advise you to contact the University doctor if this seems to be the best course of action. Of course, you can also contact your own GP for assistance.  

Confidential counsellors

Working at home can lead to new problems in your working environment and relationships, in the area of academic integrity or possibly other issues such as undesirable behaviour. Obviously, you can first raise an issue with your manager and together look for a solution. Maybe you would prefer not to do that, but you can't resolve the problem on your own. It's good to remember that even in this period of working from home, the University confidential counsellors are available for you to talk to. Don't hesitate to contact them if you would like their help.

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