Spill is here to support you through the emotional uncertainty of COVID-19.

Spill's ask-a-therapist feature has been receiving a lot of traffic since coronavirus has put everyone in disarray. How not to worry about the worrying news? How to stay motivated while working from home? How to stay connected while self-isolating? How to handle the uncertainty? The health crisis, with a looming economic crisis on its wake, is understandably stirring a lot of difficult emotions. Here are some ideas for keeping a positive mindset while we weather the storm.

The secret to happiness is accurate expectations

In the wake of a potential threat, some difficult emotions are inevitable - indeed, probably a good idea. Emotions, as Randolph Nesse puts it in Good Reasons for Bad Feelings, have likely evolved to keep us safe. Worrying might not be the funnest of feelings, but it does keep us alert. Anxiety can motivate us to take the necessary precautions to stay safe - and help others stay safe, too. Low mood can reign in an excess of optimism, with the cavalier attitude to risk that too much positive emotion usually entails. Frustration may spur creativity: during the Tube strike of 2014, Londoners had to find other ways of getting to work; 5% stuck to their new commute even after transport was back to normal. Finally, a lack of motivation might be the body's own way of keeping us at rest, so that energy can be refunnelled to our immune systems.

Of course, that's not to say difficult emotions are an unalloyed boon. The crucial thing, as always, is moderation. Some worrying, some anxiety, some frustration, some low mood, some lack of motivation. If these emotions are excessive or protracted, they may do more harm than good. It's a judgement call. That's why having the right expectations can be helpful.

The chicken soup for the soul is other people

The best advice is too often the most boring. Sleep well, eat well, exercise, drink plenty of water - we've all heard it before. What we may not hear as often is the boring - but true and helpful - advice for staying on top of our mental health: connect, take notice, keep learning, and give. Giving doesn't just mean donating to charity, but being generous with one's time and attention. For instance, paying enough attention to be able to compliment someone (which is harder than it sounds), or listening for 10min to someone else's emotions, putting ours aside. Learning is about expanding our horizon of possibilities, so we may discover new open windows where before we saw only closed doors. Taking notice is about remembering to spend more time in the present moment and less in reveries about future and past. We are not our history and we are not our plans: we are our way of looking at the world, here and now.

But chief among cures is staying connected. We are a social species wired for bonding. If you're lonely, odds are others will be too. If you're worrying, talk about it. Leave Skype open while cooking dinner, make 20 calls of 2 minutes each, rather than one call of 20 minutes. Reach out. Ask open-ended questions using what and how. Listen. Coronavirus might have caused some people to fight in supermarkets, but it's also led others - many many more - to applaud health professionals from their windows. This is no trite truism or cheesy cliche: in difficult times, people come together.

Don't Panic

Finally, in the rest of this page we'll share some thoughts and tools for staying on top of nervousness, anxiety, and worry. Whether it's staying away from the endless dwelling of 24/7 news cycles, or coping with being cut off from familiar routines and loved ones, it's important to remember that there are always things we can do, no matter the challenge. If you're worrying a lot or feeling anxious, the first step might be to ground your body in the present moment. A little meditation exercise to help with this is this: find a quiet place, take a deep breath, then name 5 things you can see, 4 things you can here, 3 things you can feel, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste. Once you feel more grounded, you might consider some cognitive-behaviour tools, as well. For instance, writing down every scenario that worries you, with the percentage probability of it occurring, as well as two or three things you might do if it that scenario occurred. Having specific contingency plans can help us feel calmer. The mental health charity Mind has more advice and we'll continue updating this page as questions come in. Finally, reach out to us.

Spill is here to help. We've opened our ask-a-therapist feature to the public, so you can send us your own question on Instagram, as described below. You can ask about how to look after your own feelings, as well as how to support others with theirs. We're also offering a free therapy session to anyone who's struggling with working from home and who would benefit from some mental health support. We're completely remote, so we'll be here throughout.

Engage your marathon mindset

Graph showing emotional states during stages of a crisisGraph showing emotional states during stages of a crisis

This pandemic is a marathon, not a race. When the American Psychological Association ran a webinar the other week, discussing best practices for mental health care during lockdown, their presentation included a graph depicting the community phases of emotional fluctuation during impactful events (see picture). What does the picture show? First, before the event, there we are muddling through, around the middle of the emotional spectrum. Then, the event happens: the pandemic erupts. What follows is a surge in positive, high-energy emotions: "we're in this together", "we'll get through this", "we can do this", and similar feelings. This is the phase when everyone rallies and comes together to deal with the event. There is a period of 'honeymoon', where we all bravely face to the new life circumstance. But then what? What can then happen is that our mood can begin to flog. That's because it may be much longer than we first expect for things to get back to normal (or to a new normal). Our initial readiness gives way to disillusionment, as the realisation settles in that we may be in a lockdown for longer than anticipated. Sports psychologists are well aware of this phenomenon: when an athlete reaches a plateau, it can be difficult to sustain enthusiasm and motivation. That's OK. The key thing is to expect this to happen and be self-aware when it does: it's all just a normal part of the road to recovery. Eventually, reconstruction will make progress, and the new (and - why not - better) normal will be ushered in. The key thing is to ready ourselves emotionally for the long haul, pace ourselves emotionally, and remind ourselves that some disillusionment along the way may be no more unexpected than a cramp during a long run: this is a marathon, not a race.


Questions from real humans answered by real therapists

What if the people I'm self-isolating with give me anxiety?

Knowing you are going to be with people that cause you to feel anxious suggests you have a good level of self-awareness, which is incredibly useful, as self-awareness is your first line of defence here. You can’t control what others say or do, but (with practice) you can begin to control how you react to them. You can also control how you act towards yourself: in other words, the level of self care you practice. Doing nice things for ourselves, whether it's watching something we enjoy or meditating for a few minutes or cooking ourselves a nice meal (whatever it is): these things can send our unconscious the subliminal message that we're worth it. That builds our sense of self-worth, which can boost our self-confidence, which can help us stand up to the people who make us feel anxious.

How do you balance crisis planning without catastrophising?

One question may help you figure out if you're close to a good balance: what fuels your motivation? That is, are you acting from a place of courage ("I must ready myself for this situation") or from a place of panic and rumination ("Everything will be a disaster"). It’s really important to try and stay as calm as possible during this time of uncertainty. When we feel calm we are able to think and respond from a rational frame of mind, rather than react from a place of panic. Planning can help us feel more prepared, which may in turn make us feel like we have a bit more control. Try to limit your news intake to once a day, and through a source that relays facts without dwelling on emotions. Create your own short, dispassionate news updates to share with those around you. And if you do want to crisis-plan, do it with the input of several other people to make sure you're being as realistic as possible. Make sure every potential negative outcome is paired with how you would respond. It's a bit like having a fire escape plan: just knowing it's there gives a whole lot of reassurance.

I've been furloughed and now have nothing to do! How do I cope with the sudden lack of structure?

Yes, your normal routine is gone, but that doesn't mean you can't make a new one. Form a plan for the things you want to do over the next few weeks, whether it's learning something new, reading books, watching movies, exercising... anything that gives you a sense of purpose. Writing the plan down and ticking off the things you achieve may give you a sense of achievement and help it feel like you aren't just killing time. If you set time frames, that will also bring some structure back to your routine. This is a difficult time for all of us, but focusing on the positive and the opportunity to do things you wouldn't normally have time for may help you cope better. Allow yourself time to figure it out. Remind yourself that feeling unsettled is normal. But inside this sense of unsettlement and (maybe even) anxiety, there's the opportunity to discover a new you.

There is so much in the news about the virus right now. Is there anything I can do to make it feel less all-consuming and anxiety inducing?

The anxiety you are feeling is a natural response to the uncertainty that many of us are feeling right now. These are very uncertain times with nobody really knowing what will happen next and the headlines are causing a lot of concern about something we have no control over. Unfortunately that lack of control is fuelling the anxiety even more. You could try setting yourself specific times to check the news and sticking to those times. Connecting with others can help transform worry into an opportunity to bond. Various mindfulness, breathing and CBT exercises can also help reduce anxiety and worry.

I find it really hard to feel motivated when I work from home. What can I do to get my motivation back?

Not only can it be difficult to motivate at home generally, but with everything happening, the change in your routine and daily structure, a lack of motivation sounds to me like a normal reaction to the confusion and disruptions around you. A lack of motivation can be difficult because it is likely there are many factors contributing to it. The simplest way to get your motivation back is to do something you want to do. This may feel impossible when low on energy so we need to pinpoint what’s causing your lack of motivation and then to find ways you can trick yourself into getting it back. Regaining your motivation involves a combination of combatting the sources of its depletion and tricking yourself into taking the first step.

My company has gone remote and everything feels kind of manic. However, I feel as though I'm being left out as I know that there are meetings going on but I'm not in them. Usually, I'd be able to bring this up but everyone seems so busy.

With so much uncertainty right now its not surprising things are feeling kind of manic, its hard to make plans when we can’t predict what is going to happen next and I suspect you aren’t the only person at your company that feels that way. With the meetings, it’s important to reflect on why you feel left out As you said yourself things are a bit manic so may feel very unusual. Perhaps recognising that you not being involved isn’t about you personally will help you accept the situation a bit better and ease that feeling of being left out.

How would you suggest structuring your day to prevent being overwhelmed?

While things are so “up in the air” for all of us right now its really important to get into a routine that resembles your usual one as much as possible. If you are working from home try to work the same hours, take breaks & lunches at the usual times and if there are colleagues you would normally chat to, continue to do so on the phone or online. If you have self-isolated and usually socialise, join some online networks. Or if you go to the gym find an alternative online - there are loads of videos available. Sticking to your normal structure as much as possible may make things feel less different which could help to stop you feeling overwhelmed.

When wfh, I feel the need to prove to my manager that I am getting work done, which makes me feel anxious. How can I cope better?

The first thing to do is ask yourself why you feel the need to prove you are working to your manager and whether you have ever given them a reason to distrust you. The fact this is making you feel anxious could be impacting your ability to work to your full potential. Perhaps talking to your manager about how you feel and finding out their expectations will make you feel less anxious.

How to cope with the guilt of travelling when its necessary?

I guess the first thing to do is ask yourself why you feel guilty about having to travel. Not everything can be done remotely. Many of us have to leave home to work, and at this time public transport systems are still running which means there is nothing wrong with travelling when we need to. The unique situation we have found ourselves in is causing many of us to experience emotions that don’t necessarily make sense. Maybe reminding yourself you are travelling because you have to and aren’t doing anything wrong will help alleviate that feeling of guilt.

As a manager I now spend a lot of my day writing and waiting for emails from my team, as we aren't all in the same room. What can I do to improve communication?

While it may be necessary to send some emails, perhaps before you start to write the next one you could ask yourself if it would be quicker to pick up the phone or video call the person. That way you save time and also get an immediate response, so there is no waiting around. If it’s an email to multiple recipients maybe schedule a conference call or video conference. In fact, scheduling phone or video conferences at set times throughout the day could not only improve communication, but may help everyone feel less isolated and more motivated too.

spill tips

Spill's tips for working from home without losing your mind

☎️Have short (2-3min) check-in calls throughout the day

When we’re at work, we ask people questions as and when they pop into our heads, and intermittently check in with how they’re doing. Phone calls don’t need to be long. A simple question that could usually be asked over Slack is OK to ask over a phone call during COVID-19: people will be pleased with the distraction.

🚶‍♀️Stick to the same routine you have in the office

It’s all too easy for time to blur when you’re working from home, and to realise it’s 3pm and you’re still in your pyjamas, having only eaten some toast. Stick to a schedule to make yourself feel more in control and stave off anxiety. Get dressed into real clothes, have a proper breakfast, be ‘at your desk’ on time.

💻Leave a call on in the background while working

If you’re working on parts of a project that require asking intermittent questions, if you usually work closely with a few people, or if you just have a favourite colleague who you miss being around, leave a call on in the background for a few hours while you work. Even if neither of you say much, it’s just nice to know someone’s there.

🎧Create shared daily music playlists

This is an easy way to feel connected to the people you work with without having constant contact. Nominate a different person to be in charge of creating a shared playlist each day, and encourage everyone to listen. Learn more about your colleagues’ music tastes as you work, and message them if you like a song.

📹Video call on your laptop while cooking and eating

Working alone can be fine, but eating alone can often feel a bit weird. Schedule a lunch break with a colleague via calendar invite. Leave your laptop open on a video call while you both prepare a meal in your respective kitchens, and then sit down to eat it ‘together’.

👪Send frequent voice notes to friends and family

What’s often a shock about working from home is how quiet it is. Sending and listening to voice notes helps keep the sound of chatter going every now and then, and hearing the voices of loved ones can make you feel less isolated without the commitment of a phone call.


Other resources recommended by Spill, to keep you busy and happy at home

🎭Get cultural

Every Thursday at 7pm, The National Theatre is streaming one of its hit plays on YouTube for free. (Virtually) meet the brewers, and listen to a Q&A about beer-making, while drinking along at the UK's first ever online beer festival. And Google's Arts & Culture tool lets you tour several world-famous galleries, like the Guggenheim in New York or the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. And if you want to be part of an open-source project, Corona Diaries lets people record voice notes of their isolation experiences and shares them on a world map: often intimate, sometimes eye-opening, and overall makes you feel more connected to those far, far away.

🚸Keep the kids busy

Tate Kids has a bunch of ideas for easy art projects to do at home. To travel from your living room.YouVisit offers 360-degree VR tours of places around the world, while the Discovery Channel has some virtual school field trips planned.GoNoodle has a range of activities to help kids burn off excess energy, or you can try P.E. with Joe on YouTube. Storyline has a range of children's audiobooks to listen to for free. Type the name of an animal into Google on your phone, e.g. tiger, and there's the option to see it in your living room in augmented reality. If you want to keep things strictly educational, Scholastic has some free learning activity packs.

🧒Keep the teenagers busy

Rosetta Stone, the famous (and famously expensive) tool for learning languages through pictures, is offering 3 months' free to students. BBC Bitesize is deceptively good for gamifying learning. The Royal Academy of Engineering sets weekly at-home engineering challenges for teenagers. And, if all else fails and you just need a bit of peace and quiet, point them towards TikTok (in the unlikely case that they're not already on it). They'll be asking you to feature in dance videos with them pretty soon, however.

💝Find a way to help out

Covid Mutual Aid has details on how you can help vulnerable people near you.NHS Volunteer Responders have currently paused applications due to overwhelming demand, but check back again in a few days. If you're based in the capital, the Mayor of London has pulled together a database of volunteering opportunities searchable by borough.

👋Meet new people

Being at home doesn’t mean you need to be antisocial. In fact, it’s an opportunity to meet new people without having to spend money on drinks! Join the Working from Home Party an open Zoom call for anyone to hang out on anytime, or celebrate WFH Happy Hour at 5pm.

🎹Start a new hobby

Finding a hobby that lets you get into a state of ‘flow’ — where you lose track of time and are completely engrossed — provides a huge boost to wellbeing. Try these interactive online tools for learning the piano, guitar or chess at your own pace.

📈Up-skill yourself

Making progress towards a goal is one of the best ways to feel less ‘stuck’ and improve your mood while at home. Learn a language in 200 hours or learn to code in a month. You could even try this introduction to negotiation: 17% of people got a pay rise or promotion soon after finishing it.

🏃‍♀️Stay active

Try Workout Sesh for free online HIIT workouts you can do at home, or Yoga With Adriene for a range of follow-along practices between 5 and 45 minutes. For something more intense, get a free one-week trial of Gold Medal Bodies, a renowned strength and mobility programme.

🎓Get intellectual

Some of the best universities in the world have free online versions of their degree courses. ‘Justice’ an introduction to moral and political philosophy, is one of the most popular courses at Harvard, or you could take a stab at Oxford University’s course in ‘Quantum Mechanics’.

Spill lets employees access mental health support over Slack.