7 Questions for 7 Experts, #1 Protecting our mental health

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Welcome to our first issue of ‘7 Questions for 7 Experts’, Goumbook’s guide to navigating your way through the challenges of life in lock-down, dedicated to bringing positive and supportive information during these difficult times.

Welcome to our first issue of ‘7 Questions for 7 Experts’, Goumbook’s guide to navigating your way through the challenges of life in lock-down, dedicated to bringing positive and supportive information during these difficult times.

As we settle into this new rhythm of remote work and isolation, we ask one expert every day to help us address specific questions we might need help with.

The world has plunged into uncertainty due to the Coronavirus and the constant news about the pandemic can feel relentless. Self-isolation as well as working from home whilst attempting the precarious daily challenge of home-schooling kids can take its toll on our mental and emotional well-being.


Whilst adjusting to this new rhythm of life we have been forced in to living in entirely different ways: school is online, work happens over zoom, groceries are delivered on Instashop. 

Stress can affect our mental health, particularly those already living with pre-existing conditions. So, we reached out to Dr Catherine Frogley, Clinical Psychologist at The Lighthouse Arabia for her expert advice on how to manage any difficulties we may be experiencing, methods to calm our busy minds and positive thinking exercises for the whole family. It’s a long read but filled with very useful information so take your time.

As always please do comment and share your thoughts and ideas with us, we love to hear from you: we are in social isolation, but we need not feel alone. Reach out to us if you have questions you’d like experts to answer and we’ll do our best to support!

Stay safe and healthy!


1/ How do we stay calm in times of pressure and what are some methods of remaining rational whilst feeling powerless?

  • Breathe

Anxiety triggers our ‘fight or flight’ system, which forces us to take short, shallow breaths and switches off the rational thinking part of the brain. If you can slow down your breathing by taking in long, deep breaths from your diaphragm/stomach, it will let your body know you are safe; turning on your ‘rest and digest’ system and soothing physical symptoms of anxiety. It will also enable you to access rational thinking patterns.

 Practical Tip: Breathe in for 5 seconds, hold for 5 seconds and out for 5 seconds.

  • Focus on the positive news too

It is easy to get caught up in all of the negative press related to coronavirus, and of course it is a worrying time. However, look out for accounts and articles which focus on ways of managing anxiety and/or the good news related to the situation. One such article is https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/the-coronavirus-pandemic-isnot-good-but-the-news-is-not-all-bad-2020031919247. An instagram account which is focusing on anxiety management and good news is @anxiety_wellbeing.

  • Remind yourself of things you can control

Right now, there are so many things outside of our control. This uncertainty is very tough and it often leads us to searching for answers and/or planning for every eventuality. However, if we consistently focus on scenarios which are out of our control, we will continue to feel anxious and drained. If you notice this happening, try to shift your focus to things that are in your control:

– Washing your hands frequently

– Avoid touching your face

– Staying home as much as possible

– Avoiding crowds or gatherings with lots of people

– Getting plenty of sleep to support your immune system

– Eating healthy

– Using the time at home effectively and in line with your values e.g. family, work, learning

  • Try to find meaning

As humans, we are story-tellers and we like to make sense of what is happening to. In fact, the research tells us that when we find meaning during times of adversity, we are likely to cope a lot better. Therefore, try to understand how this situation can be meaningful to you. Maybe this time gives you an opportunity to help others, to spend more family time, to take stock and slow down, or to learn something new.

2/ How can social distancing affect us, especially those with pre-existing health conditions, and how do we manage this?

First of all, the term ‘social distancing’ has a powerful connotation and can leave us feeling stressed and alone. Try to be aware of this language and instead reframe it as ‘staying inside’, ‘serving the community’, ‘being socially responsible’ or ’staying healthy’. This may go a long way to reduce anxiety about staying away from others.

Secondly, make it a priority to connected to people as much as you can. Carve out space for online work meetings and/or check in with colleagues. Request that your colleagues show their faces during online meetings so you can see them. Make time to speak to your friends, family, neighbours etc using the variety of platforms available to us. Try to be mindful about how often you are talking about Coronavirus and focus on simply enjoying each other’s company and focusing on other things that are going on in each others lives.

Whilst working from home, try to adhere to normal routines as much as possible or create a new routine that is realistic for you and the family. Get up early like you would if going into work. Use your commute time for exercise, yoga or meditation to relieve anxiety. Get dressed in work clothes to help put yourself into ‘work mode’. If working with children around, be realistic about time working e.g. 50 minutes chunks. And finally, be strict about when you stop working. Set yourself a time to end work and stick to it. Change your clothes into lounge wear and put away devices.

3/How do we support our children, as they easily mirror our own emotions?

  1. Calm yourself first

Children will be looking to the adults around them to assess the danger. If they see that you are very nervous or worried about the situation, no matter what you tell them, they will pick up on this anxiety and feel it too. Therefore, start by checking in on your own fears and worries about COVID-19. If you can calm your own worries and stay regulated, this will reassure your children that things will be okay.

  1. Assess what they know already

Children have access to information from various sources – their friends, teachers, the internet and their own vivid imagination. Find out what they understand so you know where to start.

  1. Validate any fears they have

Try not to dismiss or minimize your child’s fear. It is natural for them to feel worried because they have probably never experienced anything like this before. Keep it age-appropriate.

  1. When talking to children about COVID-19, provide facts from a reputable source and keep it positive.

Tell them scientists and doctors are working on treatments. Reassure them that right now, the risk of getting the Coronavirus is low and most people only get cold-like symptoms.

  1. Use the situation as an opportunity to learn about viruses together.

One exercise you can do at home is to add pepper to a bowl of water. In this case, the pepper flakes are the ‘germs’. Ask your children to dip their fingers in and then see how the pepper sticks to them. Now add soap to your child’s finger and see what happens… You will notice that the pepper moves away from the soap.

  1. Check-in with them from time-to-time

Determine whether your children need further reassurance or have new questions that need answering or fact-checking.

4/ Should we shut ourselves off from information, what is your advice as to how much information we let in if it is harming our mental health?

When we are anxious our minds are designed to focus on the danger or threat in order to keep us safe. We are also primed to find ways of gaining control of the situation. Therefore, we talk about it with colleagues, friends and family, and we spend time searching for the latest information. It is impossible to shut off completely from the information related to Coronavirus, and being prepared and informed is important for our physical and emotional well-being during a time like this. However, with this particular threat, there really is only so much we can do to protect ourselves and therefore it is important to carve out time away from Coronavirus.

With this in mind, try to take the following steps:

  • Try to make the conscious decision to give yourself a break from all of the talking, thinking and doing things related to the current situation. You can do this by limiting the time spent searching for information online (e.g., limit it to once, per day).
  • Redirect your attention to other things that are important to you. Remain connected to things you would normally focus on (e.g., talking to friends, spending time as a family, engaging in activities, fitness and hobbies).


5/It almost feels like we are going through the stages of mourning right now i.e. denial, guilt, fear, how can we stay positive?

  • Have compassion, for yourself

It is natural for us to worry during this time. Many of us try to push down negative emotions for fear that this means we are weak or vulnerable. However, all emotions are there for good reason and it can actually be more harmful to simply push them down, rather than sitting with them for a little while. When you do this, try to show yourself the same compassion that you would show others.

Talk to yourself as you would talk to a friend or a child. Remind yourself that it is okay to feel anxious at this time, and that this feeling will pass. In line with this, try to give yourself time and permission to engage in self-care activities such as reading, relaxing, massage, a warm bath and a good night’s sleep.

  • Grounding techniques

If you find your thoughts of anxiety start to feel overwhelming, a simple yet effective technique is to ground yourself in the here and now. Shift your attention to your breath and then direct your focus to all five senses. Notice what you see, hear, smell. What can you taste? What does your body feel like?

You can use a guided body scan meditation using the ‘calm’ app or via YouTube.


6/Can you advise on some daily positive thinking exercises we can do for individuals and possibly with the whole family?

A short and effective exercise you can do with the whole family at the end of the day is to write down three things that you are grateful for and/or feel positive about.

These don’t have to be big things. It could be having a nice cup of coffee, having a longer lie in and/or getting outside for fresh air. Doing this exercise regularly redirects your focus to the positive things that are happening around us every day.


7/What can we do to help others in this time, even when we can’t see them or meet with them?

One of the most important things we can do for others (and for ourselves) maintain connection. Humans are social beings. We rely on cooperation and community to survive and this is even more important during times of adversity. Therefore, stay connected to friends, family, neighbours and social groups you are part of via Skype, Zoom, phone-calls, messaging etc. Now, more than ever, we need to find smart ways of staying connected. You may also offer to support those who are less fortunate than yourself, such as, older adults, parents of young children or those who are experiencing symptoms. You could put a note in the door to say you are available to go shopping for them and/or simply just in to show you are thinking of them.


And one more:


What is the one thing you each day that makes your life more sustainable?

Naturally, I am spending a lot of time talking about fears and worries related to Coronavirus as part of my role as a Clinical Psychologist. In order to look after myself during this time, I am focusing on the things that I can do right now – which is to provide as much support to others as I can. And, I am making sure I redirect my attention to non-coronavirus related topics outside of work by limiting access to social media / internet and engaging in activities which are calming, positive or give me a sense of purpose.

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Dr Catherine Frogley, Clinical Psychologist at The Lighthouse, has worked with children, adults and families for over 10 years. Her expertise include anxiety, parenting, attachment and trauma. She works both with families and/or individually with children, adolescents and adults. Dr Catherine believes that family relationships form a key part of psychological well-being and resilience, and therefore is passionate about nurturing these within her work. She has also been a guest on radio and contributed to publications such as Gulf News, Khaleej Times and The National.


Disclaimer: the information shared on this website is for your general knowledge only. The website cannot, and is not intended, to replace the relationship you have with your health care professionals.