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A letter from your CF psychologists

Dr Samantha Phillips, co-chair of the CF psychology and social work committee, writes an open letter on behalf of the committee to people with cystic fibrosis (CF) about how they can manage their anxiety around coronavirus (COVID-19) during this difficult time.

An image of Dr Samantha Phillips, who is Caucasian and has long salt and pepper hair and brown hair. Dr Phillips is wearing a blue scarf and earring and is smiling.Hi there,

The Cystic Fibrosis Trust has been in touch with the psychologist who are part of the national committee of psychologists who work in CF to ask us to give you some ways of managing in these unprecedented times. We have a few ideas as well as the general guidance that has come from the World Health Organisation, NHS England, and the Trust so far. Have a scroll through the resources at the end of this letter to find what suits you best.

Draw on the skills you already have

Many of you are already very skilled at coping with isolation and managing your own time well. For example, when you are unwell at home or if you come into hospital, you are often spending hours alone and keeping yourselves busy with computer games, books, crafts or films. At times like this, it is helpful to draw on the resources and skills that you already have.

Some of you may be finding the slower pace of life more enjoyable than you expected and getting some pleasure from getting jobs done that you have always put off, or if you are shielding or self-isolating with family, you may be finding this time together unexpected and almost like a staycation. If you are, then there is no need to feel guilt – just enjoy it.

Get green fingered 

The weather is helpful at the moment as well. If you don’t have a garden, it is still a pleasure to be able to see sunshine and blue skies from your open window. If you have some help delivering your shopping, maybe ask for a pot plant or some seeds to plant (don’t forget to wash your hands!) and bring the outdoors inside. You may find it very satisfying to grow something and look after something. Apparently plants like to be talked to – so there’s a chance to try this out too with no-one listening!

If you are finding it a bit tough, then we have some tips that may be helpful. These tips are not rocket science and you may think that they are not profound enough to be of help, but give them a try and you may be surprised!

Keep a routine

The most important thing is to try and keep to the routine that you have been used to.

Get up at the usual time, do your treatments and have breakfast. If you have been less good at treatments in the past, now is a good time to build in a good timetable! Have a shower and get dressed.

Try and make a plan for how to use your time in each day. This could be simple tasks that you have put off because there is always something more important or interesting to do. Try spring cleaning one space at a time. It may seem boring, but completing tasks can feel satisfying …and it’s not sedentary. If you are a parent, try involving children in this task. This time of lockdown is a useful time to teach children life-skills that they won’t be taught at school.

Limit the amount of news you watch 

Try and limit the amount of news you watch if you find that regular news updates cause stress. Plan to check one site in the morning or evening and be careful to consider the source of the news. Sadly, there are some unkind folk about who are spreading all sorts of nonsense about the virus and how to treat it.

Control the controllable

At times like this, we can often worry about things over which we have no control. If you find yourself doing this, it is really important to ask yourself, “Can I solve a problem with this worry?” If the answer to this question is “no,” then this is not a helpful worry. You need to be aware that this kind of worry just creates more worry and panic. Remind yourself that you can only control things within the limits of your own life.

Things that you can control are:

  • The time you wake up
  • What you will be eating
  • When you do your treatments
  • How you will spend the time in your day
  • What you may want to watch on screens
  • To whom you speak
  • What time you go to sleep

It would be wonderful if we had the power to control the choices that governments, other powers and people make, but these things are out of our sphere of control and worrying about them does nothing but increase our own distress. When you notice you are worrying about things out of your control, STOP! Be kind to yourself and remind yourself that it is human nature to worry. Smile and then CHOOSE to focus your attention on something else within your control.

Shift your focus

Sometimes, it can be helpful to turn your mind to something you can feel grateful for. It could be that the sun is shining, you can listen to music you enjoy, or a simple pleasure you have, like having access to your favorite food or having time to do some art or baking. It may sound silly, but this effort that you make to shift your attention away from worry to something more pleasant, will have a positive effect on your mood.

Instead of turning your attention away from worry, you could also change your behavior. You could try to use a mindfulness app, do some yoga, or try out some exercise. Even indoors you can run on the spot – exercise is possible anywhere! You may not feel like it, but it will help.

Stay connected

Other ways to stay sane in this time of strangeness is to connect with other people. We all need to engage in shielding or social distancing at this time. However, with the marvels of technology, we are more able than ever to connect with people using social media (or even the old telephone!).

Try and keep in touch with people who support and lift you; people who make you laugh and feel some joy! If this is tricky because of how life has been for you up until now, then maybe think about reconnecting with people who were like this in your life before. With life being busy, we may have some special people that we have not contacted in years and, although it may feel strange to make contact out of the blue, there are many people doing just this at this time.

Stay busy

Another way of getting through this time would be to read those books you have always wanted to, or watch films. If you are isolating with someone, play some board games. If you are on your own, there are plenty of games to play on-line. You could try a new hobby.

Finally, keep some healthy sleep habits. Try and keep to your routine, or try and improve your habits if this has been a neglected area of your life. These resources below may be helpful for you – the YouTube video by Russ Harris is great!

Please keep in touch with your teams and ask for support and help that you need. We will all do our best to support you in ways that we can!

Best wishes,
Dr Samantha Phillips
On behalf of the CF psychology and social work committee

Further resources

FACE COVID - In this brief animation, Dr Russ Harris, author of the international best-seller The Happiness Trap, illustrates how to use ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) to deal with the coronavirus crisis and the fear, anxiety and worry that goes with it.

Coping with stress during the 2019-nCoV outbreak - This factsheet from the World Health Organisation looks at some ways to cope with stress.

10 tips to help you if you are worried about coronavirus - The NHS's every mind matters campaign looks at some tips for handling your anxiety.

Tips on stress and coping from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention - This information includes tips for parents and those in the high risk category.