Help in the time of corona
We are living through exceptionally anxious and unpredictable times. Who would have thought that in less than two months, our worlds would have become so topsy turvy? Suddenly, many of us are unable to leave the house. Those who can - essential key workers - face intense risks and pressures previously unheard of.
“Lockdown”, “Pandemic”, and "Coronavirus" are part of our daily vocabulary. Boundaries between our work and family lives are beyond blurred as we are thrown into homeschooling children, caring for elderly relatives, working from home and catering for the domestic needs of our families.
For people living alone, there is frequent loneliness, isolation and separation from colleagues, friends and loved ones. People with pre-existing mental health problems or physical illnesses face additional challenges. Our usual routines and comforting hobbies and past times aren’t available to us because gyms, social groups, pubs and cafes are closed. Domestic relations can be a pressure cooker in such close confinement.
As a psychotherapist, my expertise lies in helping people manage anxiety and uncertainty. So here are my thoughts to anyone struggling with stress, depression and anxiety in these testing times.
How to help yourself:
Structure your access to the news. As much as you can, don’t watch the outpouring of negative information on TV or social media 24/7. Allow yourself a couple of slots a day, maybe twice a day in the morning and evening. Don’t watch the news for a couple of hours before bed, so your mind isn’t ruminating over negative thoughts. Equip yourself with information from credible trusted sources. The World Health Organisation and the NHS both have pages set up to report the latest stats and guidance.
Take control of your stress levels with simple in-the-moment behaviours. The Buddhists will tell you to “be present”. Neuro-scientists and trauma-informed therapists refer to “somato-sensory behaviours”.
Take a walk, listen to music, read a book, do some art or crafts, gardening. Regulate your sensory system by doing some rhythmic behaviour. Tiny little doses of this regulatory activity will lower your baseline stress throughout the day. So, yes, take your exercise daily, as recommended by our PM. And, whatever it is you find regulating in a big way, also do this regularly all throughout the day. five or ten minutes an hour. Yoga, walking, deep breathing, stretching.
On “Distancing”: We are social animals. Most of us need social contact to stay mentally healthy. Practice being physically distant but stay emotionally close to those who help you feel better. Start using your phone to speak to those you care about, make that five-minute call, and if you can, use technology like Skype or Zoom. Regular counselling can be a routine that anchors you in precarious times and helps you maintain weekly positive levels of wellbeing. Many counsellors are now offering telephone or online sessions via Zoom or some other remote platform.
We may be stuck in lockdown at home, but it’s important to keep a routine. Get up at the same time you normally would, take a shower, get dressed, structure your day with exercise, get outside for some fresh air, walk the dog if you have one, prepare and cook your food and eat at regular mealtimes, call your loved ones, home school the kids.
Keep healthy habits. Prioritise your sleep and nutrition. They are the cornerstones of good mind-and-body health. If you are missing your usual exercise routine or gym sessions, get creative and try something new. There are lots of free apps or videos available on the internet. Or maybe your usual class is being offered via Zoom.
And, for once, maybe let the kids play a video game without guilt for some brief periods a few times a day, as some children (and adults!) find this regulating. Routine takes the unpredictability of these times and makes them predictable. Structure to your days will help you stay calm and regulated.
Most of us are feeling more fragile or vulnerable than usual. It’s completely understandable. Talk to people you trust or your counsellor about your fears. Processing what you’re feeling and being heard will help you feel more grounded, aware and understood.
We're all going to take care of each other.
This will pass.
We can get through this.