Not a typical monday
It’s Monday morning, it’s the first day of the Easter holidays, and yet there is no feeling or sense of it being a holiday. In fact, last Monday was the exact same.
A normal Monday would mean being up and out for 8.15 am for my usual school and college run, then back to start work at 10 am with my first client of the day.
This morning I am typing this article from my bed at 10.30 am, listening to the raindrops hitting my window. My two kids are here, as is my husband. The house is eerily quiet apart from my husband tapping out an email for work and my own tapping on my keyboard.
I’m not sleeping at all well as I’m sure many of you are not. This crisis we are all in is scary and very real. When our bodies are in a heightened state, the voluntary internal response is to protect, as so the fight or flight defence mechanism kicks in. At bedtime, this is more problematic. Despite trying all the things I know as a counsellor my body works the same as everyone else’s. I’ve tried breathing techniques, visualisations, as well as a nice relaxing bath - these have all helped to a degree. However, my mind starts to wonder as I try to fall asleep. I feel my ‘irregular’ heartbeat (I have something called left bundle branch block -LBBB - and an irregular heartbeat) picking up pace in a more unusual way and then suddenly I’m wide awake again.
You are probably reading this thinking 'yep that’s me too'. It’s an all too familiar pattern for how our body responds to stress and anxiety. If I’m lucky enough to fall asleep relatively quickly I’ve found that a couple of hours later, I’m awake again having had what I can vaguely recall as a bad dream or nightmare. Again, annoyingly, our subconscious comes barging through into our thoughts as we sleep. If we are feeling anxious and stressed this can manifest while we sleep creating and playing out plenty of horrifying and terrifying unimaginable scenarios in our sleep. Early rising is another indicator of stress levels, it’s a constant internal battle, our bodies need to relax to rejuvenate and yet how can they when everything internal is screaming panic.
This unpleasant merry-go-round of disturbing dreams and broken sleep encroaches into how we feel the next day. For example, yesterday, I had very little sleep the night before, I got up early with our dog, aware I was feeling very emotional and fragile. Every news article I read brought me to tears, every time either of my kids or husband asked me if I was ok a tear would inadvertently start trickling down my cheek. FaceTiming my parents, like many of us, produced yet more tears as I said goodbye. I am not sharing this for any kind of stoic gain, I am choosing to share this because I’m certain it will resonate with many others.
We are living our lives completely differently to how we were only a few short weeks ago. The emotional and mental strain this is taking on all of us is immense. I’ve chosen to highlight this through my own feelings because normally as a counsellor I am calm and can work my way through thought and reflection and reduce my own anxieties with a more balanced and positive thought process. However, this is new for all of us, learning how to cope is a work in progress.
Many of our fears come from the unknown. I, like many, crave information so that I can reframe my thinking more rationally. If I’m prepared then I can cope better, albeit, I’m also aware that too much information can create more fear and so my hamster wheel of anxiety keeps spinning. Like all things in life I’ve found, sometimes the hard way, there is a balance. Initially, I watched the news constantly. Now as a family we are trying to reduce this by only watching and reading at certain times of the day. At first it felt like a comfort - the ‘knowledge is power’ way of thinking, and yet now I think all my family would agree that too much news causes our stress levels to rise and adds to anxiety and unhelpful thinking.
Right now, the waters are murky and muddy, nothing we can see is clear, it will take some painfully slow treading until we can navigate them safely for who knows what lurks beneath? And so, for now, we all need to stay on our own little island, slippers on, until we know for certain it is safe to put on our wellies and carefully tread once more.
If you feel that you are struggling to manage feelings of overwhelm and anxiety and it's becoming too much, there is always the option of talking to a professional counsellor for some help. Although face-to-face counselling is not possible at this time, many therapists offer the same confidential service online and via telephone. The main thing is to talk to someone if you are struggling; even with a close friend or family member, if things feel like they are unmanageable.