Relieve, revitalise and re-engage
In the current climate, we are facing one of the most challenging aspects of the 21st century, something which no other individual on the planet has ever engaged with and are doing it with an amount of determination and dread.
As well as the physical aspects of this particular crisis, one of the more overlooked elements will be the mental health effects caused by this particular juncture of our time. As I was told by a very wise man many moons ago, ‘healthy mind healthy body’.
Wherever you are in the spectrum you are going to need to weather the storm by providing yourself with some form of relief. Even though within this particular tempest we have different rules and responsibilities, the principles in maintaining good mental health will remain the same.
To get a sense of relief you have to break yourself away from the storm to find that shelter. This can take the form of a few things:
- Limiting your exposure to the news, whether that is actually on the television, social media or another platform. Finding your own source of information which is trusted by you is important, but I would only engage sparingly. That means you get the necessary facts, you are able to process them appropriately and not be dragged down by endless negativity.
- Have a journal, a mobile phone app, text message, writing pad. With this particular medium what I would like you to do is to treat this like a port where you can drop off all the thoughts of the day. The majority might be negative, because that’s natural, because we pick up on negativity more, but there may also be positive elements and they are also worthy of note. Write in a medium you find easiest to do. We're not after essays; you can do ballpoint form, you will not be assessed on your spelling, just get them on paper or get them on an electronic medium and then securely put them somewhere (i.e. your journal in a locked draw).
- Talk to someone. We are professional therapists and we are here to help, but if you don’t necessarily have the availability or resources there are helplines out there that can also offer support (this will be provided at the end of the article). You could always talk to a friend/ trusted family member and have a conversation. Again to prevent overload on both sides keep it to a specific time, so have a quick five-minute conversation about your worries on each side and then move on to more pleasant topics.
The idea behind the relief part of this process is to ensure that you get all of the worries and woes out there. If you imagine a pair of gym socks, which have been left in a teenager’s bedroom for a long period of time, the longer a sock is in the room, the more that your nasal passages will be bombarded with the strong smell of putrid sweat. Negativity in the mind works in a similar way, so as with your socks, make sure you change them often and put them in the wash basket. The way that you can do this mentally is making sure that you write down your thoughts and put them away, as you would put laundry into a wash basket.
Now at this particular juncture, we should have successfully managed to remove the majority, if not all, the negativity. Now we need to redress the balance and a healthy balance should have their own personal and imaginary set of scales, which have positivity and negativity in the proportion. We, therefore, need to bring up the positivity a little bit, as this will probably have been lacking.
- Engage in an activity that you enjoy doing every day if possible. If you need to, ensure that it is planned in advance. Ensure that you have a set of favourite activities that you like doing each day, so that your happy activity does not become part of the paintwork.
- Do something you’ve always wanted to do. If that’s the novel that you want to work on, the paintings, the pictures, building something; go for it. What you want to be doing with this particular activity is to make something that you can take ownership and be proud of upon its completion, which is not necessarily work-related, nor family-related, but is something that you have achieved.
- Watch TV or movies: most people find this quite a good way to relax and tune out. However, please be cautious about what you are watching. Remember the brain is a gigantic search engine and if there is a topic which is quite similar to the current crisis, it will lock onto it and then blow your mind and you have to go back to the previous step. So please be selective in your watch.
- Online gaming: again merely fleeing the generations of the heart, but again a group activity talking with friends and going out beating up monsters, blowing the hell out of imaginary zombies might be the way forward and promote camaraderie.
- If you do not necessarily have access to a games machine, but would like to promote the revitalising elements and social interaction, you could join a book club, regular meetings with the family, chat with friends. It's important to note of this particular stage that we are in isolation, but we are not in social isolation. The other sociable creatures and we, need that communication.
- You can engage in meditation, mindfulness, and other calming practices.
- Whilst at work, either at the office or in isolation, make sure you’re taking regular breaks away from computer screens, where possible, and looking after yourself by eating properly.
- You may have to vary activities due to the nature of your work, for example shift work. Make sure that if you are engaging in this kind of work, make sure you have a pen/pencil and any activities to do when you’re off shift. When you are on shift you could have short bursts of activities that help revitalise you. So if the pattern looks like: work-home-work, your time is going to be very valuable to you. Therefore make sure that the activities on your workdays are around 30 minutes, so they take enough time to be effective whilst also not impeding on any time that is precious to you.
The most terrifying thing about fighting an enemy, is not necessarily the fight itself, it’s the thought of going into battle with it again. If you find yourself in a situation where you’re starting to gain tension, and the relief element hasn’t quite worked for you then there are some helpful techniques you can use:
Everyone has their own particular take on breathing exercises. They are extremely vital, because what they are designed to do is to promote what we call the parasympathetic phase of the nervous system. This is the calming down phase, it takes us from our peak of fight and flight, and it brings us into a calmer state of physical being.
My particular method of doing this is:
1. Taking a breath of four seconds.
2. Expel the breath for seconds.
3. Take a breath for seconds.
4. Repeat until calm.
There are many different techniques that you can explore on the internet and you can acquire your own toolkit and make it available for you when you need it.
This particular methodology will help you in the short term. It is designed to help you survive the day-to-day where possible. However, if you are finding yourself in a predicament where you’re finding it harder to do this then I would, of course, recommended to seek out the appropriate help through either your work, charity, or helplines that will be provided.
If you have been exposed through your frontline work to an excessive amount of traumatic stimulus than you really need to contact your supervisor and talk to someone about it. Trauma is an unpredictable entity, and the best way to deal with it when you are exposed to it is to talk about it with a professional and ensure they can support you through tough times.
Anxiety UK: Charity providing support if you have been diagnosed with an anxiety condition.
Phone: 03444 775 774 (Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 5.30pm)
Mind: Promotes the views and needs of people with mental health problems.
Phone: 0300 123 3393 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm)
Samaritans: Confidential support for people experiencing feelings of distress or despair.
Phone: 116 123 (free 24-hour helpline)
SOS: A counselling service for anyone in England, Scotland and Wales living with suicidal thoughts. They are there to listen and provide free ongoing over-the-phone counselling and help people get through their darkest moments.
Text / Call free on 07766-808-222.
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