Weather the emotional storm of covid-19
Imagine you are on a beach, somewhere warm, with a perfect blue sky. It might be your favourite holiday destination. Look at the colour of the sand. Can you feel it beneath your feet, between your toes as you walk? Study the deep blue of the sky. Are there any clouds? Little puffy white ones? And what is the colour of the sea? Is it lapping at the sand or do the waves crash down? Is there any vegetation? Grasses, palm trees, or even jungle?
You can let your imagination run riot. After all, this is likely to be the nearest you will get to your holiday resort this Summer.
There is, however, another purpose for this daydream. Creating a vivid image in your mind, focussing and allowing yourself to feel you are there, can have a positive impact on the brain and help you to manage your emotions. It’s called visualisation.
We’ll come back to our beach later.
How to weather the emotional storm
The drastic measures being taken to tackle the Coronavirus in every country are unprecedented and, although necessary, will sadly lead to increased depression and anxiety for many. There is the worry about whether we or a loved one, might catch the virus. For some that might be unpleasant but with no long-term implications, for others, it is much more serious. We also have the miserable prospect of every joyful social activity in our lives being cancelled. And for many, it brings the worry of not earning money for several weeks or months. Let’s hope the Government's ‘bailout’ measures mitigate the worst financial effects.
We are all severely limiting our social activities for the foreseeable future, and some will have to self-isolate for a while, so we are going to need plenty of tools to cope with anxiety and fill the extra time we’ll have.
Manage the media
Information is vital as the situation is complex and we need to know how to look after ourselves and others. And it’s difficult to avoid the 24/7 coverage, but it can fuel anxiety. So choose your outlets carefully, get the information you need, then change to something else. This might be music radio channels, drama and soaps on TV and plenty of box sets. You might want to be warier of social media than usual, although local community contact is increasing.
If your anxiety increases remember to slow and lengthen your breathing; try counting in for three, hold for four and out for five. Practice relaxation techniques, such as tensing and releasing muscles, going from your feet to your head. If you don’t already practise mindfulness this is a good opportunity to learn. There are music CDs, videos and YouTube videos that can help you with exercises and instruction, as well as books. You will be giving your brain a rest from all those whirling, negative thoughts. Getting back to our beach (and who wouldn’t want to?) visualisation, is a cognitive tool which can act as both escapism and motivational. Put the term into a retail book site and you might well find yourself a whole new area of learning and self-development.
Change the thought
And on the subject of negative thoughts, be aware of your thinking and how much time you might be spending dwelling. When we do this it is easy to catastrophise, and the current situation is just perfect for doing that. ‘What will happen if I catch this?’, ‘We’re going to run out of money’, or ‘I can’t bear it if I can’t see friends’. So pin down the thought, write down the fear and then adjust the thought to something less negative. Such as: ‘I can protect myself’, ‘most people recover from it’, ‘we can still chat on the phone or Skype’. And I love the Italians’ proclaiming ‘Andrà tutto bene’ – Everything will be alright. And they’re right!
Distraction – big time!
We know that dwelling and a negative inner dialogue – self-talk – can promote anxiety and depression. So it makes sense to spend as little time doing this as we can. This doesn’t mean that we can’t reflect on our predicament or be in touch with how we feel, nor does it stop us from brainstorming and problem-solving. But since we’ll have a lot of time on our hands, let’s put it to good use. This is the perfect opportunity to learn a new skill or hobby. Crafts are a good distraction from anxiety. And with all that money we will save on not going out we can afford to splash out a little on equipment or materials.
Counselling can adapt
If you are concerned about social contact or are unable to go out, many counsellors offer video sessions by Skype, WhatsApp and FaceTime. You too could suggest group chats with friends and neighbours.
Gratitude and kindness
Perhaps after all the social discord this country has gone through in the last few years, a silver lining from the crisis might be greater community cohesion. Despite a bad start with panic buying, generosity will prevail: people are already reaching out in their neighbourhoods, creating networks to keep in touch with and help each other. This is where social media can have a positive impact. Acts of kindness, done to us and by us, are good for our mental health - as is gratitude. Every day ask yourself what kind of act you can do and what you are grateful for.
So remember… Andrà tutto bene!
If you feel you would like to talk to someone then try to speak to friends or family that can help. Alternatively, there are many therapists offering help via online and telephone counselling. This offers an excellent alternative to face-to-face therapy, so there is really no need to cope alone - there is help available if you need it.
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