Managing our Mental Health in Times of Uncertainty

In these unprecedented times of uncertainty, as each of us adjust our lives, seeking to ensure we stay alive, it is of vital importance we practice good emotional care...

Currently, news stories and statistics are publicised daily, highlighting the dangers and direct threat to the lives and livelihoods of us all. When the Covid-19 pandemic first started, and I realised the severity of the situation, I found myself repeatedly looking at the symptoms checker online, reading the local statistics of those infected with Coronavirus, and the number of deaths in my area.  However, I quickly grasped that doing this was not providing me with any reassurance, it was causing my anxiousness to increase. Whereas my Adult ego-state could rationalise why the government was directing us to extricate ourselves from any direct contact with other people, except those within our household, my Child ego-state was feeling overwhelmed and scared as I acknowledged precisely how unsafe life now felt, with a potentially deadly virus spreading in waves across my world.

 

What I know is the importance of giving myself permission to feel, really feel, to feel scared. 

Often most of us will resort to using familiar diversion tactics and behaviours which distract from how we are really feeling. These can include repeatedly and persistently tracking the news, following endless posts on Facebook, denial of the dangers of the virus, drinking alcohol, or significant changes in our eating patterns. We’ve all experienced emotions we don’t really want to feel, because of a fear they might overwhelm us and prevent us from functioning, and therefore we do all we can to avoid them.

 

I want to say to each of you, it’s OK to feel scared and it’s OK to express this to the people we trust. 

However, for those people who are caring for children and young people, we can’t necessarily wear our hearts on our sleeves when we need to be the safe adult, nurturing person for our children to retreat to. When we block out our emotions and deny to ourselves how we are feeling, thus going into overdrive and the need to ‘Be-strong’, our anxieties don’t diminish, they increase. They can lead to depression, angry outbursts, panic attacks, substance misuse and other behaviours. The truth is our feelings need to be felt, actually felt. They don’t need to be acted out or thrust onto other people. My personal experience of ignoring or denying my emotions equates to perpetually trying to hold a beach ball under water – the more I seek to hold it down, the more forcefully it pushes up to the surface. I’ve learned to allow myself to feel, whatever my feelings are, and to give them attention. When we deny our feelings, they will painfully and unequivocally start acting out!

 

Isn’t it true that no matter how much deep breathing we do, reciting mantra’s and giving ourselves positive affirmations, we are purely glossing over the issue? 

We are not allowing ourselves to feel. When we truly connect with our distress, acknowledging our fear and upset, and thus releasing the pent-up tears of sadness and/or grief, we might fear we will never stop crying, but we will. I recall those times when I’ve sobbed my heart out and have then fallen into a deep, restful sleep, as all the angst has been released from my body. It’s a necessary painful and healing experience all wrapped up in one.

 

Other practical good self-care involves drinking plenty of water, as it hydrates the body and the mind. Exercise improves our physical health and our ability to cope with stress. It promotes an overall sense of wellbeing and improves our mental health. Eating well and planning what we are going to eat helps too. Having a soak in a fragranced bath (or shower), lighting candles, playing the music we like to listen to, and losing ourselves in a good book, or watching a favourite film can all help. Even though, for some people the luxury of time to do these things is pretty limited, it’s important we find space to do a little thing each day which offers a feel-good factor.  

 

I like to journal, not every day, but when I feel the need to write out feelings I want to remember; the times when I have struggled with an issue and then found a different and enlightening perspective, which changes me from within. I use coloured pens and illustrate my personal reflections, creating my own private space to be me.

Another important quality, often use in our household to diffuse difficult situations, is humour. The Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankyl famously wrote:

It is well known that humor, more than anything else in the human make-up, can afford an aloofness and an ability to rise above any situation, even if only for a few seconds. … The attempt to develop a sense of humor and to see things in a humorous light is some kind of a trick learned while mastering the art of living. Yet it is possible to practice the art of living even in a concentration camp, although suffering is omnipresent” (Man’s Search for Meaning, 1959).

 

As we are all self-protecting, we can plan to engage with the people we miss online. 

Over the past two weeks, I have used video conferencing to talk to many interesting and lovely people, including my colleagues, my delightful supervisor, and my vibrant and lovely TA training mentor. It’s an alternative experience of connection, and equally as valid.

 

These are all different approaches we can use. Not one will fix our circumstances but, as we know, it’s not always about the actual circumstances, it’s more about how we choose to deal with them

I am reminded of the words of Viktor Frankl who survived the horrors of the Holocaust, and he famously wrote: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

 

Online Therapy

For some people reading this blog, they might feel the depths of their difficulties are being dismissed or trivialised. I too can relate to this, having been through some pretty challenging times myself. Therefore, if anyone feels the need for some online therapy, this can be arranged via Sunshine Support. I have the privilege of learning and working alongside two fabulous women, Abi and Josie, who are both trainee psychotherapists. They are available to offer a very affordable online service to those of you who want a safe space to express and explore your feelings. I, too, can offer a limited number of appointments for online therapeutic mental health support, all at affordable rates.

 

To explore these options, please contact me through Sunshine Support.

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