We are all going through one of the strangest journeys we have ever been on; for many of us without leaving our homes! Most of us have had our daily routine turned upside down; we might be needing to put ourselves in situations of heightened risk due to our jobs or in caring for others, or perhaps we are worried about loved ones in dangerous situations at the moment.
Living with anxiety and uncertainty indefinitely is very difficult; especially when we are also isolated from the support networks and day to day activities which usually support our wellbeing. Although it brings unique challenges for each of us, fundamentally we are all experiencing some of the same challenges.
When we try to help people to understand and manage anxiety within our training, we begin by emphasising how normal and necessary anxiety is. In the current situation, it would actually be extremely abnormal not to be anxious and hopefully that anxiety is doing its job in promoting behaviours aimed to keep ourselves and others as safe as possible. However, whilst our anxiety might be promoting us to be cautious; we are also likely to be experiencing other, less helpful side effects such as feeling overwhelmed, out of control and disorientated by the lack of routine.
We wanted to summarise a few tips which might help you to support your wellbeing. Some of these might seem trivial; but all these tap into the factors which would typically maintain your day to day mental health and even in these very different times, there are ways in we can take back a little control and feel a little better. Give some of them a try... what have you got to lose?
Finding a routine – If you aren’t having to adhere to your usual routine of work at the moment it can be tempting to fall into a strange extended-weekend format with the day. Try to set small, manageable tasks for yourself each day, maybe a short list? giving a variety between things which need to be done and things which are enjoyable and good for you to keep a varied routine. Also, as nice as it might be not having to set the alarm as early every morning; we are likely to suffer for having too much or too little sleep and can easily help ourselves to feel better by keeping to a routine bed/ getting up time.
Keep active – the less we do the less we feel like doing – and it’s a slippery slope into feeling really sluggish and lethargic. If we don’t tire ourselves out to some degree sleep is also likely to be much more difficult. With the current restrictions our normal day to day activity is likely to be reduced, but try to ensure that moving your body is in your daily routine. This might be exercise, cleaning with your music turned up, dancing with the kids (or chasing them around!) or just a stroll outside. Promote the likelihood of doing something by scheduling it into your routine, if we wait to ‘feel like it’ we often never will!!
Think positive! - Alongside the physical feelings of anxiety our brains go into hyper-mode, reviewing all the information we have about things, replaying it and churning through the ‘what-if’s’. Again, whilst this is normal and helpful in situations where we have control over problems, in situation like these where we don’t, we need to avoid ‘fanning the flames’ of our anxiety. We can inadvertently feed the anxiety-detection part of our brain and increases our anxiety further – fuelling a horrible vicious cycle or worry and negative thoughts. While we can’t stop ourselves thinking, we can be mindful of adding fuel to the fire by considering how excessively we trawl though the online world of information and run through all the catastrophic possibilities in our minds. If it is helpful, find a way to ‘vent; or ‘dump’ worries and negative thinking externally by writing them down or speaking to someone; but ensure that this is a time-bound activity and you then switch to doing something different!
Stay connected to others – After the initial novelty of video calling, zooming or house partying, we might find that we aren’t communicating with others as much as we thought we would. Perhaps we can’t be bothered, don’t want to show off our ‘lock down chic’ hairstyles or simply feel we have nothing new to say. It’s really important to make sure we keep connected with our social network; maybe a few texts, a call, even a good old fashioned snail mail letter. An opportunity to talk (about something other than the lock down) and maybe even a laugh does wonders for our mental health and mood. Not sure what to talk about anymore? Plan to watch the same movie or box set as a friend and have a chat about that? Ask your mum to teach you your favourite recipe over video or set up a play date over video with your children’s friends (Charades anyone? Eye spy? Dance party?)
Don’t be hard on yourself! - Yes, we all started off thinking we could make the most of these unusual times. Get those jobs done we never have time to do, be the most fun and inspiring teacher our children have ever had, all whilst becoming our fittest, healthiest selves ever. However, for a lot of us this hasn’t quite panned out. If you are being less productive than you wanted to be, don’t be too hard on yourself! The anxiety we are all feeling at this time will be causing a number of barriers to us suddenly becoming the masters of this new lifestyle. You won’t be super parent, super teacher, super cook, super athlete etc all at once. Try to remain focused on small achievements and not setting yourself up for frustration by saying everything must be done perfectly…What is perfect anyway? Our already overworked, over-alert brain is also trying to constantly plan and make decisions to manage this new format of our days and weeks, and it’s tiring! Set small, achievable goals, take satisfaction as you tick them off and if things don’t get done – don’t be too hard on yourself. Finding a sustainable middle ground between procrastination and productivity will help you get through the weeks to come.
And remember, we can be our own worst enemy; often setting impossible standards then berating ourselves when we miss the mark. Give yourself a nudge back into self-compassion by considering things from a more neutral perspective – what would you tell a loved one who described feeling like you do right now? If you take a moment to honestly consider that advice in relation to yourself; sidestepping the usual barrier of our emotional responses and anxiety, you will find you have some great advice for yourself. If it’s difficult to ‘hear it’ for yourself – write down what you would say, leave it for later, then re-read it.
The important thing to remember is, there is no ‘right’ way to get through this time and we will all no doubt experience ups and downs day to day. Try to take each day as it comes and appreciate the small things around you that brighten your day and provide you with a little respite from the uncertainty we are faced with.
Take care, Michelle & Becca x