Your Mental Health During Lockdown

For the last few months, the majority of us have been living with new limitations. This has come with a wide range of complex challenges to our mental health. Freedom of movement has been restricted and ‘social distancing’ is now not only a standard part of lexicon but a new way of life. Mental health during lockdown has come under the spotlight.

It is no surprise that the current Corona pandemic is having just as much effect on people’s mental health as it is their physical health. Increased levels of stress and anxiety are being widely reported and there is already concern for the longer term implications of our lockdown.

So what is going on?

The Lockdown Effect

For those with pre-existing medical or mental health issues, there may be a spike in stress and anxiety as well as a more intense general level of emotional distress. To a certain extent, feeling anxious about what is going on in the world is normal. Under these very unusual circumstances it is actually expected that we may be experiencing stress and anxiety. After all, the world has changed in (and I’m going to say it…..) unprecedented ways.

But what happens to us when healthy levels of stress tip into the unhealthy?

The Stress Response

When we are under stress our body releases adrenaline and cortisol into our bloodstream and our body equips itself for a fight or flight response. Our heart rate picks up and our energy levels pique. Our body is preparing itself for a potentially threatening or dangerous situation. In periodic and short spurts, cortisol is useful to us as it boosts immunity by limiting inflammation. Cortisol also equips us to deal with the situation by limiting any non-essential functions. Once the threat subsides, hormone levels usually return to normal.

Sometimes, however, this doesn’t happen. We may be exposed to enduring higher levels of cortisol which can wreak havoc on a variety of body processes. We may also end up feeling quite wired and constantly on edge.

The important thing to be aware of is that this can have an emotional and a physical impact on us. To mitigate the impact, we need to be able to regulate our stress and anxiety levels. Stress is known to cause an excess of cortisol in the body and this can make feelings of depression more likely. Not only this, the synapses in our brain shrink as a result of a cortisol overload and we are less able to think clearly or be anything like our best selves. Too much adrenaline in our bodies can also have an adverse effect on our immune system. At a time when we are all seeking to be as healthy as possible, this would be a pretty unwanted result!

Currently we’ve lost control over so much we often take for granted. We cannot control when we go shopping, when we see our family or when go out for a drink with our best mate. It can be hard to acknowledge just how much we have lost control of. On the other hand, there’s a real chance to recognise where we can regain a sense of control in our lives. Essentially, we are reminding ourselves of what we have always, and continue to be in charge of.

One thing that can be really useful, is to stick to a timetable. Ordinarily, setting a time to have lunch may seem a relatively trite thing to do when our time is more our own, but maintaining a sense of structure and routine to our day is really important to general mental health during lockdown. It may have been great to see the time gained from not travelling into work as a lie-in opportunity, but going forward time structuring and a sense of security and stability is a basic human need.

Planning your own day is within your control. You can implement your own structure and routine. Pick a regular time to still have breakfast, get up in time to start your work-from-home day at the designated time. If you are not working you may find it useful to still get up at the same time as usual. Have lunch at the same time. Put time into your day for self-care. Go to that online Body Pump class and have a virtual coffee with your fitness buddy after.

Establishing and sticking to times we set for ourselves is within our control. Acknowledging this and reflecting on this can be very grounding and empowering. It can also be a useful tool in getting through a very challenging time!

 

Information about Coronavirus Covid-19

No doubt, like myself, you may be following the news information that is continuously coming out about the spread of Coronavirus Covid-19. I understand that this is a primary concerning issue for many at the moment for clients as well as our wider community. It may also be an additional source of anxiety for some at the moment.

Currently I am advising those who may need the most up to date information on what is being advised to the relevant government sources, such as the NHS website.  Here you will find recommendations if you are worried about symptoms. It also covers advice for potential planned travel and other associated questions regarding generally staying safe and well. Another useful source of information is the Gov UK website for UK specific advice.

Over the coming weeks there may be times at which we are advised to self-isolate in our masses, or also individually. You may be self-isolating in order to protect yourself or other vulnerable family members you are close. Or perhaps you have tested positive yourself. This may have an impact on being able to attend regular face to face therapy sessions.

Over the coming week I will be exploring possibilities and options in individual sessions. This is with a view to establishing what psychotherapeutic support is needed and how we can work together to ensure it is done in the safest way possible. Considerations include the option to continue therapy via an online secure means. This could include the use of VSee, a video chat software used in the medical profession. Should this not be possible for whatever reason, we can discuss other viable options.

However therapy is delivered, all standard and expected Codes of Ethics and Professional Practice will be maintained.

I will endeavour to be in touch via the usual means should it be necessary to notify you of any changes.

How Mindfulness Can Complement Your Psychotherapy

 

Mindfulness and Psychotherapy have a huge amount in common and when combined, the therapeutic benefits can be very powerful.

So what exactly is Mindfulness and how can it help with psychotherapy sessions?

Mindfulness, in my opinion, is no longer a new buzzword. It’s not a dazzling new “thing to do” but a powerful activity and way of life that is, to some extent, familiar to many. Whether you practice already, have flirted with the odd meditation here and there or have just heard it but not yet looked in to it, the concept of Mindfulness has reached quite far.

For those of us who have heard of it but not yet looked in to what it may involve or how it can help us, a common question is “Mindfulness? That’s about meditation right?”. And yes, those people would be correct. There may be meditative elements to Mindfulness BUT it is so much more…….

In this blog post I shall attempt to offer my view of what Mindfulness is to me and how I believe it can complement your psychotherapy sessions.

Mindfulness: More Than A Good Idea

Imagine there was a pill you could take on a daily basis to improve your concentration, increase your awareness, improve your outlook on personal relationships and reduce your general levels of stress.

You’d take it right?

If it was this simple then it seems like a no-brainer. While this may seem like wishful thinking, the practice of Mindfulness really is as simple as doing something on a regular basis. It is a way of strengthening parts of our brain in such an incremental and beneficial way. There is scientific evidence to prove that the act of controlled breathing learned through Mindfulness has a neurophysiological effect. As read in Medical News Today, even 25 minutes of Mindfulness can improve brain function and boost energy levels.

So what else can Mindfulness help with?

All too often we may get in the car to go do our usual food shop on a Thursday morning, arrive at the supermarket and not really have any strong memories about the drive we’ve just done. How many times can we say we’re not paying attention? For many people this is pretty standard and happens a lot. But in doing so we are missing out on being in the moment. We are missing out on noticing and being curious to ourselves and our world around us. We are not acknowledging the annoyance at stubbing our toe and we are inadvertently carrying that annoyance with us til we get a chance to blurt it out at another time. Acting mindfully supports us to recognise at the moment of stubbing our toe we are annoyed and to pay attention and notice that has happened. This seemingly simple act of noticing on a regular basis will support brain function and strengthen neurological pathways.

A straightforward way to explain how Mindfulness can help us is to say that it is a fundamental life skill and involves the human ability to be fully present. It helps us to be more aware of where we are, what we are doing and supports us to be able to respond appropriately at any given moment. It is a skill that helps us to see that getting really annoyed after we stub our toe does not then make it ok to take our annoyance out on the next person we speak to. Mindfulness supports us to react appropriately to the next person we speak to and to notice that we are also annoyed that we stubbed our toe. The ability to separate experiences, emotions and to react in an appropriate way on a moment to moment basis is an amazing life skill.

Mindfulness and Curiosity

When we practice mindfulness we bring a sense of curiosity to our experience as it unfolds, moment by moment. We observe and pay attention to what is happening in our minds and bodies, becoming more present and available to ourselves and to others. We are also bringing all parts of our brain together in an integrated way that promotes and facilitates positive well being.

In this way, Mindfulness and Psychotherapy are inextricably linked.

Mindfulness and Psychotherapy

In psychotherapy a person has the chance to make sense of what is going on for them. Mindfulness trains our brain to be more aware of what is going on around us. When we have an increased capacity to be more present, we worry less about the past and are less anxious about the future. Mindfulness teaches us to be curious about the present and to be compassionate and warm towards it. The process of cultivating moment to moment awareness has such amazing restorative benefits. It is proven to help with many psychological difficulties such as depress, anxiety, stress, substance-abuse etc. The curative process transcends diagnosis and is a key component of successful psychotherapy.

Mindfulness is becoming recognised as a powerful tool in psychotherapy, and there are a growing number of therapists who are trained in both modalities. “Mindfulness-Based Transactional Analysis” also known as MBTA, is one such area of growth. MBTA is an approach that takes into account Mindfulness meditations with the theoretical concepts of Transactional Analysis.

Many people are seeing positive results when the two approaches are combined. In as far back as 2007, in a survey of 2,600 therapists, 41.4 percent of respondents reported they were practicing some form of “mindfulness therapy” with their clients.

Within my practice I may often incorporate aspects of Mindfulness. I work with clients to explore options for bringing Mindfulness into daily life outside the therapy room. If you are interested in finding out more get in touch for a chance to talk more about how I work and to find out more about Mindfulness and Transactional Analysis Psychotherapy.

Next week’s blog post focuses on reasons Psychotherapy and Mindfulness work well together.