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!

 

How Can I Just Stop Worrying?!

There are so many things I worry about on a daily basis that it’s starting to affect things I do, places I go and I just can’t seem to stop and not worry!”

Does this sound familiar in any way? From time to time we may all feel worried or concerned about a stressful situation and this is a perfectly normal reaction to have. Periodic worries will come and go and when we are feeling sufficiently resourced, we can tackle any worries as they arise. At these times we are working within our own window of tolerance and we can react appropriately to triggers and we can process and reflect without feeling overwhelmed. We are able to deal with worries and resolve them.

If however, your worries and anxieties are starting to feel uncontrollable, you may be left feeling vulnerable and powerless. At these times we may be outside of our window of tolerance and worrying triggers can send us to a place of overwhelm. We imagine it is difficult or even impossible to overcome what we are feeling and we are unable to make decisions calmly or appropriately.

Feeling anxious, panicky or tense can lead to unpleasant symptoms such as muscle tension, irritability, sleep disturbances, restlessness and difficulty concentrating. Your home and work life may be impacted and your mood may also be affected. You might also find it difficult to control the worry.

Know this though – You are not alone. Anxiety is probably one of the most common reasons people seek therapy.

Here are a few top tips for easing your worries.

Find Some You Time

Factoring in some “time out” on a daily basis will be very important for coping on an ongoing basis. If you put aside some time each day to explore what is going on for you and to list your worries, you might start to notice patterns. You may begin to see the sorts of things things that may worry you and how you feel about each. Understanding more about our worries, how they occur, when they are triggered and how we react to them is all useful ammunition for us to start to take back control.

Do Something Relaxing

It’s pretty difficult to be anxious when we are doing something relaxing. While it may take time for us to learn a new art of relaxation if we are not used to it, being able to focus on relaxation each day will rejuvenate us and give us strength to deal with every day worries in a healthier way. You may find yoga or meditation useful or it may be a mindful activity such as painting or drawing. Deep breathing on a regular basis as well as muscle relaxation techniques are also restorative. Whatever you find works for you, put regular time aside to relax.

Talk To Someone

Having the chance to talk to someone and to say your worries out loud can be very therapeutic. Worries can reduce in intensity when they are shared with someone and talking can help. A therapist trained in supporting people with anxiety issues will help you explore the causes and triggers behind your worries. Together we can look at current worries as well as historic issues which together may be working to fuel certain reactive behaviours. We can work on putting together a plan that will take into account your current needs to manage daily worries. We can also work on broader patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving towards worries that no longer work for you.

Get in touch

If you are thinking about psychotherapy for anxiety, please get in touch. There is a no-obligation chance to meet and to talk. Meeting someone for the first time may also be an anxiety provoking situation and will be an important issue factored in our meeting. This is to ensure our meeting is both reassuring and empowering for you. You can also ask any questions you may have about me, therapy or how I work. Read more about anxiety here.

I currently have availability at the Bluecoats location in Christ’s Hospital, Horsham and limited availability at the Washington location.

The 5-4-3-2-1 Simple Tool To Reduce Anxiety and Stress

5…4…3…2…1  –  5 Simple Steps

When anxiety takes over and threatens our peace of mind, we can feel overwhelmed and it can be difficult to stay in the moment.

The following “5-4-3-2-1” tool is a simple yet effective method for regaining control of your mind and aims to ground you again in the moment when anxiety threatens to take over.

This exercise helps bring us back to our senses by inviting us to focus on our senses and encourages us to focus on our breathing. As with any type of trigger, remembering to take deep breaths in and out will control hyperventilation and slow your heart rate.

This technique can be used in a panic attack as it promotes the calming response in our body to combat the emergency panic response in our body.

 

 

Look around and name five things you can see. Wherever you are, take the time to look up and around and focus on naming 5 items you can see around you. No matter how big or how small, state 5 things.

 

Look around and name four things you can touch. Whether it is the back of your own hand, your toes or the chair you may be sitting on. State 4 things you can feel.

 

 

Look around and name three things you can hear. These things need to be external sounds rather than any internal bodily sounds you can hear.

 

 

Look around and name two things you can smell. This may be tricky but you could focus on your breathing and smell the air going in and out of your lungs or you may be able to smell a cushion on the sofa or the palms of your hands.

 

Name one thing you can taste. You don’t have to actively look to put something in your mouth for this one. It may be the taste inside your mouth. Maybe you had a sandwich and coffee for lunch and you can still taste those flavours.

 

 

When intense emotions threaten to overwhelm us, focusing on the above exercise will help to ground you and bring your thinking part of your brain back online. You will regain a sense of control and calm in being able to help yourself combat anxiety triggers.

For more support with anxiety, get in touch with Alana to book an assessment session and to find out more about how psychotherapy can help with anxiety. You can also download a copy of the Southdowns Psychotherapy 54321 Grounding Exercise here.