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!

 

Depression: Coping With The Desire To Hide Away

When we have depression, we sometimes feel like we want to run away from everything and everyone. The urge to get away and leave everything behind can seem like an attractive option. We may feel incredibly low, overwhelmed by what’s going on for us, claustrophobic and trapped in ourselves.

It’s usually the case however, that running away either isn’t a viable option, or, doesn’t in fact hold the answers to our problems. If you are relating to what has been mentioned so far, read on….

A fantasy

Our vision of what things could be like if we were able to just run away may seem idyllic. It may be a wonderful place of peace, calm and equilibrium we imagine we could run to. It’s a place where we don’t feel depressed. But, our vision isn’t a reality. It is highly likely that feelings of depression will move with us as we try to leave it behind in a futile attempt to start afresh.

Fed up?

So where to start?

If there’s a chance we can identify what it is that we’re wanting to run away from, there’s a chance that we can figure out what to do about it.

Identifying an issue in this way is the first step to taking action to limit the impact it is having on us. We can start to break down what the issue is until we have manageable chunks of resolvable smaller issues.

You may have established that a current issue is that you are in an unfulfilling relationship or stuck in a seemingly dead-end job offering little opportunity for you. Together we can start to break things down and work to find a way through.

An inability to take a step back and stop ourselves being engulfed with overwhelming emotion can often be a stumbling block to helping ourselves. An opportunity to gain perspective on our situation can help us to appreciate that there is a way to help us through.

Start now

If you’re after some simple and practical steps to get you through your darkest days, try some of the following;

  • Acknowledge where you are right now

Noticing how low you’re feeling and acknowledging how rubbish things may appear for you is a first step. Before you can fix issues you’re facing, acknowledging the pain you are feeling will bring your attention to the present moment. It will be an opportunity to ground yourself and be in touch with what’s going on for you. Seeing what is there is a chance to do something about what’s there.

  • Keep in touch

It may feel like the last thing you want to do, but keeping in touch with others around you is crucial to how you can help yourself out of your dark place. Finding a genuine connection we can touch base with when we’re feeling really bad, even if it’s just to make contact with, is a way we can be heard and noticed.

  • Get outside

Get outside for a walk each day. Even if you have no where to go or no place you need to be, getting out of the house and walking for half hour each day will really boost mental health. Having a chance to engage with the outside world may be a useful reminder to us that it is still there. There are people around who can help and support us and who will be people we can interact with if we choose to. It may lift your mood, give you a new environment to focus on and break patterns of thinking.

Talking It Through

Talking it through is also a practical first step.

The idea of talking to someone about what is going on may itself seem like an impossible task. If all you want to do is retreat from the world, opening up and talking to a therapist may not be on your radar. But, if there’s a chance that taking that first step and getting in touch is a step you’re willing to take, it could also be the first step on a journey to feeling better about yourself.

The opportunity to really be heard by someone else may be the glimmer of hope that we need to plough on through. Sharing your problems can provide clarity on what is going on for you and how you may be able to take steps forward. It may not be immediately obvious what we can do or where you would even begin, but my role as a therapist is to be there for you and alongside you on your journey.

Together we’ll find that space in which you can take a breath and begin to make headway on that journey.

If you would like to explore options, get in touch to find out more.

 

Best Things To Say To Someone With Depression

We quite often come across lists of things to avoid saying to someone with depression but can we say to someone suffering?

Our immediate inclination may be to want to help them out of their dark space. We want to make things better and we want whatever is troubling them to go away. If you haven’t suffered with clinical depression it may not be so clear what is useful and what is not useful to say. How can you know what it feels like if you haven’t been through it yourself? It may be an uncomfortable place to acknowledge that you’re not familiar with the depths of despair someone seems to be experiencing. Platitudes and rallying support may be met with a brick wall.

So What Is Useful To Say?

Even if you are very close to the person suffering, knowing what to say may be a challenge. The following are some starter tips for what to say to show support for someone experiencing depression.

“I Love You”

“Would you like some space?”

“You may not want to talk right now so can I just sit with you?”

“I’m here for you and I care”

“When you’re ready to talk I will be here to listen”

“Can I make you a cup of tea?”

“You are not alone”

“You matter”

“You are important to me”

“I know things are tough right now but I’ll always be here”

Getting help

Getting professional help and having counselling for depression is an important first step. Depression will affect 1 in 3 people at some point in their life so know that you are not alone in feeling the way you do.