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8th April 2020 

Adjusting to change

Talking to my clients this week I have been struck by what a confusing mix of emotions this pandemic has stirred up in people.

During this first week of lockdown, people have spoken of feeling “let off the hook” from the often exhausting and relentless stream of jobs and obligations which make up their daily routine. There has been an appreciation for things slowing down. People have rediscovered time.

In the previous couple of weeks, many were struggling with difficult decisions about how to proceed; whether to retreat into an early isolation or soldier on with normal life. This seemed to come to a head on Mother’s Day with the impossibility of knowing whether it was best for mums to pay them a visit or stay away.

Once the Government declared lockdown, life became simpler in some ways.

“If your friends ask you to meet up, say ‘no’,” said Boris Johnson.

Rarely, if ever, are we given such clear guidelines on how to manage our social relationships. People often tell me how hard they find it to say ‘no’ to people. Here we were being given permission to say ‘no’, and not just to friends but to family and work too.

Not only could people stay at home, but they could stay at home guilt free.

Yet the impact of this astonishingly different situation in which we find ourselves, is being felt at many different levels. It is obvious to all of us that something on the surface of our lives – our engagement with the outside world - has changed dramatically. However, the shock waves of this change will be permeating into our deeper selves in more subtle and unseen ways.

For what we are experiencing on this deeper level, both collectively and as individuals, is a reminder of our vulnerability. Living in a society which has become so effective at beating disease and death, we suddenly find ourselves staring these strangers in the face. There is a very real sense of fear, whether for ourselves or for loved ones, and of impending loss.

We are not as invincible as we thought.

So whatever changes you are adapting to on the surface of your lives, it is important to remember that this experience is deeply unsettling on an emotional and psychological level.

Try to remember to be kind to yourself. If you can, notice that voice in your head which can get critical at times. There is no need to beat yourself up. This situation is already hard enough. Have an understanding of just what your psyche is trying to come to terms with at the moment.

And remember, good things can come from an awareness of our vulnerability and mortality. We can reassess our priorities, discover what is truly important to us and make better decisions about the future.

To add to my list (see previous post) of practical steps which can support you during this time:

- Limit the amount of news you watch
- Jot down one or two things each day which you feel thankful for
- Say comforting phrases to yourself, such as ‘it’s going to be ok’, ‘I will come through this’, or whatever works for you. This does not need to be a factual statement but a message of support for your more vulnerable self.

How to stay sane and look after your mental health during this pandemic

The Coronavirus outbreak is proving an extremely frightening and stressful situation for people.

During times of fear, uncertainty and heightened anxiety our bodies start pumping out adrenalin and stress hormones, limiting our capacity to think clearly or to calm ourselves down. We are having to deal with our fight/flight/freeze response on an increasingly regular basis.

Moreover, strategies that we may have used in the past to manage anxiety, stress or low mood, such as meeting up with friends, or going to the gym or shops, are no longer an option. There is no holiday to look forward to, no meals out, no sporting events to help us through. Normal life has been turned on its head.

People are often drawn to the idea of withdrawing from life for a while, stepping off the treadmill. However, this is different. Don’t confuse an imposed self-isolation or social distancing with a voluntary withdrawal or retreat. In practical terms you may find you have time to do things you want to do at home, but emotionally and psychologically this will feel totally new.

In situations of intense stress we often fall back on our most rudimentary of psychological coping strategies – self-criticism. That little voice in our heads tends to start criticising ourselves and comparing ourselves unfavourably to others, often without us even noticing.

Here are some simple tips to help you get started to find ways to support your state of mind and encourage self-compassion, which I will be adding to over the coming weeks:

• Manage your expectations of yourself - different people will find different aspects of this situation hard. It is important to recognise how and why this is difficult for you.

• Find a routine to give yourself a structure – try to get up and go to bed at the same time, this will support your sleep pattern during this anxious time, and eat meals at regular times. Make weekends different from weekdays.

• Set yourself small tasks – whether it is simply a matter of getting dressed and making your bed each day or completing some jobs around the house, recognise these tasks as small but substantial achievements in the current climate of fear and uncertainty. Beware of taking on too big a project – don’t set yourself up to fail.

• Avoid alcohol where possible – this can leave you feeling worse the next day.

• Try to get outside for a walk or half an hour in the garden each day. Escaping the four walls of your house, however briefly, can help you gain a different perspective.