The Office of National Statistics has reported that half of us thought the pandemic would be over in 6 months. I know I was one of them! So, to hear the government talk of further measures for the next six months felt like a bit of a body blow! Unsurprisingly, the challenges we’re all facing this year are impacting our mental health. An International Study has revealed that one in two people in the UK have felt down, depressed or hopeless about the future due to covid-19. With months of uncertainty still to come, it’s never been more important to know how to look after our mental health.
The first step is understanding how our brains work. We’re hardwired to dislike change and uncertainty. How do we know we’ll be safe if we’ve not experienced it before? Our brains view change and uncertainty as a threat, and when we feel under threat, we protect ourselves in one of the following ways:
- We get anxious – allowing us to run away from the threat
- We get depressed – allowing us to hide from the threat
- We get angry – allowing us to fight back against the threat
Those reactions are great if you’re in immediate physical danger (think being chased down the high street by a polar bear) but not so helpful when the threat is sustained, and you need to learn to live with it.
Many clients who come to see me feel that there’s something wrong with them for not coping, or worry that they’re weak, but the truth is the brain is doing what it’s supposed to, keeping them safe.
To cope with a long-term threat, we need to learn how to reduce that fight or flight stress response, so that we can take back control and come up with solutions.
- Give yourself time and space to process
We’ve all lost something this year, whether it be a loved one, a job, security or just the loss of the life we thought we would be living. Its important to acknowledge that and to allow yourself to feel the emotions attached to that loss. Too often we try and avoid our feelings by making ourselves busy or deadening them by drinking or eating more for example. But if we don’t allow ourselves to experience those feelings, they tend to force their way out later, or affect us physically. So, set aside some time, talk to someone or write your feelings down in a journal. Get it all out. The key here is to put a time limit on it, then plan something nice to do afterwards, and move forwards. Our brains process worries when we sleep, so make sure you’re scheduling in enough time to sleep and also relax.
- Practice Gratitude
When we focus on our worries and fears, our brains feel that sense of threat more keenly and we’re more likely to feel anxious, depressed or angry. When we focus on what we’re grateful for, we feel more in control and happier. Make a daily habit of writing down what you’re grateful for and see how many things you can come up with. It can be big things, such as having a roof over your head, or small things, like a hot chocolate on a cold day.
- Connect with others
Humans are meant to be part of a tribe, we’re better when we’re around other people. With many of us working from home, and social contact limited it’s more important than ever that we stay connected. Try and meet regularly with those that you can see and keep in touch with those you can’t online. Start conversations at the supermarket, head out to the cafe – anything to interact with others!
Apart from the obvious physical benefits, exercise has a huge impact on mood. If you can do it outside, even better. 20 minutes in nature are enough to boost your mood. Most of us are moving less than ever before so plan in frequent walks, run up and down the stairs, dance around the kitchen, anything to keep you moving.
- Be kind to yourself and others
Showing compassion actually strengthens our immune system – how great is that! So, do something nice for someone else, even if it’s just listening to them or making them a cup of tea. And instead of getting mad at those who are stockpiling toilet rolls or kicking off in the supermarket, recognise that they’re feeling under threat and just aren’t handling it very well. Most of us don’t show our best sides when we’re facing change and uncertainty! That compassion extends to yourself too. Be kind to yourself – practice self-care and don’t beat yourself up if you’re not on top form.
- Have a purpose
Studies have shown that we’re happier when we have a sense of purpose, so plan some goals for yourself over the next 6 months. We might feel like we can’t plan much at the moment, but you could focus on home improvements; learn a language for when you can travel again, set a fitness goal or take time out to reflect on what you really want from life.
If you need support with your mental health, contact me on 07973914718, or at firstname.lastname@example.org