Are you starting to feel rather overloaded? I know I am. There seems to be so much ‘noise’ out there at the moment. Much of it is well-meaning advice and support via email and social media, adverts on TV, and news bulletins. And there all lots of people offering free performances, classes, trainings and meet ups, all designed to support us during this difficult time. However, my sense is that all this ‘noise’, together with the lockdown conditions we are now experiencing, is really beginning to take its toll.
I know from the response I had to my last blog, and conversations with friends, family and clients, that many of us are struggling with tiredness, lack of motivation and a general sense of low level anxiety and fear. Uncertainty about the future – immediate and long term – and fear of losing someone we love, is really hard to deal with. We are grieving for the way of life and sense of certainty we have already abruptly lost, and we are anticipating the possibility of losses in the near future – loved ones, businesses, jobs, homes.
For those of you who are not too concerned about the financial impact and are happy at home with the people you live with, these feelings may be fleeting, and you may be coping pretty well on the whole.
But for any of you who are worried about vulnerable relatives, your jobs or your businesses, or who are forced to spend time with a partner you don’t get on well with, or cope with anxious or stressed children or teenagers, or perhaps have some other emotional challenges in your life at the moment, these feelings can be really challenging.
Being separated from other family members and friends is also difficult to cope with. Even with the technology with have that means we can still connect with them, its not the same as face-to-face contact and the power of a warm hug.
So I wanted to share some thoughts with you that may help, and hopefully not add to the overall ‘noise’ I mentioned above!
My sense is that many of us are not able to fully embrace this time as one where we can get on with lots of jobs around the house and garden, or spend time pursuing hobbies, as many people are currently encouraging us to do. We are not on a worry-free, all expenses paid holiday! We are facing a global challenge that is killing people every day, and causing grief, fear and panic. To not acknowledge this, and the effect of this on our nervous systems, seems to me to point to an immense lack of emotional intelligence and sensitivity, and a form of denial. Unfortunately there are many online influencers and coaches – who are not trained in the psychology of trauma and therefore not able to understand the psychological impact of what we are going through – who are trying to jolly us into being busy and productive, and sometimes shaming us if we are not able to do this.
You wouldn’t say to someone who had just suffered a significant trauma e.g. a bereavement and was unable to work, “This is great! You can catch up on all those jobs you’ve been meaning to do, and maybe learn a language or a musical instrument!” You would know that this person needed to rest, recuperate, and try and make sense of what had happened. You would accept that there would be times when they wouldn’t feel like doing anything, and other times when they would feel hopeless, lost and sad. In time, they may begin to take an interest in life again and have some energy back, but initially you would not bombard them with information, ideas, suggestions, demands.
I believe we need to be kind, to ourselves and to each other at the moment. We need time to come to terms with the massive changes that have taken place in recent weeks, time to recalibrate and adjust to changes in our personal lives, our communities and our countries as a whole. We all know we need to eat healthily, exercise regularly, and sleep well, and encourage our children to do the same, but some realism is needed too: we are sometimes going to crave comfort foods and eat more than usual, we’re not always going to have the energy or inclination to exercise, and we are going to wake in the night and worry sometimes. We are also going to struggle to concentrate. This is normal. So, first off, let’s show ourselves and everyone else some compassion, and let go of some of the expectations and pressure we are putting ourselves under.
That said, my view is that the one thing we must try to do is acknowledge our feelings and manage our mindset, moment by moment. We cannot afford to let ourselves fall down into the rabbit hole of pessimism, fear and negativity. If we feel ourselves getting close to the edge, then we need to take immediate, evasive action!
Managing our mindset is the single most important thing we need to do, and focus all our energy on. Once we have our mindset right, we will naturally want to do things to keep ourselves physically and mentally strong like exercising and eating healthily. When there is so much going on around us we cannot control, this is one of the few things we can control, and it brings huge benefits. So how do we do this?
Here is my FOUR STEP PROCESS for re-setting yourself every time you feel overloaded, overwhelmed or off-balance:
Step One: Acknowledge and explore your feelings
When you feel unmotivated and lacking in energy, or you crave food when you’re not hungry, or find yourself unable to focus – perhaps playing mindlessly on your phone or binge-watching tv – take a moment to ask yourself ‘how or what am I feeling?’ When you have identified the feeling try asking yourself ‘whereabouts in my body am I feeling this feeling?’ You may notice a knot in your stomach, or tension in your muscles, or actual pain in some part of your body. Just take a few moments to allow yourself to really feel the feeling and let it wash over you, and perhaps ask it questions and listen to what it has to say. Take some deep breaths if it feels overwhelming, and know that the intensity will pass. It might be anger, sadness, fear, guilt, grief, impatience, confusion. Or something else. Whatever it is, it’s fine: don’t judge the feeling or yourself for having it. Be kind and compassionate towards your whatever you are feeling and just let it BE for a few moments. When we acknowledge and accept our feelings, and allow them to wash over us, they dissipate very quickly.
You will also find that physical movement will helps to release feelings, particularly anger and fear – for example, walking, running, jumping jacks, punching the air in front of you, making sweeping movements with your arms, or scribbling on a piece of paper.
STEP TWO: CALM YOUR EMOTIONS
Once you have acknowledged the feeling without judgement, consciously try to soothe it. Practices like tapping (EFT) and meditation are great ways to bring yourself to a place of peace and calm, and dial down strong feelings. Use apps like The Tapping Solution (for EFT), and 10% Happier and Headspace (for meditation) to help you – they all have guided meditations to talk you through what to do and make it as easy as possible (they all have free content to support people during the current crisis). It doesn’t matter if you have never tried these things before, or have tried and believe you aren’t any good at them, just have another go and be compassionate towards yourself. Even just a few moments of conscious connection to your breathing or your thoughts can be incredibly powerful and a great aid to being fully present in the moment and calming your emotions.
STEP THREE: REST AND RELAX TO ‘RESET’ YOUR MIND AND BODY
Take little naps whenever your feel tired. Cuddle up with a partner, child or pet – or snuggle down on your own. Snoozing for a few moments, perhaps with a hot water bottle or comforting, soft blanket, calms your nervous system and signals to your body that it is safe. This is especially important if your sleep is disturbed at the moment. If you find it hard to nap, just try to fully relax your body, perhaps by listening to a guided relaxation recording or simply lying still and focusing on each part of your body from your toes up to your face, and first contracting, then letting go, of each part. Other restful and relaxing activities could be things like soaking in a bubble bath: sitting in the garden (if you have one) listening to birds singing or watching the clouds; or listening to gentle music.
STEP FOUR: DO SOMETHING THAT MAKES YOU FEEL HAPPY
Once you have identified any difficult emotions and let them settle, and calmed your mind and body, it’s really important to consciously focus your mind on something positive and happy, to lift your mood. Its absolutely ok to enjoy yourself at the moment and do things that bring you joy. Lifting your energetic vibration in this way helps not only you, but everyone around you. What this is will be different for each of us, but could be things like:
- Spending time in nature – being outside, or with animals, or watching something beautiful in nature if we can’t get outside (perhaps a YouTube clip of the sea, birds singing, a beautiful garden) has a very positive effect on our wellbeing. There is something comforting and hopeful about the way nature carries on: the sun still shines, the Spring flowers are blooming cheerfully and our dogs love to charge around joyfully on their daily walk. It helps to put everything into perspective somehow.
- Watching something funny or uplifting – a comedy show we love, a favourite feel-good film, or even short video clips of amusing or heartwarming things, can really lift the spirits and soothe anxiety. When our mind is absorbed in something funny or happy, it gives it a break from the doom and gloom in the news and enables our nervous system to relax and repair itself.
- Doing something nice for someone else – its true what they say about how making others feel good makes us feel good too. Think of ways you can reach out, even in these difficult times of lockdown and social distancing, to make a difference to someone else’s day.
- Thinking of happy memories and of people you love – look at photos to bring the thoughts to life if it helps. Focusing on someone or something that you love makes you happy, floods your brain with endorphins and really lifts your mood.
- Listening to your favourite music – music has tremendous power to lift the spirits and energise us. Choose tracks that soothe and comfort, or ones that make you feel like getting up and dancing away the blues.
- Indulging your passions – sing, bake, paint, write, knit, build, sew, take photographs, draw, play the piano – do anything that you LOVE to do not something you feel you ‘should’ do.
- Reading something uplifting – stories of people overcoming the odds, triumphing over adversity or achieving the seemingly impossible can help reset your mind to believing that a good outcome is possible. I love books like ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’, as they stop me thinking about myself and help me focus on someone else’s story.
- Listening to informative, upbeat podcasts to help your particular situation at the moment, whether it be coping with home-educating the children, running your business at this difficult time, managing your money etc. Look for people to inspire you to tackle current challenges positively.
- Creating a gratitude jar and looking at it regularly – there is so much research to show that when we focus on all the good things we have in our lives, our happiness increases. You could keep a gratitude journal and think of 5 things each day you are grateful for, no matter how small, or write them on slips of paper then put them in a pretty jar. Once a week you can look at your journal or tip out the contents of the jar and be reminded of all the positives in your life. Even when things feel scary and uncertain, we can all find things to be thankful for and keep our focus on these.
- Talking to a trusted old friend – there is nothing like the happiness that chatting to a true friend can bring. One who knows and accepts us – warts and all – and who we trust enough to share our thoughts and feelings with, and have a good laugh with too. It reassures us, normalises our feelings and brings a sense of normality back.
Practicing this four-part process regularly will help to nurture you during this crisis (or actually any difficult time) and prevent you from being overwhelmed by all the ‘noise’, and the difficult emotions you may be feeling.. Keep checking in on your emotional state throughout the day, and go through this process as often as you need to: during these stressful times, you may find you need to do this several times a day (think of it like washing your mind, in the same way as we are washing our hands more frequently at the moment).
I hope it helps.
If you have any questions about your own or your child’s mental health, do reach out to me, I am here to support you.
Sending warmest wishes to you and your family.