We know many of our clients are struggling with worries about the pandemic, and the changes to daily life caused by lockdown, so we would like to share the following advice from local psychotherapist Lyn Williams. We hope it’s helpful to you, and we hope you and your loved ones are safe and healthy.
Living with Challenges
We are currently living through challenging times; bombarded every day with distressing and negative news and images. We have to remember however, we are living with corona virus, not living for it. With this in mind, I have put together a few tips on how to manage your feelings and thoughts at this difficult time.
The current circumstances are forcing us all to slow down – no daily commute for many, and we can chose how we spend our time – worrying and fretting, or engaged in positive activities. We will emerge from this time having learnt many important lessons and hopefully, we won’t forget the positive aspects of our experience. So in this spirit, I hope you can take some of the suggestions below and use them to lighten your load, to challenge your fears and have a more comfortable path on the current journey we are all sharing.
Look closely at your negative thoughts – many people are afraid of death or dying. So with an ‘unknown’ threat like corona virus, it raises our deepest fears. People tend to gather negative ‘evidence’ to support their negative thoughts and then feel the evidence stacks up in support of a thought like, ‘I will get this illness. I will die.’ They will listen to too many radio or tv programmes, constantly check the internet, live every moment watching out for news. Whilst we need to listen to the Government guidance, we should not ‘over egg’ the threat to us, as it will cause us to live in a constant state of fear – a fight or flight type of response. For example, if we take a balanced view, at the time of writing this, there are 355 Covid 19 cases in Buckinghamshire and approximately 540,000 residents. That equates to a 1 in 2,114 chance of catching it. And if you are reading this and thinking, ‘Yes, but I might be next’, then that’s exactly the point I am making. You are not looking at the probability of you catching it, you are catastrophising and seeing yourself catching the illness as a foregone conclusion. This is not helpful for you. Other ways to consider this are, ask yourself, if a child verbalised the same fearful thought to you, what would you say to help rationalise their fear or comfort them? It is a challenge to think differently, but try not to assume, just because you feel something might be true, it actually is. Emotional reasoning is not a good basis on which to make decisions. Our minds can think anything – that’s why some people are so creative, but remember, great fiction comes from the mind – not everything we think is true.
Look closely at your actions – are you doing things that are unhelpful for you? If you want to be informed, watch the Government broadcast or news once a day. Make a golden rule for yourself – not to keep watching it at lunchtime, 6pm and 10pm. Rely only on information or websites such as the NHS, Government or BBC. There is a great deal of misinformation and rumour that often causes fear and sometimes real harm. Don’t overdo Google searching.
Be in control of what you can be – there are many unknowns in the present situation and that can make life feel chaotic and uncertain. So, be in control of what you can be in your own life. Make a schedule the night before of what you plan to do each day. Try to include routine activities, necessary tasks and some pleasurable ones, including time for yourself to do things you enjoy.
It’s a time to enjoy new challenges – make a ‘To Do’ list. Are there jobs you have been meaning to get done, but never seem to have the time? Plan to work on bigger tasks, little by little, day by day. You will feel a real sense of achievement for getting things done.
It’s also a time for self development – whatever age you are, what things have you always wanted to try or learn? Can you order items online, get books or follow online instruction to develop new skills? People are learning languages, playing musical instruments, learning tai chi, yoga and meditation. Setting aside time each day to learn or practise your newly acquired skills will be something you start to look forward to.
Relish the fact there is no daily commute to work, school or University – this allows you to start your day differently. Have breakfast with your family, sit by a window or outside with a cup of tea in the morning, do tai chi or meditation to start your day with a calm and positive attitude. Take time during your day to stop for meal breaks. Watch the sunrise with a cuppa, watch the sunset – take time to enjoy it. If there is one thing this situation gives us each day, it is time.
Be kind, be altruistic – have you closed your door, shut out the world and stayed inside? Whilst some people may have to self isolate for health reasons, many of us can offer help to others. Are you doing what you can for others? This may be family, friends or the wider community. Look at what you can do to help others. Do they need shopping, medication or just a chat? Can you phone elderly neighbours or those who have to self isolate for health reasons? Maybe you can stand in the front garden of an elderly neighbour and talk to them with the window between you? Just check they are ok. Helping others is a good thing to do; good because it helps that other person, but also good because it makes you feel better about you.
Cultivate the art of letter writing – whatever age you are, you will love getting a letter when that other person writes back to you! And a letter can be kept forever and read over and over. Write to friends and family. Sometimes it’s easier to say things in a letter. Make them smile.
Use technology to stay in touch – maybe set up a laptop, IPad or phone for relatives or friends if they struggle with technology. Play online Scrabble, arrange quiz nights, schedule tea parties or evening drinks with friends.
Value your time with family – if you are in lockdown with others, think about good ways to spend your time or evenings together. Get out board games, jigsaw puzzles. Look at online services such as The National Theatre at Home, which lets you watch a theatrical play each week – just like a family evening at the theatre! Also, if you fancy it, try to catch Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals each week as they are being screened free online too!
Time for exercise – remember, you can exercise at home too! Try following online classes – dancing, yoga, body pump, salsa, tai chi – take your pick, it’s all online and free! When you do go out to take exercise, smile and call out to people. Whilst observing social distancing, be friendly!
And so to sleep – sleep is the best medicine, so make sure you get sleep of good quality and duration. Listen to your body and go to bed when you feel tired – even if that is earlier than you might like. If you are struggling to get to sleep, try a guided meditation. One of my favourites is ‘Floating Amongst the Stars’ by Jason Stephenson. It’s on YouTube and it’s free. If you would like to take a longer course in Mindfulness meditation, then another book I recommend is ‘The Mindful Way Workbook – an 8 week programme to free yourself from depression and emotional distress.’ Now is an excellent time to invest in yourself with this sort of activity because it will help you cope with uncertainty.
Good self care is important – and helps us to build stress resilience. So eat well, take exercise, sleep well, watch your alcohol intake and try not to rely on any other vices to get you through this situation, such as smoking or chocolate!
Hopefully, by looking after yourself and looking after others, you will emerge from the current situation feeling ‘renewed’ – ready to face a new day, feeling like a new you.
A little bit about the author:
I am a local psychotherapist, working in private practice, but with many years experience in various mental health settings with all age groups. I hope the tips I have put together will be of use to you at this challenging time. Please feel free to use my material or pass it onto anyone else it may help.
Wishing you good health and happiness.