Mindfulness advice in a continuing crisis.
13 May 2020
Local counsellor and psychotherapist Andrew Kearins shares his advice on surviving the lockdown with your mental health intact.
COVID-19 has created a huge upheaval and it has affected every aspect of our lives. We are all going through the same crisis, yet each of us will experience it in our own way. Uncertainty is a powerful stress producer: the less comfortable we are with not knowing what to expect in a given situation, the higher our levels of anxiety are likely to be.
In a period of crisis, it’s perfectly natural to experience stress and anxiety. However, we are not built to sustain prolonged stress responses in the way that we have needed to do during the ongoing pandemic. So, if we aren’t built to live with a prolonged stress response, how can we look after ourselves during this continuing crisis?
Make routine a habit
A daily routine can be an anchor and help alleviate the feeling of uncertainty. No matter what’s going on in our day, getting up when we would be going out to work, having meals at particular times and knowing when we plan to turn in for the night, can give a sense of control and comfort. Make a note, set a phone reminder or tell a motivating friend of what you are going to do – this intent will help you stick to it.
As the lockdown conditions change, evolve your routine to help you adjust to the changes. Give yourself a break if you don’t always stick to it.
There’s no place like home
Whilst there are perks to working from home, there are also many wellbeing benefits to having a physical separation between work and home. Whether we are used to remote working or if it’s a new professional frontier, for most of us, our homes have now become our workspaces. And, given the latest government advice, we need to get used to it!
In the absence of physical separation between work and the home, it’s important to create psychological cues that help you to transition from one mode to the other. Start by dressing for what you plan to do. That extra hour in bed might just be too tempting or why bother getting changed if we aren’t even leaving the house? Well, creating a vanity routine helps stimulate a positive regard for how we feel about ourselves. This helps combat low mood and lethargy. Changing clothes and going through the ritual of getting ready for work (and reverse - changing out whatever your day uniform is into your comfies), helps you to mentally make the transition between your different lives. This helps us focus on what's important at that time – whether it’s work or relaxation. The latter is just as important.
Set up a specific workspace, preferably away from where you sleep and socialise or interact with others. It doesn’t have to be in a different room, just a different area so that you can move away and leave work somewhere else. Take regular breaks: go for a walk, call someone who is not interested in your work and chat about something banal. If you’re pressed for time, even stepping away for a few minutes to look out the window, to fold laundry or to do anything which is not online, helps us to recentre.
Glass half empty?
When we are in a heightened state of anxiety or stress, we selectively tune in to the negative. It’s a natural way of keeping safe, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re pessimists. The process of thinking of the worst-case scenarios can be a sensible response so that we are prepared to respond, should the need arise. Often, we overestimate the danger and underestimate our ability to deal with it.
It’s important though that we don’t linger on worst case situations. We take comfort in knowing that we have given it some consideration and also recognise what we can and can’t control. In moments where we feel the doom and gloom, helpful questions to ask ourselves are:
Can I do something about it right now?
If so, do it. If not, plan for when you can think about it. If it’s hypothetical, leave it behind and refocus.
What advice would I give to someone else who is feeling what I am feeling?
We tend to be kinder to others than we are to ourselves, and it can be easier to give advice than to think about what we personally need to do.
One thing that we can be sure of is that through looking out for each other and accessing our community, we will come through this crisis and hopefully with a greater sense of compassion for one another.
Andrew lives in Ancoats with his partner and 4-year-old Patterdale Terrier. He is an experienced counsellor and psychotherapist who specialises in a range of therapeutic approaches. His clients include individuals who work in the emergency services, education, as well as public and private bodies.
For more information visit www.andrewkearins.co.uk