It is so important to protect the vulnerable and reduce pressure on the NHS and of course we all want to help with this. However, the measures will also bring with them challenges, whether it is worry over finances and work; worry over the health of ourselves or others who are vulnerable; adjusting to new routines and limitations, and of course some people will be sharing a small living space with very limited opportunities to go out. Those of you on Facebook may have come across two posts that went viral by Imogen Wall, who is very used to living with restrictions during her role as an aid worker and who also has a qualification in mental health first aid; she has excellent advice on what to expect and how to cope together with a clear explanation of how we may find ourselves and others reacting to the new and ever changing normal.
One of her posts addressed the fact that many of us will feel threatened, confused, frightened, and our ancient amygdala (part of the brain) response is to assume that there is a physical threat that we need to fight or run away from, or freeze to avoid notice. Of course none of those three responses are what we need in the current situation so it is good be be self aware; the amygdala responds very well to conscious thought and quickly calms down which is why counting to ten actually does work! Likewise, challenging a sense of panic or anxiety by coming up with positive action thoughts or alternatives can be effective as it involves engaging a different part of the brain that overrides the amygdala (for instance, 'I have to get out of here!' can become 'I can challenge myself to plan a route for my daily exercise that avoids as many people as possible'). If we cannot take the actions our ancient safety response would like us to (fight, fly, freeze), and if we do not find a way to calm it we may find we end up taking other avenues and behaving in ways that we would raise our eyebrows at normally, and it's helpful to have this in mind when observing how others are behaving.
My first response when this all really hit home was to pour a strong drink. That's fine if you do it once, but as we all know it's not helpful to use alcohol as a solution. Likewise I felt a need for caffeine but really that's just my body craving stimulus to deal with the challenge when stimulus is in reality, for this situation, not at all helpful. Instead I am now turning to herbal teas; supportive, calming ones. I have made up a relaxing blend of linden blossom, lavender and passion flower and a soothing, supportive one of red clover, heartsease, elderflower and borage. I also like some shop bought teas such as Pukka and am drinking Turmeric Active, Peace and Nighttime. As our world becomes physically smaller with restrictions on leaving the house I find it calming to focus on something around me that brings positive feelings or that I can lose myself in, such as a cup of tea; bird song; watching a bee in the garden; really looking at the texture, colour and subtle movements of the garden plants in the changing breeze and light; the changing light in a favourite room; the design and feel of a favourite mug. Whatever makes your heart sing quietly for a few moments.
It is good to avoid things that feed that amygdala fear response. Maybe restrict how often you check the news or social media, for instance. Are there activities you can pick up instead that are calming and/or feel positive, whether it be knitting or sorting through those boxes full of stuff that you have been meaning to deal with for ages.
I am also making sure that I use the time to work, be creative, develop ideas and do things I normally put off. I have been making JEMS videos that I intend to make available, and learning how to use Zoom to keep in touch with people remotely.
I am still here as a therapist albeit remotely, so do contact me if you need to talk or require something that I can help with.