The pandemic invited unprecedented changes in our lives. There have been numerous changes beyond recognition. As we all have been trying to process and adjust to the new normal, there is a challenge in avoiding the contagious fear of contagion. Since the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and the lockdown, we all know too well that it has had a tremendous impact on an individual’s emotional and physical well-being. In this blog, we want to talk about the different ways that you can manage some of the common issues that can emerge during the lockdown.
Please use the following as reference and you can dip in and out of any of the sections that apply to you. The resources also included activities and suggestions you can implement on your own to help with physical and mental well-being.
“When you are feeling lonely your body is sending a signal that there is something wrong with your environment.”
Loneliness is an unwanted feeling that we all experience from time to time and the thought or image of being alone is an unpleasant one, if not one of the worse things that we can imagine as humans. According to the author of loneliness, Dr. John Cacioppo, rather than loneliness being pathological, it can more closely be likened to a biological signal, similar to hunger and thirst. When you are feeling lonely your body is sending a signal that there is something wrong with your environment. Experiencing self-isolation is likely with the current social distancing measures, especially for those people living alone, to trigger a feeling of loneliness. This feeling can be further exacerbated by the uncertainty surrounding the current situation with COVID-19, which reinforces our lack of control and lack of agency over our lives during this period.
The following tips are a guide on how to remedy the feeling of loneliness:
Live in the moment:
- It is important to remember that you are not your thoughts. As crazy as this may sound when you hear your thoughts you can choose how to react to them. This means that you are the thinker of your thoughts and you can choose how seriously you take them. Our minds can get congested with various intrusive thoughts, whatever the content, and we engage with these thoughts. Doing so allows little time for stillness, calmness and most importantly avoiding the fact that we are lonely. To combat this, we need to live in the moment, a concept that is also referred to as mindfulness. This will allow us to be in a state where we become aware that we are not our thoughts but rather observers of our thoughts where we can watch them pass without engaging or judging them.
- Being in self-isolation does not mean put on hold the connection that you have with others. Make use of the available technology to stay connected with family and friends via video calls. You may also want to explore online communities where you can meet new people. Although we value real connection, research has shown that remote social connection can trick our brains into thinking we have been socialising with our loved ones.
“Anxiety triggers the fight/flight response and release a flood of hormones such as adrenaline into your body, to give your system a boost to fight or flight from danger”
At some point in our life, we have all felt anxious. The signs of anxiety include, but are not limited to, feeling restless or tense, having a sense that danger is approaching or panic, increase heart rate and feeling weak and tired. Anxiety triggers the fight/flight response and releases a flood of hormones such as adrenaline into your body, to give your system a boost to fight or flight from danger. Since there is no actual threat to respond to, your body remains filled with adrenaline, resulting in the feeling of restlessness and panic etc. To combat this, you need to create ways to get rid of the hormones that just got pumped into your body (e.g. exercise). Anxiety is a normal feeling that we can experience at any point in our lives and it comes and goes without interfering with our daily life. Naturally, with the current pandemic, many people are apprehensive about the uncertainty of ‘what is going to happen next?’ Managing your anxiety will allow you to better focus on the moment and can improve the quality of your sleep.
The following points highlight how the current pandemic can increase your anxiety and how to subsequently manage it:
Limit the amount of news update
- We all want to stay informed about what is happening, not just in our communities, but also worldwide. The best way to do this is through the use of our smartphones. Unfortunately, this comes with the risk of encountering numerous misinformation that provides sensationalist coverage which exacerbates our feeling of fear and anxiety. Therefore, it is important to rely on trustworthy sources such as the NHS, CDC, the World Health Organisation and your local public health centre. It is also important to limit the amount of time that you spend checking updates and news headlines. Constantly doing this can leave you feeling overwhelmed and feed your anxiety.
Allocate time to worry
- For many people, the current pandemic has not only created anxiety and uncertainty about their current situation but has brought a lot of worries. Worrying is normal because the human mind has evolved from our cavemen ancestries to focus on and process challenges that we face so that we can develop new survival skills. Yet, the level of worry you experience can impact the quality of your sleep, levels of concertation and most importantly your levels of anxiety. To manage your level of worry you can try a technique called postponing your worry whereby you designate a specific ‘Worry Time’ each day. This has to be at the same time and for the same duration of time each day to be truly effective. So, when you have a worrisome thought you mentally agree to return to that thought at the assigned time. You may want to carry a note pad and make a note of specific thoughts that you want to return to later. The aim of this technique is to not let worrying thoughts take-over your day but rather taking control of these worrying thoughts by choosing when to focus on them.
Practice mindfulness meditation
- Anxiety can often make us worry about future events. To combat this is important to remain in the present moment by practicing mindfulness meditation. There are many relaxation techniques and one of these is progressive muscle relation. This involves focusing on your breathing at the same time tensing and releasing one muscle group at a time. Research has found this relaxation technique to be effective in managing anxiety, chronic pain, insomnia, and headaches.
Focus on what you can control
- Often Anxiety can also leave us feeling like we are not in control. It is true that we cannot control the uncertainty caused by COVID-19 but what we can control are areas of our environment. For example, choosing to eat well, choosing what we wear, how long we spend working, doing physical exercise etc.
“There are many reasons as to why your sleep may be affected during the lockdown.”
Many people suffer from sleeping difficulties, even prior to COVID-19, and sleep has a great impact on your overall physical and mental well-being. Lack of sleep can increase your stress levels, make you feel tired, lead to overeating and most importantly it affects your immune system. This means a lack of sleep can leave us vulnerable to infections. There are many reasons as to why your sleep may be affected during the lockdown, including elevated stress levels, lack of control and uncertainty. In addition, there is so much information regarding the current situation which keeps the mind racing about different things like the uncertainty of when it will end or worrying about work and in turn activating the body’s arousal system and ‘fight/flight’ response by increasing heart rate, blood pressure, sweating and body temperature.
Also, let’s not forget that since the lockdown your daily routine has probably changed dramatically. This might have caused changes in your bedtime schedule or napping during the day, which in turn has a huge impact on your natural body clock. Finally, in changes, your mood can also impact your sleep.
The following points can help you improve your sleep during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Limit your screen time
- Curb your screen time during the evening and try to turn off all electronic devices at least one hour before going to bed. In case you feel tempted to check your phone during the night try to leave it in a different room.
Avoid checking the time
- Avoid looking at the clock. Checking the time constant during the night will only heighten your anxiety and further prevent you from falling asleep. This because when we constantly check the time, we are reminded how late it is and we are still not asleep – anxiety on its own.
Practice good sleep hygiene
- It is important to start redeveloping good sleeping habits. To do this it is important to have good sleep hygiene. The most important part of sleep hygiene is to have regular sleeping hours and maintaining a routine before bed (i.e. changing into sleeping clothes, washing up, etc.).
Practice mindfulness meditation
- To combat the physiological elements that prevent you from sleeping you can practice mindfulness meditation. If you find that this is not for you there are many relaxation techniques and one of these is progressive muscle relation. This involves focusing on your breathing at the same time tensing and releasing one muscle group at a time. Research has found this relaxation technique to be effective in managing anxiety, chronic pain, insomnia, and headaches. There are many mindfulness meditation apps or clips on YouTube in several languages.
“Depression consists of feelings of sadness, loss, or anger and it can interfere with an individual’s everyday activities. “
Some people believe that depression is feeling unhappy or fed up for a short period. However, depression goes beyond this it can make simple daily activities, even activities that we once used to enjoy, feel more challenging. Depression consists of feelings of sadness, loss, or anger and it can interfere with an individual’s everyday activities. Although we all experience depression differently, its impact on decreasing motivation, attention levels, disturbing sleep pattern and finally an increase or decrease of appetite can be universal. COVID-19 has brought a unique stressor that can lead many to develop symptoms of depression. This is suggested based on studies that have found when individuals are forced to ‘shelter in place’ they are more likely to develop symptoms of depression.
The following are activities that can help to combat and alleviate the symptoms of depression.
Manage anxiety and stress
- It is important to manage your anxiety levels. Increased levels of stress and anxiety for a prolonged period of time can lead to depression.
Make sure you are getting a good night sleep
- There is a strong link between sleep and mood. Some studies have shown that 80% of people with symptoms of depression experience sleep disturbances.
Be aware of and combat unhelpful patterns
- Depression can make it extremely hard to manage negative thinking. It is important to identify and manage unhelpful thoughts. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is a type of therapy that focuses on identifying and altering unhelpful patterns of thinking and changing behaviour with the aim of reducing symptoms of depression.
Set short term goals
- Feeling tired and demotivated are common symptoms of depression which make procrastination temping. Breaking the habit of procrastination can be a challenging one and it is therefore important to set short-term goals that are achievable. Finally, it is also important to not mix procrastination with laziness. Labelling yourself as lazy only feeds the negative and unhelpful thoughts that you make hold about yourself.
Maintain a daily routine that prioritises self-care
- Commonly depression is disruptive and affects our daily routine and behaviour. A routine can anchor us. Build a daily routine that prioritises self-care, including eating well, regular sleeping hours, showering, dressing, and exercise time etc. In addition, find a realistic and achievable way to manage your tasks and responsibilities. This will help in combating some of the symptoms of depression.
If you are struggling with any general mental health issues at this time or any of the above-mentioned issues and would like to find out how we can help at the Mindsight Centre please click here to get in touch.
Dr Savin Bapir-Tardy
Savin is a chartered counselling psychologist who has over 17 years of experience in mental health, working with adolescents, adults and couples in a variety of settings. Savin is a specialist in treating a range of emotional problems including depression, anxiety and PTSD, and has worked with the media providing expert opinion in the fields of domestic violence, forced marriage and honour based violence
Rim is a senior counselling psychologist in training with over 8 years of experience in the field of psychology. As an integrative therapist she draws upon a range of therapies to create a unified model of counselling which she believes to be most effective. Rim is currently completing a doctorate in counselling and psychology and has a special interest in trauma, relationships and a range of emotional issues.