COVID-19 and Mental Health - 7th April 2020
We are in a situation that we have never previously experienced in our lifetime. One that leaves us dis-connected from our everyday lives, our relationships, work, hobbies, and social life. For everyone, the experience of COVID-19 is a unique one and so mentally you may have increased levels of anxiety, stress, sadness, disconnection, boredom, tiredness, impulsivity, frustration, anger, powerlessness, despair and even for some there will be suicidal thoughts - this list is not exhaustive.
Whether you are in a relationship, single, living with friends, or family, either working or not working, whatever your circumstances this will most likely be a challenging time. As a consequence of lockdown you may be financially disadvantaged, worried about the future or your health, or missing seeing your family, friends or loved ones. You may be experiencing higher levels of concern for family, friends, or someone close to you who is ill, or in hospital and not able to see them. You will have worries around whether you are vulnerable to catching COVID-19 or you may be a health worker experiencing the trauma of working on the front line, dealing with people who are very ill, concerned about your own welfare, and yet still wanting to help others. We are all experiencing a sense of loss, fear, panic, worry and concern at some level.
There are those who are having to adapt and take on new roles, for instance home-schooling children, along with trying to work from home, juggling different hats and worrying about not doing anything that well. These experiences will increase our levels of stress, and despair and this is understandable.
When our emotional states are elevated we turn to certain coping mechanisms to deal with how we feel. If you can reflect on what your coping mechanisms are and what you are doing, whether it's drinking more alcohol than you normally would; eating more food; buying things online; or distracting through playing online games. If you experiencing any of these, or finding other ways to cope that are not useful, then give yourself a moment to reflect on what you are feeling and where in your body these feelings are located. Acknowledge to yourself how you feel for a few moments. Then think about how you can ground yourself in the here and now. This could be as simple as taking a depth breath, a long stretch, noticing your surroundings, what you see, smell, hear and experience. Give yourself permission to let your feet feel the floor, notice how it feels when your feet are firmly planted on the floor. This can be anchoring, grounding and steadying in a world where everything feels uncertain and scary. Again take another deep breath, and this time allow the out breath to take longer than the in-breath. Repeat the the breathing exercise several times.
Tell yourself, it is ok to feel sad, angry, irritated, bored, anxious, stressed, afraid, worried, trapped and powerless, given the circumstances. Currently we can't change the situation whether it's our feeling states, or the issues within our environment whatever they may be. So for a moment, reflect and think about what you do have control over with regard to your behaviour, and the choices you wish to make, and how you want things to be in your existing environment.
Examples might be, create some space within your environment if you are finding yourself annoyed or irritated with others, or just need some occasional peace and quiet. Reflect on when you feel lonely, sad or afraid and who you want to connect with and talk to, who can best support you.
Think about what you find comforting, nurturing and soothing. What settles you, increases your energy levels, or nourishes your mind and body. This may be as simple as listening to a piece of music, going for a walk, taking a deep breathe, ensuring your out breath is longer than the in one. Reflect on what does self-care look like in terms of exercise, food, and wellbeing and you can take care of yourself in the difficult space we currently find ourselves in.
STAY SAFE AND KEEP WELL .....
World Suicide Prevention Day - 10th September 2018
Whilst statistics suggest that suicide is declining, media articles highlight the impact and devastation of suicide for both men and women. My thoughts go to why do people resort to committing suicide and feeling so overwhelmed by their thoughts and feelings that they are not seeking support. We live in a fast paced ever changing world of uncertainty, where there are external pressures to be successful, and fulfilled. As a female psychotherapist and a feminist who is invested in women’s equality and empowerment I am acutely aware of the external and internal pressures to be competent, successful, and independent. Yet this can create internal conflicts and polarising thoughts in terms of being able to acknowledge moments of vulnerability and fragility. I believe these pressures can leave both men and women at increased risk of wanting to escape from feeling conflicted and overwhelmed by difficult thoughts and feelings. Women are great at caring for others, and being conscientious at work, and so proving their effectiveness and commitment. From the men I work with a common story is they need to be strong, resilient and be able to resolve everything that comes their way. Yet I believe it is the avoidance or denial of self-care, along with a sense of shame surrounding failure, and seeking support that creates risks for mental health problems. There is also the impact of contradictory messages between environments, whether they are work, social or family; where success, fulfilment and independence are celebrated, and vulnerability, self-care or the permission to fail may not be permitted or accepted.
When working therapeutically with clients who present as a suicide risk I provide the space to share thoughts and feelings surrounding helplessness, powerlessness and hopelessness. I encourage feeling states and thoughts to be voiced, and expressed. I explore how success is measured and what failure means, and how these concepts are perceived and experienced. I encourage a client to engage with the voice of the vulnerable part, and how this part communicates to the self-state that is driven for success, independence and fulfilment, and vice-a-versa. Encouraging a dialogue between self-states can help a client notice the impact that each part has on the other and facilitate an integration of conflicting parts so that self-care, vulnerability, boundaries and limits are more noticeable. This helps with creating empathy and compassion for self.
If you are concerned about mental health and suicide, or you know of someone who is you may wish to contact the Samaritans or Mind for additional information or support.
For help with suicidal thoughts:
In an emergency, call: 999
NHS (England), call: 111