The other day I spoke about the two types of clients that I seem to be speaking to most frequently in clinic at the moment. This has been mainly since the lockdown. One set of people seem to be very overwhelmed, struggling to work from home, finding it difficult to home school their children, experiencing lots of people in the house all day, not getting any personal space and all trying to renegotiate roles.
This group of people seem to have so much to do, are feeling the pressure and are experiencing stress and overwhelm. The blog I wrote the other day addressed these challenges and offered techniques that may be useful for this difficult time.
Today I want to talk about the other type of client group that I am working with virtually. This group of people are self-isolating, are vulnerable older people, some with physical health conditions that are having to struggle with using technology in order to get some form of social interaction. Some of the clients that I have spoken to recently have been bought mobile phones from their families to keep in touch. Some never having owned a phone before are really struggling with the aspects of working out all the technology. People are facing new challenges with what self-isolating brings. Other clients I have been speaking with have lost their jobs, or have been furloughed, are desperately worried about their financial situation, how to pay the bills and mortgage etc. These difficulties add to the other stresses they feel, not having any social contact, are starting to feel low and in a lot of cases starting to get depressed and cut off from society.
It’s not surprising when we think about confinement. Solitary confinement is used as a form of punishment. It’s what we do to people in prisons. We take people out of society; we lock them away and then we put them into a cell all on their own as an additional punishment for doing something wrong. We know it’s not good for peoples' mental and physical health. As a society we are doing that to people, but it is a necessary thing to do, to help everybody to stay safe.
I want to write about things that can help this group of people. So, if you’re feeling less productive, not answering calls from loved ones, not really wanting to say how you really feel, it could be a sign that you need to change things up a little bit.
Our moods may start getting lower, and it’s better to catch it now rather than let yourself slide deeper into a state of depression and low mood. We don’t know how long this lockdown will last for, so we don’t want our mental health to be badly impacted for the future.
I think it would be helpful to look at positive ways we can turn this around, what can we do?
There are two main things that have probably stopped.
There isn’t any structured activity in our lives. Pre-Lockdown, we would have had some form of structure in our day. We would have had the same number of hours in the day, but now it may feel as though the days are getting longer. There would have been more milestones in the day and more markers as the day passed.
We would normally have things to do, set tasks at set times. Time is punctuated by achieving certain goals. Previously we would have gotten out of bed by a certain time to brush our teeth and have a wash in time to eat our breakfast and leave the house to start work. These things punctuate the day and the week, so we get used to doing those to help mark the passing of time.
So, if our whole routine has been turned upside down, and we can’t go to places we normally would, can’t make plans to see our friends, we need to now think about a new routine. It is going to be stressful if we are just sitting there or laying there if we stay in bed.
Let’s try and take some power back, lets reintroduce a new routine, its really important to keep some resemblance of normal, whatever that is for you. Try getting up at a certain time and go to bed and eat meals at a regular time for our body clock to function properly. It helps to maintain our mental and physical health. This will help to give us the sleep we need and the right balance of serotonin and dopamine. From this we can then think about other activities to add in.
In CBT we often talk about balance. We are creatures that do get a boost from achieving things, we get a hit of dopamine in the mind. If we do some things that are fun, that brings a sense of meaning to our lives.
We start by listing all those things that need to get done, things that have been put off since lockdown. Make sure the list is realistic, achievable and pleasurable. So, it would be good to not add activities such as eating out with friends, as this is not achievable right now in our current situation.
You list could contain activities such as calling a friend, playing bingo online or you could find a new hobby, such as baking, getting creative and learning something different. Why not add to your list something pleasurable such as relaxing in a bath. Everyone is different so your list will be unique to you.
Once you have your list, you can then start to think about how you can build these things into your week and allowing yourself to do one of each of those activities a day. It will bring structure, it will bring routine, try not to put things off as it will make you think that you haven’t achieved, and it will have a negative effect.
Just go from day to day, and pick items off the list that you would like to do to set yourself some goals. Normally we would be working week to week, but just for now, its about allowing yourself realistic goals just to keep you going.
Another thing that we tend to do when we have lots of time on our hands and with less structure is that we tend to think more. Our brains as they are, they are designed to look at all the negative things. They are designed to help us survive; they are not designed for modern living. Our minds also imagine and create a world that we live in and we can create wonderful things such as medical miracles. But our minds also have the capacity to run a bit wild and imagine all sorts of anxiety provoking thoughts such as “what ifs”.
We can end up ruminating, going over all the losses we have experienced, past experiences where things have gone wrong, and not worked out as it ‘should’. We do naturally look at the negatives in everything. We can override this by creating a positivity log, we can sit and think about the positives, things that we are grateful for. We can write down a record of things that you’re grateful for in your life right now. Such as the sun is shining, your family are healthy etc. If you do experience a low day, and find your mind wandering, you can look back at your positivity log to remind you of the positives in life.
Our minds naturally want to drift to the past or predict the future, but its important to bring your mind back to the present and know that in this moment, everything is okay. We don’t have to worry about the future, we don’t have to think about the past, we can just be here right now.
Breathing and mindfulness exercise
· Concentrate on our breath, breathing in slowly, breathing out slowly
· Look around the room, notice your surroundings, the colours in the room
· Use your sense of smell, try to work out what you can smell
· Concentrate on what you’re eating, what are the flavours?
Get curious about the world around you, you then stay here in this moment. It helps to break up the day and keeps your mind from drifting to the future where we don’t know what’s going to happen, don’t go back to the past, we can’t change that either.
You may or may not realize it that by letting go we can take back control.
There are a few tips that can help, if you would like any further support, please go to my website:
You will find blogs and a downloadable resource that may be of help to you during this uncertain time, or you can contact me via the website.
Thank you for reading, take care and stay safe.
With hope and healing