As the UK prepares to lift lockdown restrictions further, Stretching the City’s clinical psychologist and leader of our mental health webinars, Dr Rebecca shares her advice for protecting our mental health as we navigate the months ahead.
Praise is certainly in order for all of us who have endured these lengthy, challenging lockdown measures. Us humans have shown how resilient and adaptable we can be to changing and adverse circumstances. However, this has not been easy and has challenged our mental wellbeing on a daily basis.
In this post we look at the feelings and emotions we are likely to experience as we transition out of lockdown to a ‘new normal’ phase. How are we responding to these emotions as life re-opens? And what strategies can we put in place to protect our mental health during this unprecedented time?
HOW ARE YOU FEELING? In spite of raised levels of anxiety some of us may have been getting accustomed to our new lockdown routine, adapting to new ways of working, shopping, exercising and family routine. As lockdown restrictions are eased, once again we face more change. This change poses a perceived threat to us, which in turn can evoke feelings of fear and anxiety. We may continue to feel overwhelmed and stressed out. For some it may be excitement and anticipation they experience at the prospect of these new freedoms. The hardships we face and where we are on this journey will vary greatly from person to person.
WHAT IS GOING ON IN OUR BRAINS RIGHT NOW? A primitive part of our brain called the amygdala reacts fast and instinctively, overpowering the measured, thinking part of our brain in the frontal lobes. This serves to protect us at times of threat, propelling us into ‘fight or flight’ mode. As we enter into another period of uncertainty our behavioural responses to this ‘new threat’ may be impulsive and irrational.
ARE WE BEING HIJACKED BY OUR THOUGHTS & FEELINGS?
Alongside our innate response to change we may have to contend with many unhelpful thoughts and feelings which have the ability to hijack us, affecting our behaviour. We may be fearful about travelling on public transport, entering shops or interactions with health care professionals. Our thoughts may go something like, “I’m too scared to visit my GP’s surgery”; “I’m worried about having to wear a mask”; “what if I pick up Covid-19 from there?”; “this all feels too hard, I’ll just stay at home”. A more helpful approach for us at this time is to ‘Unhook’ from these stifling thoughts.
To reduce being hijacked by our strong thoughts and feelings we can try to improve our PSYCHOLOGICAL FLEXIBILITY. Essentially, this means being able to stay in contact with the present moment in spite of disruptive thoughts, unpleasant feelings and bodily sensations. Then, subsequently choosing behaviour appropriate for the situation which is rooted in our personal values.
THE IMPORTANCE OF VALUES. It is helpful to identify the values that really matter to us and make us who we want to be (and are a lot of the time). There are so many; Courage, Authenticity, Flexibility, Honesty, Fun, Contribution, Persistence and so on. Throughout the day, going about our regular activities and interactions we may move towards these values we hold but when times are difficult and stressful we may move away from them.
WE ARE ALL DIFFERENT. Certain values will resonate with some and not others – there are no right or wrong values. As the UK starts to reopen we will be guided by these values to make decisions. We need to respect values held by others even if they are not the same as ours. This could mean your neighbour’s evaluation of risk posed to them by Covid-19 is different to yours. Having clarity around our own values will make it easier to communicate them to others.
A HELPFUL STRATEGY. Living alongside Covid-19 presents us with challenging and unfamiliar situations which will summon up various thoughts and feelings. At these points there is a choice to move towards the values you hold as very important. In contrast, avoiding a visit to the GP may move away from our values of courage, independence and self-care. This FACE acronym below helps to ground us and unhook those unhelpful thoughts and emotions so we can respond more positively:
F – FOCUS on what is in your CONTROL (our behaviour)
A – ACKNOWLEDGE your thoughts and feelings (this is ok)
C – COME back to your body (re-engage with your surroundings)
E – ENGAGE in what you are doing
LOOKING OUT FOR YOURSELF. We sit on a continuum with regards to our mental health. So if you are feeling some way off where you would usually be, this might be too much at the moment. It is ok (and healthy) to reach out and access help/support services. This could be via your GP or through an Employee Assistance Programme at work. Perhaps try connecting with your Mental Health Champion?
Ever changing advice presents us with constant new uncertainties. Let your VALUES help you FACE these challenges and life after lockdown.
If you’re looking to support your employees during the transition out of lockdown, our ‘Life after Lockdown’ webinar will provide psychological tools and practice advice as we return to a semblance of normality. Find out more here.