Eve da Silva Msc, PgDip
Taking care of your mental health in times of uncertainty
A few people have asked me if there is any advice I can give them to cope with self isolation and also more widely the unprecedented uncertainty of the current global pandemic.
In post, I take you through a psychology and yoga perspective of how to think about things to make the most out of your existing resources. If you are experiencing any significant difficulties, please seek help, contact your Doctor and make sure you get the support you need.
5 Step plan to manage your wellbeing
1. Learn the difference between a problem and a worry.
2. Take things one step at a time.
3. Learn about your locus of control.
4. Nurture yourself and your community.
5. Practice mindfulness, relaxation and keep your body nourished through movement and healthful foods.
Take a B R E A T H
Before you read any further, take a moment to take a a few deep breaths (to the count of four) and exhale (to the count of four). This 'box-breathing' technique is practiced in elite training from the Armed Forces to Professional Ballet, and it is a highly effective way to reduce your in-the-moment adrenaline response by slowing down your nervous system and heart rate.
Now you are ready to begin on this 5 step plan to reduce your stress levels and increase your resilience in the time of crisis.
1. Is it a problem or a worry?
Problem vs. Worry
Problem solving skills are considered by Psychologists to be a very helpful protector against depression and anxiety.
When we are distressed, anxious or depressed it can be difficult to think through possible solutions. Most of us get stuck in a worry chain and worry incessantly about potential negative outcomes and feeling overwhelmed.
The current global pandemic is bringing about some very complicated and concerning difficulties, some of which, as individuals we have little control over.
To stop your mind from fixating on the larger problems and focus on the ones you can solve it is useful to consider the following questions:
• Is it a real and likely problem I am concerned about?
• Is the problem something happening now?
• Is the problem something I have some control over?
2. Take things one step at a time: You should now have a sense that while you may have a lot of future focused worries (what if??) there are actually quite a few actual problems for you to come up with solutions for in the here and now.
If you are a visual person, one of the best things you can do for yourself during this time is start a journal and make some lists. Perhaps you are more of an audio person? Then why not record some voice memos for yourself? You could even film a video diary for yourself. Whatever method works for you; the aim of these practices is to help you get the chance to take a step back from the situation and begin to prioritise which problems to solve first.
The Chinese Proverb that a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step is so apt here. It might be overwhelming to realise there are some problems to solve, particularly if your future-focused "what if" brain is getting in the way of coming up with solutions. That is why it is so helpful to ground yourself in the present by reminding yourself "I am taking this one step at a time" and "I can only influence the future by working on things right now in the present".
Take each worry, identify the problems and then get creative by listing as many solutions as your brain can come up with. It doesn't matter at this stage how outlandish some of them are because in the list there will be two or three that really could help you work towards your desired outcome. This is a great way to get in touch with your inner wisdom and truly discover you had the answer all along!
3. Learn to tell the difference between what you can and cannot influence. Your locus of control or sphere of influence allows you to realise just how much power you have at your disposal. Even better its a great way to visualise how you are spending your mental and emotional time and energy focusing on what you can't influence when you could be spending it on what you absolutely can change.
4. Nurture yourself and your community: While you are looking at your sphere of influence you may want to consider what you can do for self-care and what you can do for friends, family, colleagues or your neighbours. Do you have a special talent? Are you able to be a listening ear? Perhaps you enjoy doing something creative and would like to share this to brighten up someone else's day? Put some time aside and write, record or film some ideas that have been popping into your head this week. No matter how it sounds in your head or any reasons you have given yourself that it wouldn't work, make sure you acknowledge the idea and then choose one or two for yourself and one or two that you can do to support others.
Studies have shown that people who choose to notice what they can do and link in with others to make this happen have higher resilience in time of disaster. You do have something to give and remember that you need to be well to help others so do make sure you start by ensuring you are nurturing yourself. A bare minimum that you need to make a priority for yourself right now is to get enough sleep (ideally 8-10 hours).
5. Practice mindfulness, relaxation and keep your body nourished through movement and healthful foods. It is important to make sure you don't let things that you normally would do to relax slip. You may need to be creative if you are housebound but we are blessed with a lot of access to resources that make that easy. The simple things make a big difference in calming your nervous system. Do not underestimate the power of putting on some music and dancing in your living room. Movement practices, particularly spontaneous dancing and letting go are our bodies' natural healers from stress and cortisol overload. If you are finding it difficult to unwind start off with a movement practice. There's a great one described here: https://www.tarabrach.com/working-with-trauma/.
Don't put pressure on yourself to sit in a seated meditation or even to start a new meditation practice if you have a busy mind and don't have someone to support you through mindfulness teaching. Instead you might find it more helpful first to try a body scan or progressive muscle relaxation.
Try to make sure you feed yourself with healthful foods where possible. Enjoy some herbal teas. Simple food can be very good for you so even if supplies are scarce you might be able to get creative with what you can find. Don't underestimate the nourishing potential of onions, herbs and spices.
Remember that even if you have a little you can make a lot with it. Ensure you turn meal times and tea times into a ritual. Make it as special as you can for yourself in a way that works for you!
Notice how you feel every time you have taken a positive step. Noticing the shift in your energy and wellbeing will help solidify healthy habits and techniques during a time of stress.
Wishing you so much peace, resilience, creativity and trust in yourself during these challenging times.
Resources to support you: