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“Helping you gain control over the things you want to change”

Fiona Nicolson

Guarding our mental health in the time of Coronavirus

Posted on 2nd October 2020

We are moving into a new phase as the coronavirus pandemic unfolds. We are still in a fast-moving story and none of us knows what the autumn and winter will bring. We have all got used to living with uncertainty and coping with rapid, and often unwanted change. For many of us isolation and loneliness have been tough. For others being cooped up with the family has put great strains on our closest and most precious relationships.

There have been many things which have been very difficult. We have had to alter the ways we do things, and reconsider what our expectations of life are. On the other hand, there have been some changes which many of us feel have been welcome. Working from home has brought more family time and perhaps a slower pace of life which has felt more natural and more comfortable. A pause in the ordinary routines of life can be a chance to reassess and even learn new patterns of life and many of us have taken that chance.

Talking about mental health and Coronavirus

One change which, as a professional therapist, I have welcomed is the greater willingness to talk about our mental health. And we need to be doing this. The figures of how our mental health is suffering are very worrying indeed.

People who have had Covid report a range of psychological symptoms including PTSD, and panic attacks https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/aug/14/sheer-fear-mental-health-impacts-of-covid-19-come-to-fore

Young people have suffered from the fall-out from the virus, especially the lockdown. Tim Elwell-Sutton, assistant director of strategic partnerships at the Health Foundation, told the Guardian newspaper: “Young people have been hit particularly hard by the economic disruption, which has affected their financial security and threatened their job prospects,”

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/aug/30/under-25s-bearing-brunt-of-covid-mental-health-toll-survey

This does not seem surprising; isolation has been especially hard for young people who are still forming their relationships and they are likely to bear the burden of any recession.

So, we do need to be talking about mental health. And we can all be affected. The person who has not been living with a level of anxiety over health for the past few months is rare. Then there are the wider effects of the pandemic. Parents are terrified about the long-term effects of the socialisation and education of their children, for example.

In my experience the change in how people speak about mental health has been marked. Friends who were quite happy before, now admit that their mental health is suffering. People who were quite closed up and didn’t like to talk about emotional issues are now prepared to use the term ‘mental health’. Hopefully we are moving into a place where it is commonly recognised that looking after out mental health is as important as looking after our physical health.

How to look after your mental health in the pandemic

It is great the issue is more in the open. But that is only the start of the journey. We need to work out what to do to help ourselves.

Many organisations and foundations, such as the World Health Organization, have given some simple, easy to follow common sense advice. I often recommend the website of the Mental Health Foundation to clients as it has a point by point checklist and is regularly updated as the pandemic develops (currently it has a new section on coping with returning to the office). https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/coronavirus/looking-after-your-mental-health-during-coronavirus-outbreak

We need to be in a good frame of mind if we are to take even these basic steps. One thing it is worth checking is how much time you are giving to your mental self-care. I often find with my clients that it is not enough. Whatever you decide to do to look after yourself make sure that it is not rushed, and that it doesn’t get pushed out by other things. Next, develop a learning mindset. Just because your friend finds meditation helpful does not necessarily mean that you will. Don’t be afraid to try new things but also go with your instincts. Try things until you find something which makes you feel better.

Looking after your mental health is not just about taking actions, it can also be about avoiding things which make you anxious. Too much news is a common trigger for anxiety. Limit your exposure and look at trusted news sources only. You may feel your mental health benefits from avoiding certain people. People who have a completely different view of risk from yours might be best kept at a distance (pun intended!). Those who peddle conspiracy theories may drain your energy and increase your stress. Being able to navigate these choppy social waters takes a strong sense of self-worth and self-belief. If you find it difficult, I would strongly advise you to see someone like me. We can get to the roots of why you do not value yourself enough and work to increase your self-esteem. Often this can be done in a few sessions, and it can transform how you navigate the world.

Modelling success using Myers Briggs

There is a well-known saying in the world of therapy: “Often, you cannot change what happens, but you can change how you react to what happens.” Never has this been truer. This is another area where a learning mindset can be very useful. Look around your world, at your colleagues, friends and family, and notice how some people just seem to cope and rise above the difficulties being thrown at all of us. Perhaps you can model the behaviour of someone you know. Choose carefully, someone who is a completely different personality type will not be useful to you as a role model, however much you admire them. For example, if you are quiet and shy and tend to obsess to yourself about worrying things then modelling yourself on someone who is very outgoing and discusses their feelings with all and sundry is unlikely to be of help to you.

I often get my clients to take one of the Myers Briggs tests which are available online to give them a guide as to how they function and how the relate to others. https://www.16personalities.com/free-personality-test

The other good thing about some of these tests is that they give the personality types of historic and well-known people. It can be fun and very useful to find a personality type like you who lives or lived a successful fulfilled life and study how they do it.

https://www.ranker.com/list/historical-figures-meyers-briggs-types/genevieve-carlton

https://www.fromthegrapevine.com/arts/which-celebritys-personality-do-you-have

I have spent most of this blog talking about mental health and I want to finish up by situating mental health in our wider world. The physical and the mental worlds are not two separate spheres, they constantly affect each other. We all know this at some level, you do not have to look far to find advice that regular exercise can help your anxiety levels for example.

Looking after yourself physically, eating healthily, exercising, enjoying fresh air and nature, will help stabilise all your physical systems. Just as importantly, it will send a message to your subconscious mind that you are valuable and in control.

There is another important thing here. To look after yourself physically takes some time, some planning and putting yourself first at times. All this matters in and of itself. It is a boost to your self-esteem and a proof to yourself that you are valuable.

I hope you have found this useful. We all need to consider a plan and think through difficult times and I am trying to use my knowledge and skills to provide some guidance here. If you find it difficult to look after yourself at the moment you may need some extra help. It could be that your own belief systems, formed over years since your earliest childhood, are holding you back here. Working with me, we can look at those belief systems, at your mental map, and change them to something which will help you navigate the world with more ease and more joy. It is often easier than you think, so contact me today.

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