For nearly all of us, the lockdown induced by the Covid-19 pandemic has forced us to drastically change our lives. For some, this has been positive, forcing us to slow down and re-evaluate the things in life we thought were important. For many however, this change has brought a storm of chronic stress, increased levels of anxiety, pressure, and even loneliness. How then do we deal with a sudden change of lifestyle when it is negative?
With any change in life it is normal to experience a sense of loss. With this will bring a process of grief that we must endure. Often we associate grief with the death of a loved one, but grief affects us in many ways: the loss of a job, the loss of a relationship, the loss of our sense of safety. Even sometimes when a beloved store from our childhood closes down we can experience a sense of loss. Albeit this is not always on the intense level of the spectrum that we often experience when losing a loved one or a family pet, but that is not to say that what you are experiencing is not loss, which encompasses the rough journey that is the grief process.
Denial – This isn't happening. This won't affect me.
Anger – They didn't do enough to stop this. They are controlling our lives and stopping us being with our loved ones.
Bargaining – I will isolate myself for a few weeks and just wait it out, then everything will be ok won't it?
Depression – Will this ever end?
Acceptance- It is what it is. This is happening. I have to figure out a way to move through this.
You will not always pass through these stages in order. Sometimes you will bounce around, perhaps linger for a while in one stage and you may even skip a stage entirely. These are emotions that you need to allow yourself to experience as your brain tries to make sense of what is going on. What is universally recognised though is that acceptance the end stage where our brains are beginning to come to terms with the change and you can begin to find new meaning in your life – a new normal.
A phrase heard less commonly is Anticipatory grief. Anticipatory grief is experienced when we are uncertain of what the future holds. It is sorrow felt before the loss itself. This may be the case for a lot of us in countries deeply affected by Covid-19. We are all waiting to see how life will look after all of this and the truth is, none of us really know. How then can we process this loss when some of the loss itself is merely a speculation? (with the exception of those that have sadly lost loved ones or jobs).
Acknowledge how a forced change of lifestyle has affected you. Express your emotions healthily. Do not repress your emotions; this will only make you feel worse in the long run. You must allow yourself to feel. Talk to someone about how you are feeling and if you cannot do this, choose to write in a diary or a journal. Writing is a great way to gain control of your emotions and improve your mental health.
Routine and Self Care Rituals
In times of stress and uncertainty, the brain likes structure. Try to stick to your normal routine as much as possible. Don’t have a normal routine? or has your usual routine been impacted? Make one.
Pick a bed time between 10.00PM and 2.00AM then choose a rise time eight hours after this. If your bedtime is 11.00PM then your rise time should be 7.00am. This gives you the best chance to achieve your 7/8 hours of sleep per night. It can be very easy to stay up all night and watch Netflix or fall into an erratic sleep pattern when we are stressed, depressed or anxious. This however exasperates sleep disturbance and prevents you from getting enough deep sleep which is what we need to recover physically and emotionally. As hard as it is, your brain will thank you for it in the long run.
Human beings are ritualistic beings. We like rituals. Rituals help us to process experiences, provide us with comfort and are an excellent stress management technique. I am quite big on encouraging my clients to engage in self care rituals, particularly in the morning or the evening. If you are a morning person try selecting an earlier rise time (this may mean you have an earlier bed time). You may wish to spend
* twenty minutes engaging in yoga practice
* five minutes listing three things that you are grateful for
* ten minutes ordering your day, with the worst task of the day at the top so you can get this out the way
* ten minutes listening to music.
Perhaps you may choose an evening ritual.
* One hour before bed time ensure all electronics are switched off and your phone is switched to night mode or ideally put somewhere where you do not use it (I highly advise this anyway)
* Have a hot bath with candles and put some relaxing music on in the background
* Lay some clean pyjamas out neatly on the bed ready to change into after some relaxation
* In bed read a book or journal.
You would practice this each day as though a sacred self-care practice. Many people find comfort in having the same rituals five to six days per week. Others may need to mix it up with different rituals on different days. Find what works for you and individualise your self-care.
Make time to stay in touch with family and friends. Meet new people if you are able. Talk about how you are feeling but also make time to talk about pleasurable topics or engage in pleasurable activities.
Depression, anxiety and stress induced by change can cause us to feel alone. It can be easy to isolate ourselves and shut the world out. Socialising helps combat loneliness and keeps us connected. Depression and anxiety disconnects us so sometimes we need to do the opposite to what we are feeling.
Take care of your Body
Ensure to shower or bathe every day. Take care of your hair and your nails - you will feel better for it and more refreshed.
Exercise will help. Exercise is great for your general physical health but did you know it also works wonders for our mental health? Exercise has been shown to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, improve cognitive functioning and improve self-esteem as well as reducing social withdrawal. If you are not used to exercising, start small. Just ten minutes of walking per day can improve your physical and mental wellbeing.
Eat a balanced diet. When you experience stress it depletes the body. Your body now more than ever needs extra nutrients and fuel. Look after it. The body and the mind are connected more than you realize.
Take off your shoes and hug that tree!
Ensure to spend time in nature. Not only do we need Vitamin D which we largely get from sunlight (in safe doses), growing evidence is supporting healing through nature. Being at one with nature decreases blood pressure, heart rate and muscle tension - all of which suffer when the body is under stress. Nature has also shown to reduce anger, fear and stress in both the short term and the long term. I would even go as far as encouraging one to spend time outside bare foot.
Walking or standing bare foot on the earth connects us with the earth’s surface electrons which have healing properties. Being barefoot on the earth’s surface is also a fabulous grounding tool for when you are experiencing intense anxiety or stress. Just be careful not to stand on anything sharp! In fact it is a great exercise for those with overthinking minds as walking barefoot encourages you to focus on every step you take so as not the stand on anything that may harm you. It drags your brain away from thinking and forces it to be present; something we are not particularly good at being in this modern world.
Let go of control
Try to accept that there are things in life we cannot control. Things change, it is the only constant we know. The best thing you can do is to look after your mind and your body so that you are prepared for when life changes again. This won’t always be a significant earth shattering change, sometimes it can be a subtle change that alters aspects of our lives, but some changes are so huge they change our lives forever. Our brains love to think they have control, but the truth is, sometimes we don't have any control. One of the scariest things sometimes can be to accept this truth and to make peace with it.
If you are struggling reach out for help. That's what us therapists are here for. To catch you when you fall and help you to get yourself back up when you are wobbling.
A friend of mine once said to me ... "weebles wobble but they never fall down".