In the aftermath of Covid-19 life has taken on new and unprecedented dimensions. Everything has changed and yet everything has stayed the same. In the last few months we have witnessed the strength of the human spirit. Individuals have put themselves forwards to help out their elderly and isolated neighbours. We have also witnessed the various new and creative ways in which social media has helped us to feel connected in the midst of our isolation.
New communities have grown up and Thursday night clapping for the NHS brought us closer than ever before to neighbours that we perhaps were previously unaware of. We have been inspired by modern day heroes, like Captain Tom, and been moved by countless other stories of hope and determination.
However, in the midst of all this change, our mental health has certainly been tested. Some us have lost our jobs, others have lost friends and family. We have been robbed of our chance to grieve over those who are gone and missed hugs and cuddles from the important people in our lives. As I write this my own father is in hospital and unable to have visitors. The impact this has is huge, both for those in hospitals and those who are left on the outside, feeling helpless.
It isn’t all kindness and comradeship though. We are growing scared of other people. If we witness somebody coughing or clearing their throat we become agitated, angry even, and try to increase the distance between us and them. Perhaps we are wondering why they have even left their homes to venture out in the world?
The fact is that we are all in this together. Life is changing and we are changing – adapting – to the new conditions all around us. The media tells us that our mental health is suffering more than ever before. It isn’t surprising, because people need people and we don’t perform so well under isolating and restricting conditions. We perform better when we can socialise and when we have a sense of control about our lives and our futures. Uncertainty about our health and the health of our loved ones can also cause stress and anxiety, not to mention the worry about how we are going to pay our bills if we lose our jobs.
These negative emotions seem to be increasing all the time and my concern is that people start to believe that anxiety is a normal state to be in. It isn’t. The only time we should be feeling anxious is if we truly are in danger – and I don’t mean the prolonged danger from a virus, but I mean the heart-stopping running or fighting for your life kind of danger.
When we are feeling anxious it is simply because an overload of stress hormones, such as Cortisol, are being released into our bodies. This prepares us for the “fight or flight” that our caveman brain thinks is about to happen. If we do need to fight or run away we will be much better equipped. If we don’t, then we are just hurting our bodies for no reason. Prolonged anxiety states can compromise the immune system, and also affect digestion and fertility. It simply isn’t good for us to be feeling afraid all the time.
So, the antidote to anxiety is to lighten up, start to notice some of the nicer things about our lives. We need to daydream about good times, good memories, and interesting plans for the future. Remember, we don’t just live in the outside world, we also have another home inside our own heads. It is up to us to furnish that inner landscape with as much good and wonderful stuff as possible.
Here is the plan:
- When you wake up in the morning, if you are feeling anxious take some slow deep breaths. Breathe in for the count of 3 and out for the count of 5. This will decrease the oxygen in your body and help any anxious feelings to subside.
- Your mind may be racing or turning to negative thoughts. These thoughts are just habits – we get very good at repeating things, and the things we repeat often we get even better at. It is time to start making some new habitual thoughts. You may find this difficult at first, your mind will want to go back to what it knows. Persevere and think about something nice.
- When you think of those nice, new things, explore these thoughts with all your senses. Immerse yourself in the reality of them. Are there any sounds, what do the surroundings feel like? Notice the different shades, the temperature, any tastes or smells. We want to make these new positive thoughts as lifelike as possible.
- Remember, it is your vivid imagination of the wrong thoughts that create anxiety. To change how you feel you need to start doing the opposite.
- Take time for exercise. When we move our bodies we are reducing the Cortisol in our bodies, which will make us feel better.
- Laugh. Watch comedy, listen to jokes, enjoy lighthearted banter. Laughter increases some of the good, happy hormones and these will counteract the negative ones.
- Meet with friends. It is important to socialise, so even if you have to distance or be in your bubble, ensure that you are not isolated. Even telephone calls or online chats will help you to feel more connected.
- Treat yourself to some pampering. Whatever it is, allow yourself some time just for you, where you can relax and feel calm and at peace.