A guide to looking after your mental health during uncertain times
If you are feeling anything unusual, during these unprecedented times then it is most likely to be very normal and others will be feeling it too. For example, not sleeping well, crying more than usual, unable to make simple decisions, wanting to stay in bed, having tummy upsets, picking arguments … all things we are more likely to experience at the moment.
You are not going mad! We are in the middle of a crisis that most of us has never experienced before and the threat is to our mortality and the mortality of our loved ones. We feel out of control and this is such an uncomfortable feeling.
So, scientifically what is going on is that our brain is going into overdrive and perceiving everything as a threat. There are really only two settings in our amygdala – fight or run away – and so this is what your body prepares to do: fight, flight or freeze (that third option is when we feel paralysed with fear).
It is very difficult to think straight when we are in this mode and so what happens is that our thoughts become irrational and can even begin to bully us. So, what can we do?
The good news is there are lots of things we can do to take back control. The first and most basic is to BREATHE properly. This will literally change the way your body is feeling. If you control your breathing you are telling your body that everything is OK. Your body will then begin to slow down and the adrenaline and cortisol will ease off. It is easy to breathe properly: breathe in through your nose and then more slowly out through your mouth. I suggest breathing in for the count of 5 and breathing out for the count of 8. Try to breathe from your tummy area and not your chest and do this for 2 minutes. I urge you to give this a go. IT WILL WORK!
TALK TO SOMEONE, we cannot physically meet at present but we can phone a friend or go on-line to connect with people. Choose someone you can trust and just be honest with them about your feelings. They cannot fix things but they can listen and just be there for you. Likewise you can do this for other people and if you get a call from someone who is struggling, please be kind, give them time and try not to give advice or answers, LISTENING is the key here.
If you cannot get in touch with someone, then write down your feelings and thoughts, release them from your mind onto paper.
USE YOUR HANDS. I cannot over-emphasise how therapeutic it is to keep your hands busy for a while. Perhaps you have a garden you can tend, perhaps colouring or painting, sewing, baking, even tidying your sock drawer! Pets are also an absolute bonus for us at the moment. They are loving the fact that they get to spend more time with you and so sit and stroke your pet to your heart’s content. Whilst you are focussing on the task in hand you cannot be worrying.
LOOK AFTER YOUR BODY. We hold stress in our bodies; that is why our heart beats fast when we are anxious or we have butterflies in our tummy. Soothe your body with a warm bath or shower, use hand cream, light candles, do some exercise, or prepare healthy meals.
GET OUTSIDE. We are ‘allowed’ to exercise once a day, so make it count. Just being in the fresh air, feeling the sunshine (or the rain) on your face, noticing the hedgerow wild spring flowers and hearing the birdsong is so good for us.
TAKE A BREAK FROM SOCIAL MEDIA AND THE NEWS. Constantly tuning into the very latest on the virus situation will not help you and could make things worse. Try and just watch the news once a day and stick to reliable sources.
LAUGH. If you can, find something that makes you laugh: a TV programme, some old photos, a funny book. Laughing is incredibly therapeutic.
BE AWARE OF UNHEALTHY COPING MECHANISMS. We all have them: eating chocolate, drinking a little too much, overspending on-line. When you notice this is happening then revert to any of the above instead.
Finally, BE KIND TO YOURSELF AND OTHERS. Now more than ever, we need to look after ourselves and each other. Be understanding of your family members who are also likely to be struggling. Whatever is comforting for you, then do that thing.
Remember there are people at church who are happy to chat or pray with you. Do let us know if we can be of help.
Tracy Brown (Pastoral Minister)