Mental Health, Wellbeing

How to Manage Anxiety Better Post-Lockdown

Have you noticed that the pace of life seems to have sped up since the lifting of lockdown restrictions? Does it feel anxiety-provoking, adjusting to meeting up in person again after such a long break? Or have you chosen to ditch social distancing and mask wearing in public?

Credit: @katies.self.care.diaries from Instagram

What are anxiety and stress?

Anxiety is a stress response to a situation that can bring on flight/ fight or freeze reactions when our bodies sense a possible threat.  Hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline are released to help us respond quickly and put our nervous systems into a state of high alert.

Stress can be defined in numerous ways but the Mind UK website describes it as “being pushed beyond our usual emotional / physical capacity.” Small amounts of stress can be beneficial but if experienced over a longer period, known as chronic stress, can become difficult, such as we’ve experienced during Covid. It can lead to burnout if not addressed in the long term.

Socialising

After nearly a year and a half of lockdowns on and off here in the UK, restrictions have all but completely lifted here in England. For me, the start of lockdown easing initially filled me with dread. We’d become so used to staying at home in relative safety, wearing masks in public places and being restricted in the numbers of people we could legally mix with. Suddenly the public was back out in force on the streets and I couldn’t quite get my head around being out there again. I tend to process situations a bit slower so my brain takes a tad longer to adjust to changes. My flight response started to kick in when finding myself amongst crowds, and the beginnings of a panic attack, shallower breathing and high anxiety, would cause me to remove myself from the situation, hopefully before overwhelm reared it’s ugly head. I’d only go into the town centre when at its quietest, usually first thing in the morning as the shops opened & limit myself to buying priority things only.

Being out again socially has been more tiring, exhausting even, at times. The first bigger gathering I went to was an outside prayer event at church. I’d underestimated how much it would impact me! It’s important to give our minds time to accommodate being more social again and do so at a level that feels comfortable and achievable to us.

Risks from Covid

Perhaps for some of us the fear of catching Covid is still very real, especially if we’re clinically vulnerable and feel more at risk. Some friends have shared how uncomfortable they were to go to church when singing was allowed again which meant they were more likely to stay home and watch online, missing out on the face-to-face fellowship. Mindset plays a big part in how we see ourselves in relation to the world around us and it may be helpful to reassess our current circumstances as to the current risks.

I had to do this a few months back as Freedom Day, when everything fully opened up, crept closer and closer. My friend really helped me address what my fears were around going out and to reframe them to be more realistic, particularly:

  • Most of the population that’s been offered the vaccine have had at least 1 dose, increasing herd immunity for now.
  • The risk of being hospitalised with Covid decreases with having had the vaccine.
  • Covid is a disease that is here to stay. The risks are lower than when the virus was first recognised and continuing to apply good hand washing hygiene rules and mask wearing inside and in crowded places continue to be good preventative measures to catching the virus. See this BBC news article that discusses living with Covid after lockdown eases for further advice. I have heard some scientists say that it is the number of deaths that we should be more concerned about rather than the current number of cases as an indicator of COVID-19’s current status. This doesn’t deflect from those who are currently ill with Covid though.
  • accepting that there’s only so much of our environment that we can control. We can’t control whether people around us will still choose to be cautious and wear masks in public areas, especially indoors or on public transport. We can only be responsible for our own actions.
  • Not judging others for having different standards to our own particularly now that restrictions have almost ended. Some people have embraced all that freedom day has brought in England. However others of us are more cautious and are still limiting our behaviours, e.g. how far we may travel and avoid public transport as much as possible.

For some people, agoraphobia, the fear of people or going outside, has settled in, leaving them housebound or very anxious to go out. If you’re struggling to adjust to being around people again, a constructive way to do this is to gradually expose yourself to new situations over time. 

If it’s about getting out socially again you might want to start by:

  1. Just going to your front door and breathing in some fresh air.
  2. Try walking around the block near your house.
  3. Go to a busier place in terms of numbers of people, e.g. your local park at a quiet time.
  4. Try somewhere a bit busier like a shop. (Have an escape plan in place in case of overwhelm or the start of a panic attack).
  5. Then keep building up your exposure to larger groups of people until you feel confident again in crowds or socialising with a group of friends.

For me, I’ve used this technique to handle busier places, e.g. my local town centre.  After getting used to quiet times at the shops, I’m slowly building up my tolerance of crowds.  Spending time doing my work in a local café has helped, starting in a quiet period e.g. early morning but gradually getting used to busier times and making decisions as to what I can and can’t tolerate at the time. 

If you do find yourself getting panicky or needing to escape, be kind to yourself.  So maybe it didn’t work out as planned this time but you can try again.  Being self-compassionate and recognising your limits is also important and you’ll get there at your own pace.  As restrictions started to lift several months ago, I attempted to do several tasks whilst out at the shops.  I’d underestimated how long long the queues would be in one shop that had only opened the previous week, and then realised I wouldn’t have time to do all I’d planned.  Being kind to myself, I had to choose to miss an online activity after and leave some of the shops out to take the pressure off myself as I was feeling overwhelmed and on the verge of tears.  By deciding on this more realistic schedule, I was able to just get the most important tasks done and escape the busy shopping centre, taking time to give myself some positive self-talk and let go even of the online Pilates which had been really important to me. Some deep breathing also calmed me down in the moment & talking to someone about what had happened when I returned home.

What is causing you anxiety post-lockdown? Can you need to break it down into smaller steps to gradually overcome that fear? The examples above may help guide you.

Needing further help and support? Get in touch with me to set up a 30 minute discovery call to discuss how I can help you put together your own anxiety toolkit to better manage your anxiety better long term.

Mental Health, Wellbeing

How to say No: establishing healthy boundaries in an age of perfectionism..

Do you find it difficult to say no when asked to do something you don’t have time for? Or something that doesn’t quite sit with your own values?

My recent Wellbeing goals. Note #2: Learn to say No to tasks I don’t have time for or don’t fit my values.

This is something that all of us have to face and some of us seem stronger in being able to say no than others. It can be especially hard if you’re a people pleaser by nature, I know how this feels from personal experience.

For example, this morning, I found myself starting to clear surfaces around our old sink, ready for the new one to be fitted. I’d already promised myself to not do anything more, that it was my husband’s responsibility. But tiredness, a need to do things perfectly and keeping some sense of control temporarily took over. Particularly when the workman turned up & there was still gunk in the old sink! However rational brain took back control and I was able to walk away, just about!

If there’s anything this Covid season has taught me, it’s that I need to do less and keep things simple. But as our economy starts to open up and social expectations rise, I’ve found myself exhausted and alarm bells have been ringing at the back of my head. “Hang on, what happened to taking things slow and steady? How did I get back to this headless chicken state?”

It’s at this point I had to do a reality check. What am I trying to achieve here? What are my priorities and what are other people’s? A friend of mine has recently found herself diagnosed with a condition that means her energy levels change from one day to the next. We’ve been meeting to support each other’s creativity and she has taught me a lot about slowing down and taking things at my own pace, even in my business.

Brene Brown, in her book Daring Greatly, talks a lot about the quest for perfectionism in our society and how it’s linked to shame, particularly in women. Her research shows that shame can be a result of not meeting society’s expectations around body image and women being kept in their place. I found these revelations a breath of fresh air, in the sense of realising the impact these pressures were having on me. She talks about naming perfectionism when she sees it in her own life to overcome the shame barrier. To say that it’s ok to do things to a good enough standard and let go of control when it’s not perfect.

So where do boundaries come into it all? It’s all about putting healthy limits on what we do. In a relationship, this may mean only being available at certain times or contacted in a certain way e.g. email if we supporting someone in need. See Dr Kate Middleton’s book, Refuel, for further info on this.

In a work scenario (this is particularly pertinent if you are still working from home WFH) – putting boundaries on your time. For me this means I only look at my email during my work hours and keep my workload to said scheduled work days. I know it’s not easy especially when we might still be home-based, but it’s important that work and home life don’t become too blurred.

A big help I’ve found is being able to step back from the situation when asked to do something and first say “I’ll think about it,” rather than an immediate “yes.”

Then I ask myself:

1. Do I realistically have time to do this activity? If that means looking at my schedule for the next week/month, so be it, to help me to decide.

2. Does this fit my values? Especially in business, I may find myself offered something which doesn’t sit right with me, in which case it’s also a ‘no.’ This is something that Nisha Vyas, life coach, taught me in a SEIDs seminar.

These questions can be life changing, because it gives us a framework from which to set up boundaries from.

If you want to read more about Boundaries, check out Townsend & Cloud’s book on the subject (see image above).

Boundaries take time to establish and be prepared for some kickback with those you set them with. They won’t like the status quo being changed. As you stick to your boundaries, things will get easier and the new limits will become accepted.

Is there an area of your life where you need to establish a new boundary? How can you put that into place? Will you need anyone or anything to help you reinforce it?

I wish you well in embracing this new boundary. It may feel hard at first but it will pay dividends in the long run.

Mental Health, Social Media, Wellbeing, writing

Developing a Greater self-awareness of the impacts of social media

Recently I’ve been contemplating the impact of my time spent on screens , particularly my social media use.

A few weeks ago, it felt like I was drowning in all of my screen time. Having to think of new content to write for Instagram was especially weighing down on me and I know I was becoming mentally exhausted from all the impacts of lockdown on and off screen. A poignant aspect to note is that lockdown forced us to use video calls more, for work and socially. As well as being a way of staying in touch with others and continuing to get our work done, there is a draining aspect to it all, physically and mentally.

I felt particularly for our younger son, who had online lessons for the 2 months of the 3rd lockdown, all via video call lessons, for roughly 5 and a half hours per day. I noticed that it made him more mentally tired. However I believe that as most of us continue to be online or using our electronic devices more, it mentally and physically tires us out more too.

After realising that I was swamped in the demands of posting and keeping up with Instagram, I decided I needed to take a break from all social media for a while. So along with Facebook, I took a social media fast for a week as part of Lent, where Christians either give up something or take something up to help them focus more on God in that period. The hope was that it would give my eyes and brain a break from the overwhelm that often comes from being on social media and would give me space to pray or do other activities away from screens.

Worldwide the daily average amount of time spent on social media is 145 minutes (2 hours 25 minutes).

[Source: Statistica, 2021]

The first day was difficult, and I admit to giving in to the temptation of scrolling on both Insta and Facebook . It did get easier from there on and I was able to step back from looking at either one. I noticed I felt calmer and less mentally tired. I got to the end of the week without having done any sneaky peeking at either app.

Revelation came to me, though, when I jumped back onto Insta. The first post I saw, I found myself comparing myself to the person concerned and almost immediately that muddle-headed mental tiredness caught me again. I almost completely decided to stop then and there but because I was composing a post for work, I kept going. In fact, 30 minutes later, I was still umming and erring about a photo to use and almost gave up on it! I hated what this app was doing to me mentally and how it was slowing down my mental performance. In that moment, I just wished I could stop using social media altogether but I knew that wasn’t going to be completely possible as I use it for work. I chatted with my elder son about how going back on social media had made me feel and he also suggested coming off it completely!

Since then my motivation to use Insta or Facebook has been much lower, particularly after having a lot of online meetings the following week. I could see the detrimental impact this had on my already dwindling concentration and the mental exhaustion grew!

Now, I have reduced my number of social media posts per week and am looking for ways to stay off my screens as much as practically possible!

Don’t get me wrong, social media does have some positives though. At a time when it’s not easy to see loved ones, work colleagues nor friends face-to-face, social media does offer that opportunity to connect online. Sharing some thoughts or reading others’ comments can help us feel and stay socially connected. We may read someone’s positive words and be encouraged or enjoy a beautiful photograph that some has shared on Instagram. I’m thankful that writing this blog enables me to engage with you, the reader, wherever you may be in the world.

How do you feel whilst on social media? What are the benefits it brings you? What are the pitfalls to be aware of? Do you need some boundaries and limits to help manage your screen time better? I’d love to hear your thought and comments below.

Mental Health, New Year, Wellbeing

3 Things that are helping me survive Lockdown 3.0

Happy February, well, that sounds more timely than Happy New Year, as this is my 1st blog post of 2021! I’ve been a bit torn as to what the topic would be, but I think that as we are drawn into a new month of lockdown, it’s important to share what may help you get through.

Last week, Jo Robinson & I led our workshop on Winter Wellness, and part of the session included discussing what our mental health challenges are in this season, as well as what helps us to overcome them.

1. A small, but powerful, action for me has been getting out for a daily walk. Yes, some days they have been quite short when I’ve felt tired or it’s raining, but getting out into daylight exposes us to natural light, which in turn can generate Vitamin D in our bodies. I also supplement this with 30 minutes sitting in front of my light box, that simulates daylight to compensate for the shorter days, and hopefully tops up my Vitamin D.

2. Staying social connected is another essential for me, and part of our social wellness. I realised when I left my previous education role that I really missed working as part of a team and how important social stimulation is for me. This was really brought home to me in the first lockdown when I couldn’t just meet up with a friend for coffee or a walk. So I have made a commitment to myself to reach out to someone daily, whatever that looks like: phone call, zoom call or a socially distanced walk (although this is happening less as we’re on such a high alert level for Covid). Research has shown that by looking outward towards others helps promote happiness and takes us away from unhelpful inner ruminating or self-centredness. With #TimetoTalk Day last Thursday, it’s more important than ever that we look out for each other and be prepared to be more honest about our mental health.

3. Being creative at least a few times a week, ideally daily. Back in lockdown 2, doing some kind of Christmas craft kept me sane and focused me on something constructive aside from work and managing the home. I made Christmas decorations for friends’ Christmas presents, worked on a wooden tree Christmas sign and designed a nativity stained glass window for our front window as part of our church’s advent light festival. Ok, I’ll admit that post- Christmas we mightn’t have the motivation to do so much, but just trying out even a simple card making activity or writing some thoughts down can help our minds to switch off and stay concentrated in the moment. I’ve started bullet journalling and am currently doing a doodle art course with Mind in Harrow which is helping me to manage my stress and anxiety better.

I could talk about other areas that I’ve found helpful but keeping things simple is important at the moment too, especially if we’re struggling with motivation. See my previous blog on Managing your mental health for more ideas.

So what things are helping you to survive lockdown? What not have a go at writing them down, so that when you’re bored or at a loss as to what to do, you can look at your list to remind you of what helps and to inspire you?

Mental Health, Wellbeing, writing

How Writing helped me to survive lockdown and better manage my mental health

With World Mental Health Day just around the corner, I want to reflect on how all things writing that have helped me get through the past 6 months. Part of that has been practising what I preach on writing for wellbeing and recovery.

Credit: pixabay.com

Now, don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t always been easy. There was a point in lockdown where I was struggling with depression, in part due to running away from how I was feeling. It was at that point that someone challenged me to start writing down how I felt again and face my fears. It took a while and initially took the form of single sentences acknowledging the negative thought, eg. “I’m not good enough at this.” Then it evolved more into journalling, a mixture of feelings and reflections on why I felt like that. Over time it has become a daily practice, sometimes a paragraph, sometimes a page or two, depending on my mood. In my more creative moments it has been a poem or blog. The result has been a lifting of my mood, fresh perspective on my situation, and a greater ability to problem solve. And so I’m coming to terms with being a poet and often this is how I express my deepest thoughts or process a situation I’m going through.

Tomorrow (9 October) to celebrate World Mental Health Day, I will be running a session using poetry to express how we feel, alongside Amanda Epe and Jo Robinson. I’m excited and looking forward to sharing some of my own poetry. If you’d like to find out more or book your space, click here.

Writing can take many forms, and it’s about finding out what works for you. Self-expression is important. It can help us better understand ourselves and take those thoughts buzzing round our heads and get them out into the open or onto the page.

What can you do today to acknowledge your thoughts and get them down on paper?

Family relationships, Mental Health, Wellbeing

Perspective (Five Minute Friday writing prompt)

Depending on your perspective of this Lockdown situation, you can see things in a positive or negative light, or oscillate between the two.

I know I started off very calmly and positively. My elder son’s school closed first and I took it in my stride. Then my younger son’s school also closed but there was a plan for being given and handing in work from home so things were ok. Gratitude was emphasised by my friends and I used this to remember what God has given us: a home, food to eat, each other and beautiful sunny weather to do things in the garden as a family. For someone who is often quite anxious I was surprisingly calm!

With all 4 of us at home, we started to work out a plan to share study space in the lounge and dining room, especially for our son studying for exams. At times, this positive attitude has given way to low mood, fighting the uncertainty of when lockdown might end and some sort of new normality appear. The challenge has been to keep reminding myself that this time will pass and we will be given our freedom to roam wherever we want to outdoors at some point. Lockdown isn’t forever!

This blog is taking part in this week’s Five Minute Friday, check out https://fiveminutefriday.com/2020/04/23/fmf-writing-prompt-link-up-perspective/ for more information.