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Surviving The Lockdown

04/08/2020

Yes, this is another blog about Coronavirus and I’m sure that what I’m about to write has already been said a thousand times. The uncertainties around this global pandemic are enough to make anyone feel anxious. It is deeply unnerving when the things that are so beneficial for our mental health – social and meaningful connections, enjoying the outdoors – are what we are specifically not allowed to do.

I’ll be honest, I wanted to write this blog for myself – to list the tools I have found to be the most helpful when it comes to my own mental health. Postnatal depression (which I suffered after both of my children were born) left me feeling isolated, lost and perpetually anxious. As someone who thrives on routine and productivity, I really struggled with the quietness, the lack of routine and the endlessness of the days (and nights).

The most important lesson I have learnt from PND and what remains at the core of what I do professionally and personally, is that you must take care of yourself before attempting to take care of others.

So here are a few things that really helped me and might be of use to you during this time.

1. WRITE IT DOWN

During a course of CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) I was asked to write down all of my ‘hot thoughts’ – key negative thoughts or anxieties. For each one, I would write the thought, list the emotion/s felt and then decide how much I believed the thought by giving it a percentage. I would then challenge and reframe the thought into something positive, with a level of compassion I would show to a friend.

As arduous as this sounds, writing down your thoughts can be a great stress release and if you’re prone to anxiety and negative thoughts (like me), it enables you to clarify what you can problem solve and what you can’t. It can also help to recognise patterns of thinking. For example, I tend to ‘catastrophise’ and fixate on worse case scenarios. Reframing these thoughts helps to create a more realistic, rational picture. At the moment it is easy to let our anxieties spiral out of control, so this is a very useful exercise to do regularly.

2. SLEEP, EAT, MOVE

There is so much written about these areas of wellbeing and we all know why they are good for us. I have learnt that neglecting these three things can be a huge trigger for me, so I strictly prioritise early nights and try to eat well throughout the week. I love running and it has played a huge role in my general mental health. You don’t have to run, or sweat it out at the gym – just getting your body moving can improve your mood. I realise this is especially challenging at the moment, but we ARE currently allowed a walk/run outside once a day (albeit socially distanced), so take the opportunity if you can and explore the virtual options indoors.

3. TAKE NOTICE

I have tried meditation and mindfulness, but I can’t seem to stick with them, however much I want to. But I have learnt to be mindful. In our busy lives our brains often fall into autopilot – on the school run or commute, eating dinner, taking a shower.  I now try to catch myself in autopilot and instead take notice of what is in front of me. This is particularly useful with strong emotions and stress; if you can pause and be mindful of how you are reacting, it gives you time to choose how you respond. This has been really helpful to me as a parent when handling tantrums and defiance.

4. HAPPINESS LISTS

I am a big fan of Dr Steve Peters’s ‘The Chimp Paradox’, which I read during my recovery after my first child was born. One of his suggestions is to create two happiness lists – one for immediate happiness and one for delayed happiness. An immediate happiness list should include things that are simple and easily achieved, such as good coffee and fresh, clean bedsheets. Aim to get lots of these little ‘bites’ of happiness throughout your day and take the time to enjoy them. Delayed happiness might include long term goals, which are good to keep us motivated – make a list of the things you want to do when the lockdown is over.

5. PLAN YOUR DAY

When I was teaching full time, my days had a very clear structure. I thrive on routine and when I was on maternity leave, the days stretched out in front of me and made me feel totally overwhelmed.

When reading Dr Chatterjee’s ‘The Stress Solution’, I was ridiculously relieved to see that his wife had a similar struggle with the lack of productivity as a new mother and she created a thorough plan for each day, hour by hour.

At a time when so many of us have lost our normal routines, this approach can really help alleviate feelings of anxiety and establish a sense of control. However, as I am currently learning, a FLEXIBLE approach is key when managing children of various ages and working from home. Discuss your expectations for each day as a family and try to create a plan together.

Please get in touch if you'd like further information on any of the resources I have mentioned.

Look after yourself. You matter. x

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