By Gin Lalli
The current lockdown status that we find ourselves in has led to increased challenges in maintaining mental health.
This has always been a challenge for some people but even those who previously considered themselves to be resilient are having feelings of anxiety, stress and depression that they've never felt before.
This is because you have nothing to compare it to. The brain refers to pre-determined templates or files, to receive some instruction on what action to take next. If you had seen a polar bear then you would refer to that template and take some considered action for survival. Lockdown has presented you with a 2-headed, zombie polar bear that you've never seen before - what do you do now?
Extreme panic sets in and you go straight into fight-flight-freeze mode. It's just a perfectly appropriate survival response.
Understand that this is a response from the primitive part of your brain. Acknowledge those feelings, accept them, and then shift into your intelligent, objective and rational part of your brain and begin to make some decisions from there instead.
Here are some tips on how to maintain good mental health while in lockdown.
Â· Accept your feelings.
This is an unusual time. You have every right to feel angry, anxious or sad but don't let it consume you. If you're angry burn off some energy in a healthy way like going for a run. If you're feeling sad don't push yourself to feel happy, know that these feelings will pass.
Â· Don't worry what other people are doing.
It seems that everyone is learning a language, crafting like a boss or retraining to be a nuclear physicist (slight exaggeration, but you know what I mean, right?) All you're doing is eating chocolate and watching Netflix. Guess what.... that's fine! If that's what you want to do to get through this then that's not so bad is it? You can pick up on something later when the time is right for YOU. You are the best expert of you so own it! (My Netflix recommendations for you are Schitt's Creek and Kim's Convenience for some brilliant writing and humour)
Â· Take small consistent steps in the right direction
You can't create 100% change with 1 step. Instead it takes 100 small steps of 1% to make a difference. Take small actions. Go for a small walk, read a few pages of a good book, make a simple recipe. The key then is to be consistent. The mind loves routine and repetition, so these regular habits will create a sense of security and familiarity.
Â· Stay hydrated
Drink plenty of water, the science is never wrong; In a 2012 study at the University of Connecticut* researchers induced dehydration in healthy young women through either exercise or exercise plus a diuretic and recorded its impact on mood. Dehydration was found to result in a measurable increase in "total mood disturbance."
Â· Take a break from the news and social media
Even better switch them off altogether. By keeping one eye on the news you are just staying vigilant which is a primitive brain response. You also don't need to hear about "˜Karen from Facebook's' latest opinion on how to beat Covid19, she's not qualified! Photo imagery in digital media evokes an emotional response - it's designed to. Personally, I've not seen the empty shelves in the supermarkets, so I'm annoyed at how I had been triggered by the photos.
You are absolutely entitled to have good mental well-being and be happy. You have all the capabilities and capacities to cope, manage and stay motivated. We will get through this together, by exchanging advice, ideas and checking in on each other.
However, only YOU can control YOUR thoughts and feelings, so take charge and make your mind up - what part of the brain do you want to function from?
I'm a Solution Focused Therapist based in Edinburgh specialising in anxiety, stress, depression and sleep.
*Armstrong LE, Ganio MS, Casa DJ, Lee EC, McDermott BP, Klau JF, Jimenez L, Le Bellego L, Chevillotte E, Lieberman HR. Mild dehydration affects mood in healthy young women. J Nutr. 2012 Feb; 142(2):382-8. Epub 2011 Dec 21.
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