UKCP psychotherapist John-Paul Davies shares advice for keeping calm and looking after your mental health in the current climate of fear.
Everything we see and hear has an impact on our wellbeing. When someone we love hugs us and tells us they love us, the happy hormone oxytocin surges in our brain and body. When stories of isolation and panic buying are shared in what we see, hear and read, adrenalin and cortisol surge, triggering the stress response in our body and mind, increasing fear in an already frightening situation.
Anxiety is about feeling unsafe and the fact that in the current situation our physical safety is actually threatened, means that this is a very real state of concern. Our tool box of coping techniques has also been partly shut – physical contact has become potentially dangerous, support groups and classes have been forced to close, even socialising is a health risk – so we need to build a new tool box and take personal responsibility for managing our own experience.
To avoid unhelpful behaviours and maintain an internal state of calm and aliveness, it’s important to establish some kind of routine to ensure we keep meaning and purpose in our day. When we might otherwise feel quite out of control, routine also gives us a sense of control over our time and mood. In terms of calmness, we should try to incorporate the things that relax us which are still possible to do, such as mindfulness, exercising, getting some fresh air (safely), reading, singing, dancing and speaking to friends.
Conversations with friends can help you manage your stress and fear but be careful. Fear is infectious. One person’s negative story shared becomes a story that negatively affects your thoughts and feelings. Our brains are programmed to survive, and that instinct can spread fear. Switch your focus to begin to spread happiness and remind yourself that even in these challenging times, good things do exist.
There’s a lot of talk about finding calm but remember the importance of the psychological state of aliveness that we also all want and need. Many of us are feeling the loss of the excitement and enjoyment of a trip to the cinema, football match, theatre or pub. In the absence of other ways to help ourselves feel good, we might turn to behaviours and substances which do us more harm than good in the long run.
There are four important ways to maintain that sense of feeling calm and alive:
– mindfulness – being present and awake to the wonder in each moment
– changing the way we label our thoughts (this can take the form of cognitive behavioural therapy or CBT)
– keeping physically active – when our body feels safe our thoughts will too
– finding means of connection and contact – seeing people and saying hello, even if only passing on the other side of the street for a walk, helps us to feel a part of a supportive community.
Challenging situations can bring out the extremes of our society and in human beings. Once we start to manage our survival drive and focus on finding calm, alive, happiness in each moment, I hope this experience might lead many of us to reassess what’s important to us and value the helping professions that have so often been under appreciated.
I hope that when we’re through the worst of this we‘ll look back and recognise the amazing human ability to cope with really challenging situations.
If you are currently seeing a therapist, don’t stop. It’s not good to halt your support abruptly. UKCP therapists are able to offer continuing service online or by phone and have plans in place for your continuing care even if they themselves have to take time off for illness.
If you are thinking of approaching a therapist for the first time, please use our Find A Therapist tool to make sure they are regulated and highly trained, adhering to a Code of Ethics and Professional Practice.