How Covid has affected our mental wellbeing
Relationship with Self
As has been said: we are all in the same storm, but not all in the same boat, but what has this really meant for the millions of people in the UK that have found themselves struggling with their mental health since the start of the Coronavirus 19 epidemic? Whilst we have all been affected in some way by the COVID-19 crisis, the evidence from the Foundation’s Coronavirus: Mental Health in the Pandemic ‘Our’ study (https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/our-work/research/coronavirus-mental-health-pandemic) shows a divergence in people’s experience depending on their social or economic context in society. Furthermore, a recent survey by the charity ‘Mind’ found that 22% of people over the age of 13 with no prior mental health issues, have found that during the COVID-19 crisis their mental health has become poor or very poor. With so many young people being affected by the pandemic, governments and charities across the world are committed to ensuring adequate support is in place now and going forward to help avoid a worldwide mental health crisis.(www.mind.org.uk 2021)
As a Peripatetic Counsellor working during the Coronavirus 19 epidemic, I have seen a marked increase in cases of anxiety, depression and other common mental health issues. Interestingly however, for some of those young people already struggling with these issues, it was often reported that lockdown and not having to attend school, had decreased their social anxiety symptoms. These were however replaced with new concerns about their own health and that of their families, bereavement and loss, unemployment, living in close proximity to other family members and existential questions.
Regaining your relationship with self
For over a year now we have all been in survival mode, doing what we need to just to get by. Externally dealing with the practicalities of a world now in crisis, fearful of our lives and our future. Even writing this seems surreal, as if I am exaggerating the situation, but sadly this could not be further from the truth. Our internal struggles, our mental health and relationship with self, have been upended. Over the next few months, as we adjust to some sense of normality and hopefully get back to a more relaxed way of living, we can take stock of where we are.
‘Being kind to yourself ‘is harder than we think, and something most of us struggle with at times. We are more than happy to have compassion for others, but not so much for ourselves. Yet, having that sense of self compassion, is so important in our relationship with others. Be able to notice that inner critic, let go of judgement and practice being grateful are all too important. The relationship with have with ourself, usually underpins the relationships with have with others. There are many things that we can do to start regaining our sense of self, by investing even a few moments out of our day, we can start to discover what we need from both external and internal sources, here are some of the ways that we can give ourself the time and space to do this:
Rituals are a great way to get your body to slow down, they encourage you to be mindful and show self-respect. Rituals do not have to have religious connotations, although the simple act of lighting a candle may feel very spiritual for some, for others it is peaceful and thought provoking. It is good to start the day with a ritual, maybe setting out positive intentions for the day. Try laying a tray with your favourite cup and taking it into a quiet corner of the garden, time for yourself. Rituals are usually practised on a regular basis and are time for us to listen to ourselves, creating healthy habits both physically and psychologically.
Journaling has become very popular, scrapbook journaling, art journaling, poetry journaling and then just plain old writing down your thoughts and feelings. Journaling teaches you how to slow down and take a deep breath. Taking this time once a day to practice journaling, gives you the space and time to explore your innermost thoughts and feelings, either with the use of words or if words are not your thing, drawing, painting, doodling or indeed any way of expressing yourself on paper. It allows you to consider that “I am not my thoughts” and consider any behaviours that these thoughts could be triggering. By recognising these triggers and releasing pent up emotions, we are able to enhance our own self-awareness.
Getting Into Nature
I cannot stress enough the importance of connecting with your body not only on a mental level but also on a physical level. By this I mean understanding when and how your body needs exercise, be it a gentle stretch or a ten-mile hike along windy cliff paths. For me, the best medicine is connecting with nature and often just taking a cup of tea into the garden and sitting in a quiet spot, gives me a sense of peace. Finding your own sense of inner peace is important to, it may be a forest walk, a sunny canopy of trees in a park or a windswept beach. Taking time out to be in nature, stretching your muscles, moving your body and being in your skin, helps you to connect with yourself away from the distractions of a busy life.
The practice of meditation leads to more mindful living , how often have you felt that you are on a hamster wheel? Always searching for something better around the corner or wishing things were different? Rumination and replaying negative past events are what can over time lead to anxiety and depression. Dan Millman talks about this in his book ‘The Laws of Spirit’(1995) “Presence teaches that what you do today is important, because you are trading a day of your life for it”.
By training ourselves to become more aware of our thoughts, of having more control over how and when we have those thoughts, we can truly become more mindful and in the moment. Meditation promotes a deeper state of relaxation and personal awareness and if practiced on a regular basis can really help reduce anxiety and help with sleep issues. There are many different ways to meditate but if you are a complete beginner, I suggest either using one of the apps such as Headspace or Calm. Joining online classes to help learn breathing techniques can be really beneficial and the restorative qualities of learning how to do a body scan can help you to become really attuned to your whole body and switch off from the outside world. Meditation can take a while to master, but just by giving yourself that precious time to switch off from the busy world around you, and tune in to what your body and mind needs right now, in the moment, encourages a deeper self-awareness.
By reconnecting with who we are on a physically, mental and spiritual or existential level we can start to regain a sense of our ‘true’ self. The ideas above are just a few things we can do to help us with this journey. There are many more things out there, and some of the best places to come across the variety of materials available to us is on the internet. From podcasts such as ‘Thrive’ by Kate Snowise, that I am listening to at the moment to things like my favourite Ted Talks -‘The Power of Vulnerability’ by Brene Brown. There is so much inspiration at our fingertips, and when we are able to truly connect with ourselves, we are able to create a life that is far more meaningful and fulfilling.