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Dr. Desiree Dickerson, PreKure’s clinical psychologist, is living in Spain in total lockdown right now. Here she shares a few tips and tricks for managing stress and wellbeing while we are experiencing these uncertain times.
We are all feeling more emotional or stressed out right now. We’re a bit more concerned about the people that we love, and we’re all in this together. What I wanted to do as the clinical psychologist on the team here at PreKure is to give you a few tips that might help us maintain our own wellbeing and that of our loved ones.
Uncertainty causes stress
This is an unprecedented time for all of us. People have legitimate concerns and there’s a lot of uncertainty around at the moment. Now, uncertainty is something that we don’t tend to sit very well with. We don’t tolerate the feelings that go around with uncertainty very well. Where there’s uncertainty, we often tend to see a lot of anxiety.
What’s driving that anxiety? The first is obviously the fear of the illness itself. Fears of our own health, fears for that of our loved ones. But there’s also a second level of anxiety and worry that we tend to share on the societal level. Fear of how this is impacting on us as a community. On the world. There’s this whole concept of social contagion.
There’s the idea that you can catch panic like a cold or a virus in this case. That how other people act and how other people respond influences us as well. We’re seeing increased racism. There are huge fears about what this will mean for the economy, what it will mean for our retirement funds, what it will mean for the state of the country and for the world. That’s impactful. That adds to a level of stress for all of us.
But there’s no ‘one size fits all’ for things like this. Sometimes you can get caught feeling like you’re blowing it all out of proportion. Others are telling you, ‘no, she’ll be all right’. Other times you think you’re coping just fine and suddenly the stress or the emotion catches you unaware.
The first thing is to remember that we each come to this experience with our own filters, with our own way of processing this information. That means each of our experiences, each of our worries and our fears and the day to day stresses that are… Those are going to be different for each of us and that’s okay. But what can we do? What can we do for mental health and wellbeing?
Prevention is cure
My first point, as always, and as with all the team at PreKure, is that prevention is cure. Let’s establish a good foundation. It’s critical right now that we set a foundation on which our mental health and wellbeing can rest solidly. How do we do that?
We do this via prioritising sleep, keeping up the exercise, good nutrition and socialising with a safe distance. These things are critical to setting that good foundation and to helping you stay well and to managing your stress and anxiety more readily.
- We prioritise sleep, because besides being fundamental to your immune system functioning, it’s critical to your mental health and wellbeing. When we get stressed out, our sleep tends to get disrupted.
- Prioritise your sleep and your sleep hygiene. This means no blue lights before bed because it messes with your sleep cycles. It reduces the amount of restorative deep sleep that you get and that is critical for your immune system and for managing your wellbeing and your health – your mental health. Reading about COVID-19 before bed is not doing you any favours. Let’s be proactive.
- Wake up and go to bed at the same times every day. Set a schedule. Keeping a schedule is key for your mental health and your emotional health. Prep like you’re heading into race day, prep like you’re heading into a wedding day. However you need to construct this in your head. You want to be at your best to deal with this.
- Build that foundation. Sleep is crucial.
- Exercise is obviously critical as well. Depending on your levels of restriction that are in place, you need to get creative.
- Right now I think you’re still allowed to get out for a run or a walk in New Zealand. As long as you can do that safely and maintaining that 1.5 meters distance. Just do it! Because when you’re in a lockdown situation (in an apartment) you really do have to get creative.
- I’m in lockdown with my husband and two small children, a 5-year-old and a 3-year-old who cannot stop fighting. We’ve had to get really creative about how we get our own exercise and how we get them to run, because they are super energy-intensive kids.
- We’ve invented Ninja training and the kids are obsessed with it. It involves us hurling cushions at our children, which is really cathartic and quite nice for us, while they duck, and we even run around the sofa like mad men. It burns tons of energy for them, and for us, and it decreases a lot of that tension with a really good laugh. I’ve heard people setting timers so that everyone in the house has to meet in the lounge and do ten press-ups each and then run back to do whatever they’re doing.
Stay socially connected and physically distant
Friends are medicine. They are good for our mental health and wellbeing. It’s good for our brain health. The reality is that we don’t realise how much actual socialising you’re doing until you’re simply not allowed. We take all that for granted until that’s taken away.
How do we get our socialising fix when we are in lockdown or when we’re being told to stay away from other people and work at home wherever possible?
We’re doing puzzles, we’re playing cards, and it’s really sparked this beautiful togetherness with our family. That’s probably going to fade, let’s be honest, once the novelty wears off. Especially when both of us are trying to work from home with two small children. We’re playing tag constantly. Tensions are running high, but wherever possible, there’s some really beautiful moments coming out of this and we’re getting our socialising fix just from within our unit.
But that’s not possible for everyone, obviously. Some of you will find yourselves isolated at home by yourselves. How do you socialise while you’re in isolation?
- Skype calls work really well. Wherever possible, maintain that face-to-face contact so you can see their face and they can see yours, because it adds to the experience. Studies done in terms of the impacts on brain health and wellbeing, and of social connection and wellbeing, say that it’s not the same to pick up the phone as it is to have that face-to-face contact.
- Use your computers, use your phones, get on there and see other people. Set up daily check-ins with someone.
- Find someone else who’s at home alone and create a little routine. Gamify it somehow. Gamifying most things works a charm. Many of us have WhatsApp groups. Start a conversation, create a book club out of it or join one.
- Start a press-up challenge amongst pals. Find ways to connect and to reconnect with other people.
- Make sure we’re checking in online, virtually, with our loved ones, with our family who are vulnerable and at risk, that we shouldn’t see in person.
What to do if you find yourself in those moments of overwhelm. When you are worrying, when you catch yourself in one of those worry cycles or when you’re stressed or you’re feeling down?
Critically, what I would say is know your warning signs. Know your red flags. It might sound a bit silly, but often we find ourselves completely overwhelmed by something before we realised we were even stressed about it. With patients in my workshops, I teach the simple little cycle of thoughts, feelings, sensations, actions. Thoughts, feelings, sensations, and our behaviours. These all exist and they all play into each other all the time.
How we think impacts on how we feel. How we feel impacts on what we do about those feelings and what we do impacts on how we feel and on our sensations. Really start to tune into the types of your first signs and symptoms. For me, it’s always my jaw. I start to notice that I’m opening my mouth. I’m doing these things because I’m tense. I notice that my shoulders hitch up around my ears. Those are my first triggers. I’ve really taught myself to tune into them because the issue is, it’s not so much with the sensation, the tension, itself but it’s in how much that tension amplifies that stress cycle.
It amplifies our thoughts. It amplifies our worries. It amplifies the stress that we feel and it feeds into others. It increases our heart rate, or we start to breathe shallowly. If you can manage to control your physical sensations of stress – the tension in your shoulders or your heart rate – by breathing deeply, you can truly kick yourself out of that cycle or slow it down. De-escalate that cycle of stress in those initial phases.
- Every time you wash your hands – check-in with yourself – are you ok?
- I’m slowing my breathing down, I’m relaxing myself. I’m using my stomach breathing, I’m checking in – How am I feeling? How am I coping? Okay. I’m giving myself that minute or two of just peace.
- Also, just remember that our strong feelings and strong emotions, worry or fear, they are a bit like a wave. We know they can feel really strong, but we also know it can be hard to remember in the moment that those feelings do subside. Remember to breathe and know that it’s okay to have these feelings. The key is to accept that they’re there and that you know that they will pass. It’s perfectly reasonable to feel a bit worried and a bit stressed right now.
- Just make sure that you are practicing self-compassion and self-care.
- Talk to yourself as you would talk to a good friend. Really, this is a chance to embrace a different way of being with yourself. Believing that you should be able to truck on and that there shouldn’t be this level of tension and stress right now – it’s simply not reasonable.
- Remember, you’re not alone in your feelings and you are way more resilient than you think. You will get through this. We will get through this. We just need to be together. We need to look after each other and we need to look after ourselves.
If you are noticing that you’re struggling with negative thoughts and feelings, or that you’re feeling in distress, then it’s time to check in with someone about how you’re feeling. Talk to each other. If you’re in New Zealand, you can always call 1737. It’s free to text or free to call anytime and you get to talk to a trained counsellor. In Australia you have a few options, Beyond Blue Lifeline, Kids Helpline. Call these people and talk to each other. Reach out for help.
PreKure is here for you. We are here to support you and to support your family in these uncertain times. Stay safe. Self isolate if you can, look after yourselves and I send you all my love and support from Spain.