COVID19 Lockdown 3.0
I’ve seen a lot of social media posts about how people are really struggling way more this time around in lockdown and I wanted to share a little bit of my wisdom (I’ll let you be the judge of that!) as a mental health professional and CBT therapist.
So here goes….!
It looks like we are all stressed to the MAX and this is completely understandable, many of us have extra demands being asked of us home schooling, working from home, working more or working less are all major stressors but we also have the added fear of catching a potentially life-threatening virus, losing loved ones and financial worries without a predictable end in sight. One of the biggest problems with this is that chronic stress suppresses our immune system making us more prone to catching infections and viruses in the short term, and at higher risk of developing more serious problems such as heart disease, diabetes and even cancer!
Yes absolutely true, stress has been linked to an increase risk of dying prematurely irrespective of other risk factors.
Signs and symptoms of stress will vary from person to person and it might be worth taking some time out to think about what your early warning signs are? It could be feeling more irritable or easily annoyed. It might be that you notice physical changes in your body for example tension in your neck shoulders or back, changes in your breathing or you may be feeling more tired or having difficulty sleeping. You may notice changes in your behaviours or the behaviour of others. You might drink more alcohol, smoke or perhaps avoid doing things or becoming less motivated and you may find you want to connect with others less.
Left unchecked stress can quickly lead towards a tendency to think negatively or ‘over think’ where you go over and over things that have happened or have been said. When we are stressed our thinking style can change, we can become self-critical (I’m no good at this, I’m useless etc.) or we may catastrophize (I will fail, things won’t work out, etc.) I have also noticed a lot of what I am going to call, “othering”. By othering I mean comparing our situation to others. For example people who are still going to work might feel they are in a worse situation than those who are working from home or perhaps those home schooling young kids feeling they are in a worse situation than those who are living alone. As you might be able to tell this all exacerbates the stress we are feeling and ultimately makes us feel worse.
All of us have been affected in some way by this pandemic so tip no 1, don’t think you are the only one finding things difficult or that there is something inherently wrong with you if you are finding any aspect of life difficult at the moment.
I think this is one of the biggest differences I have noticed this time around, when I compare life now to the initial lockdown in March 2020. The level of ‘othering’ that is happening which I believe is a direct result of the increased levels of stress we are all feeling.
Our thoughts, feelings, behaviours and our physiology all influence and impact on each other, this is the theory behind CBT.
Sadly negative thinking and the typical coping strategies we might adopt when under stress can end up making us feel a lot worse. In the short term it might feel helpful to put off doing things, order a takeaway or pour ourselves a very large alcoholic drink but in the long term this may cause more negative thinking and can have a negative spiraling effect.
Fortunately, there are ways we can reverse this negative spiraling effect. Firstly and most importantly is to recognize when we are stressed and how we are being affected. Stress can accumulate without us being aware so recognizing your early warning signs are crucial. Feeling stressed is a clear sign we need to look at the stressors and at our coping strategies. Stress is actually a healthy, adaptive biological response which can improve our immune system, boost our memory and helps us find the extra strength to face challenges. The problem being when there is no clear sign that the threat is over and the stress becomes an everyday occurrence this is when the healthy stress becomes extremely unhealthy both mentally and physically.
Stress is affecting us all at the moment and we either adapt and cope or we will suffer both physically and mentally.
Reverse the negative stress cycle by actively introducing some healthy coping strategies and take a look at the stress rather than hiding from it! Healthy coping strategies are anything that helps your brain recognize that you are not being chased by a saber toothed tiger and that you are okay! Whatever it is that chills you out, do that! Eat well, take your vitamins, hydrate, move your body however feels good, speak to a loved one, have an early night all these things are even more important now than they have ever been before.
Do good, think good, feel good!
We will be okay.