Mental Health and the Pandemic
A vast majority of the people I spoke to before this year begun, were looking forward to experiencing what we thought lay ahead with some excitement. Now, as I am learning from my clients and social media feeds, most of us are glad to be seeing the back of 2020. No matter how it arrived at our individual realities, stress has become a regular guest and brought along feelings of frustration and loss of autonomy.
Globally, we have gone through fires in Australia and the US West Coast, American presidential election, racial injustice – all during the international pandemic. We also experienced profound loss, from deaths of world -renowned figures to those close to us. It may have seemed like a year’s worth of uncertainty faced us every day, and nothing could have prepared us to handle it unscathed.
A recent study showed that during lockdown, the UK population reported a 50% rise in frequent feelings of anxiety and sleep difficulties, as well as alcohol consumption, suggesting that we are commonly experiencing significant symptoms of stress and struggling to regain balance.
Unsurprising, mid – pandemic. Even if we did not personally contract the illness, we may have witnessed others who have, raising our concerns about the wellbeing of those close to us, as well as worry about our own. Additionally, lifestyles have been severely impacted by various changes to our routines – from how we work and travel, to how we shop or exercise.
Although life can feel challenging in a usual setting, restrictions brought on by the pandemic caused a storm of unease, distress and anxiety because the safety of our regular schedule has been so disturbed. Plans often hold value in creating a sense of security; with not only repetition and predictability of our activities, but also our autonomy from which our procedures are borne. Helplessness linked to the new reality frequently clouds awareness that some power in constructing each day can still be held.
Writer Andrew Smith attributed our greatest fears to the unknown or that which is not understood; this rhetoric echoed throughout 2020 with some force, leaving us largely divided in our opinions on how the pandemic has changed our lives and for how long. This enabled conflict – in ourselves, between decisions about what we believe might happen, and with each other – searching for what we are prepared to accept; whether the pandemic is real or a con and if face masks are a necessary measure.
How can we ease the pressure of what we are going through?
We are all in this together.
Despite our divisions, there is plenty that unites us. Paying attention to common experiences can become a source of comfort and allow for better understanding of what we are dealing with, learning from other people’s perspectives. Allow yourself a stronger support system, crucial to preserving your emotional wellbeing.
Allow for feelings to be spoken (and heard).
Recognising your feelings will enable you to become more comfortable with your experience and prevent you from repressing worry. While continuous pressure can become overwhelming, some discomfort is necessary for us to be motivated and allows for change. Most of my clients mention feeling unheard by their loved ones as a crucial factor in feeling lonely or depressed. To combat this, engage in dialogue which facilitates sharing of what you are going through and less about who is right and who is wrong.
Set boundaries in your relationships.
Clariy of expectations and compromise are equally important for your psychological wellbeing. Set out your boundaries so that your partner in conversation understands how to communicate with you and what they can ask for. This will eliminate potential for unnecessary conflict and make you feel secure in your relationships.
Discover what you are in control of and exercise it.
Your realm may have been distorted through constant changes implemented by the external, prompting feelings of restriction and frustration. These can be overcome by re-establishing your autonomy in your everyday. Notice what decisions you can make and be in agreement with yourself about the extent to which you want to relax, exercise and socialise (virtually or otherwise). Feeling in control of your schedule can make a big difference in how you perceive and emotionally experience your new reality.
Take care of you.
Feeling supported is necessary for us to feel safe. Switch off your devices, close your eyes and feel the ground beneath you remain strong and able to hold you up. Be present in the moment. If you are feeling uncertain of how to manage your stress, make an appointment with a psychotherapist. Most of us are able to work remotely and will be happy to talk you through your concerns, allowing for you to hear yourself voice your thoughts and feelings, as well as consider how you may be communicating them with others.