Mind Matters – Coming out of lockdown

The last four months have been a huge challenge for everyone and we wanted to find more ways to offer support and give information on psychological wellbeing to our community. We are delighted to have been able to team up with The Chiswick Calendar who we think do such a great job of resonating with the distinct personality of Chiswick.

As a team of counsellors and psychotherapists based here for the last ten years now, we have had the opportunity to support many wonderful people. Whilst we are uncertain what the future holds, we feel fortunate to be able to help at the moment and in the months and years ahead. I hope you find our column useful and welcome feedback, suggestions for topics you would like covered or even any questions we can help with.

For this first article I decided to write a general piece to reflect on the COVID pandemic, lockdown, its easing and offer some thoughts on what we can be doing and looking out for regarding our own wellbeing and that of those around us.

Since the start of the pandemic the amount of interest in psychological wellbeing has been enormous, a scale never seen before, with newspaper and television programmes covering various psychological aspects everyday. This is understandable not only because our society has been increasingly interested in the subject over the last ten years or so but because traumatic events always result in an intense focus on psychological caring in the immediate term.

In addition and crucially, this has been an unprecedented context whereby the lockdown and our access to information and technology have opened up time and opportunity for our consumption of all things in the news and media relating to COVID.

As the lockdown eases and we move from a phase of dealing with the immediate situation, where we were taking one day at a time, experiencing heightened anxiety, excitement, uncertainty and adrenaline rushes as we fearfully wondered what would or might happen next, we move to a new phase where we find ourselves increasingly called upon to step back outside. As society starts to resume its ‘everyday’ we are faced with many changes and challenges – some temporary and some longer term and they bring many of the same types of feelings although probably experienced with less obvious intensity as the uncertainty, apprehension and excitement are tempered by the familiarity behind the unfamiliar. The smiling hairdresser beneath the visor, the queue for the till but with more space between you and others – big shocks are now replaced with many, many little jolts.

Maybe this phase can be likened to the period after a bereavement, there has been the shock of the loss, the surreal experience of time where days seem to be empty and yet pass in a blur, essential but alien administration completed and the funeral over; creating a space whereby our thoughts turn to the future. There is no normal way to feel, some people might be feeling energised whilst others might be feeling weary and depressed but either way we all face the same challenges and question – how do we continue to live our lives?

I think we can take this opportunity to ensure we prepare ourselves and give ourselves tools to ensure we thrive. We can check that our attention doesn’t become too stretched as we try to navigate balancing the various aspects of our lives, because focus on psychological wellbeing is likely to shift away from encouraging everyone to keep well onto some key concerns. Examples of where resources are likely to be needed include those experiencing trauma, complex grief, redundancies, divorces and separations, anxiety, drug and alcohol misuse with the poorest in our society, BAME and other minorities disproportionately affected.

We were told to expect a marathon rather than a sprint however unfortunately the comparison is unhelpful in one significant aspect. A marathon is always the same length, we know we have to train and pace ourselves to be able to complete the 26 and a bit miles however with COVID-19 we don’t know what we are trying to cope with and so for everyone the issue of conserving or using our energies is a complex but vital one for our wellbeing.

So paying attention to how we are coping and looking after ourselves and those we love and care about will enable us to thrive.

Being aware of changes in ourselves and others is possibly the single most important factor in being able to take helpful actions. Adopting an open and curious disposition to how we are doing is a start, making time for reflection, inviting friends and family to let you know if they spot any changes in you but also offering to do the same for others are all ways to create these qualities.

And so what should we be paying attention to? The more visible indicators will include such things as those extra kilos not being shaken off, the daily tipple becoming an embedded ritual, exercise still limited even once the gyms reopen, the mindfulness and meditation apps becoming forgotten, physical symptoms for example headaches, stomach pains, neck and back pains (always get these checked out with your GP). Meanwhile, the more difficult to identify, but also talk about experiences, will be the stresses and strains that have opened up in relationships, the low level feelings of impatience, annoyance, poor memory, depression and lack of enjoyment in the everyday, the inability to relax and instead a focus on things connected to a sense of security.

In summary then, we can be making time for self awareness and self care as we continue to experience significant change and uncertainty. And if I can offer a practical suggestion then I recommend writing a list of:

* your stress indicators to keep in a visible place
* the things that support, relax and rejuvenate you so that when you spot that you need some self care you are prepared.

I hope you stay safe and well.

Nicholas Rose
Psychotherapist, Counsellor, Couples Counsellor and Coach
UKCP registrant, MBACP (accred), UKRCP
PGDip, MA, Adv Dip Ex Psych

Nicholas Rose & Associates
Counselling, psychotherapy and coaching for children, adults, couples and families.

nicholas-rose.co.uk