The recent developments with the COVID-19 outbreak have created uncertain times for us all. The government guidelines encouraging social isolation have distanced us, and with isolation comes the risk of adverse mental health for those affected (World Health Organisation, 2020).
Research has identified a number of impacts this may have including: exhaustion, detachment from others, irritability, insomnia, poor concentration (Bai et al, 2004). Most concerning has been the findings indicating children who displayed post traumatic stress scores that were 4 times higher than children who had not been subjected to quarantine conditions (Sprang & Silman, 2013). Whilst it is needed to be noted that COVID-19 has not placed the United Kingdom under quarantine conditions, this inability to engage with everyday life, whilst being removed from our support networks does still pose a risk.
Whilst the impact of social isolation can have difficult outcomes for those affected, any move to facilitate the reduction in the spread of a disease which has the potential to be a threat to life is arguably warranted and therefore opens up much scope for debate. Unfortunately, it is important to address the issue that, as individuals, this has placed us in uncertain times where we may not know how to respond.
For anyone who is feeling upset, or unnerved by these events this is a completely human response to the situation you are going through. Our cognitive structure is divided into three systems Threat, Drive and Soothe, and can place us in a state of threat when faced with a situation that we have no template on how to respond (Gilbert, 2005).
Taking the bigger picture into consideration this is a good thing, becoming more alert releases chemicals within our bodies that put us in a better position to deal with adversity. However, whilst under these situations where our movements are restricted, and the future is uncertain, we are limited in our actions to deal with this. This culminates in what is termed as living in your threat system. Where from a cognitive perspective we are kept in a perpetual state of alertness, knowing for certain that our situation is difficult, whilst at the same time not having the experience or ability to know what action to take.
However, this is not necessarily fixed, we can flow in and out of these systems throughout the day. The role of our soothe system as noted above, is to regulate this threat system and reduce our anxiety when danger has passed (Gilbert, 2005). Finding ways of activating your soothe system can be invaluable in reducing feelings of anxiety, and can even develop capacity to engage with your drive and motivation, thus allowing you to find ways to develop yourself and grow.
Below are some ideas of ways to manage your anxiety and find your way into your soothe system. The important aspect is that these need to work for you, and the best results will come from things that you identify yourself to be helpful, therefore giving you scope to be creative.
The most important message to take is that whatever you are feeling right now has a purpose, and is a perfectly natural response to your circumstances. There is no shame in fear or hopelessness.
'Mental strength is not being able to stay out of the darkness, but to sit present within it, knowing that the light will shine again' - Anonymous
Important note: Whilst managing your mental health ensure that you are doing so in a legal manner, including following any government guidance and keeping physical encounters with anyone outside of your household to a minimum at this time.
Furthermore, it would be advisable for anybody who has experienced traumatic events, or experiences distressing thoughts, to take care when engaging with mindfulness, and save any emotional exploration for sessions/contact with a mental health professional.
With a statistical increase in mental health struggles it is as important as ever for us to take care of ourselves. Research has indicated that 1 in 6 adults on a weekly basis struggle with their mental health in some capacity such as anxiety with a further 1 in 5 also consider taking their life (Mental Health Foundation, 2016).
Psychotherapy can be an important source of support for people in looking after their mental health. It is designed to be a safe space to bring your struggles and speak about them with somebody who is completely removed from the situation, devoid of personal judgement or bias.
With the therapist in this position in your life, looking in from the outside, they can aim to provide clarity by viewing the bigger picture. They do not take a stance of telling you what to do, but instead can use this perspective to ask questions and pose observations that you may not have considered yourself.
It is important to ensure that you have a competent and ethical therapist to make the most from psychotherapy. Whilst providing a simple space for you to share your problems, a qualified therapist can work with an evidence based toolkit to support you through your problems, and in certain cases help to address more complex issues such as trauma. Having a therapist who is qualified and, most importantly, trustworthy is vital here to ensure your struggles are addressed in a safe manner, whilst respecting the impact that they have on your life.
Psychotherapy can be for everyone, and you do not have to be struggling with something that is having a major impact on your life to consider approaching a therapist. For some it can be a good space to increase their self awareness, and learn more about themselves in order to address certain behaviours or aspects of their life that they would like to see changed. A good therapist will see the significance of your struggles to you and address them from your point of view as a valid factor in your life.