The much-touted ‘Freedom Day’ is almost upon us, but instead of celebrations, it’s anticipated to be a more subdued day as Covid case numbers, hospitalisations and deaths continue to rise. So, whilst some will be heading for the pub, club or theatre, others who are feeling anxious and unsettled will be staying at home. July 19th has even been described as ‘Fear Day’ by some.
The last 18 months have been very difficult for just about everybody, for a range of reasons. We’ve endured separations from friends and family, we may have worried about our jobs or finances as well as the threat of catching Covid and becoming ill or spreading it to our loved ones.
It’s understandable that many people have reported that they’ve been significantly more anxious than previously. We’ve all been experiencing a range of stressors in the last 18 months that were almost unimaginable pre-pandemic. More than 300 NHS workers attempted suicide during the pandemic, driven to the brink by the intense pressures of work.
Now that restrictions are ending, an adjustment is needed yet again, both mentally and physically. A recently published survey, led by London South Bank University reported that 1 in 5 people are struggling with what mental health experts have called ‘Covid-19 anxiety syndrome’, with many people significantly changing their behaviours due to anxiety about catching Covid. Ongoing high levels of stress and anxiety can significantly impact your quality of life and wellbeing. Because there are so many unknowns about the future, it can be difficult to separate out what is ‘normal’ stress or worry and what’s an unhealthy thought pattern that affects your enjoyment of life.
Over the course of the last 18 months, we’ve all developed habits that serve to reassure us in some way. For some checking the news regularly helps to keep them calm because it makes the unknowns more known, but for others it increases anxiety by keeping worrying statistics front of mind. For many, the habits developed during the pandemic are now driving their anxiety and many people report feeling overwhelmed just thinking about going into crowds to socialise.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed with worry over the idea of socialising or the threat of catching Covid, it can be helpful to make small adjustments that can help you feel more at ease. Just because restrictions are ending it doesn’t mean that you suddenly need to revert to pre-pandemic activities. Taking smaller steps, within your current zone of comfort can help you feel more confident and able to take additional steps in the future.
If you’ve noticed that you’re feeling anxious or worrying about the end of restrictions, please get in touch. I’ve worked with a lot of clients online throughout the pandemic, including many who haven’t experienced health anxiety or social activity previously and I understand.
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Recently I was chatting with an image consultant I know, and it proved to be an illuminating conversation for me. I realised that after my first career in fashion I went from looking ‘myself’ to ‘looking the part' when I changed direction. As a holistic therapist in the 90’s I donned a crisp white tunic, white shoes and navy trousers to send out the message that I was a professional. When I trained as a talking therapist, I swapped the white and navy to grey and beige, a smart jacket, a shirt, and trousers. I no longer wore bright colours, bold patterns, or dramatic jewellery. The reason I adopted this ‘uniform’ was that I wanted to be inoffensive and unthreatening to my clients; to be pleasantly unnoticeable. ‘It’s about them, not me’ I remember explaining to a business owner at a networking event after complimenting her on her bold outfit and chunky necklace. When I put the same point to my image consultant friend, stressing that clients need to feel comfortable with me and looking bland was non-threatening, she nodded then said, ‘I think the positivity that radiates from a therapist who is dressed in their own style will give clients confidence.’ Ding! Her words resonated with me and the part of me that loves pattern and colour lit up!
Being authentic when I work with clients is really important to me, so after weighing it up I decided that I should ditch the drab and be ‘me’ rather than assume that my clients won’t feel comfortable if I’m wearing colourful clothes or beads! Of course, I recognise that how we look or dress is trivial compared with many things in life, especially now, during a pandemic. But this isn’t about being fashionable or following trends; our identity and sense of self is central to our wellbeing.
Being true to yourself and not being a square peg in a round hole, is what I’m talking about. It may not be what you’re wearing that is an issue for you, it might be that you’re earning a living doing something you don’t enjoy, or you are in a relationship which is draining your energy. Perhaps you’ve always wanted to do something but have told yourself that you can’t or you shouldn’t. If you’ve lost your mojo or want to reinvent yourself in some way, get in touch. We can work together to identify your objectives and eliminate any blocks that have held you back, so that you can be the person you want to be and lead the life you want.
We’ve probably all experienced subtle or overt criticism at work or in our home life. If you’ve experienced this you could spend hours or days re-running the conversation or re-reading the email within which the criticism is contained. My hypnotherapy clients often describe losing sleep worrying about the comments of others and how they can deal with them. This is energy sapping as well as demotivating. Of course, you could just ‘let it go’ but sometimes this is easier said than done. So, how do you deal with criticism so that you won’t lose your equilibrium or give your power away?
Reflect on the comments and decide if there is any validity in them.
DO: If you believe there may be a kernel of truth in the comments, treat them as useful feedback rather than mean or unfair. This will keep you in a more positive mindset which will have a less detrimental effect on your wellbeing. Then create a plan of how you will use the information for your career or personal growth, regardless of how the message was communicated.
DON’T: Counter their criticism with accusations or observations about their performance. This leads to the issue you want to address becoming lost in the back and forth and emotions being heightened rather than diminished.
If the criticism feels unfair and takes you by surprise, it may be that the person who sent the email or made the critical comments is having a hard time themselves and has forgotten (or doesn’t know how) to be diplomatic.
DO: If you feel that you may have simply got the rough end of someone else’s dramas, then pause. Once some time has passed, they may recognise that they’ve been harsh or unduly critical and apologise for their behaviour. If they don’t and you can’t, or don’t want to let it go, arrange a time to discuss the matter once enough time has elapsed for any emotion to subside.
DON’T: Take it personally, especially if it’s not typical behaviour. Even the best friend, partner or boss can be affected by ill health or personal tragedies which may impair their judgement or manners.
If you believe the comments are unwarranted, personal or undermining, it may be that their displeasure is misdirected and that you are a convenient target. Unhappy people often misjudge other people or their actions. Those who are dissatisfied with themselves or their life are more likely to be cruel or overly critical of others. By being negative or judgemental rather than offering developmental feedback they seek to turn their attention away from their own shortcomings or dissatisfaction with themselves.
DO: The important thing to remember here is that another person’s behaviour is not your responsibility. If you live or work with someone who is frequently critical, unkind or unsupportive you need to think about what you want the outcome of any verbal or written communication to be. Naturally, the options open to you will vary depending on whether you’re in a personal or professional relationship with them. You will need to consider if your desired outcome is realistic based on your experience of interacting with this person. If you conclude that you are wishing for something that is unlikely to happen you will need to consider the alternatives and how you can remove yourself from or improve the situation.
DON’T: Accept the unacceptable. Decide on your boundaries and stick to them.
Maybe you're in need of someone impartial to help you to manage or talk a situation through. A few appointments can work wonders in helping untangle those mental knots you've tied yourself in. Book in for a free consultation to find out how I can help.
It’s popularly acknowledged that doing a kind deed or helping someone out makes the ‘doer’ and the recipient feel good. It is posited that this can (or will) then ripple through society like a healing balm, and from one kind act somewhere, many folk will experience a lift in mood or a happier day. Now I’m not saying that this is fundamentally untrue, but is it universally true, and if so, why doesn’t everyone feel better?
During the pandemic many people have displayed a level of selflessness that has drawn the praise and admiration of many. Stories of courage, generosity and kindness are too numerous to mention. Parallels have been drawn between wartime and the pandemic; the blitz spirit rekindled or re-imagined for the present day.
Given the acts of heroism by many who have put their health and life at risk for others, why is kindness not sweeping through society as quickly as Covid? Amidst all this kindness there remains many people who appear to others as grumpy, inconsiderate or downright selfish; the miserable beings, the ‘glass half empty’ crew. Why?
To be clear, I’m not including those who may have been bereaved, are depressed or who are suffering the psychological effects of lockdown; I’m talking about the people who even in ‘normal times’ never pay compliments, support others or do kind things. Not necessarily nasty, but just not noticeably ‘nice’. Take this a level further and consider the people who seem mean, critical, or pathologically competitive, the people who cause others to feel bad; the ‘not nice’ people.
In my life and in my work as a therapist I hear lots of definitive statements and also lots of labels. ‘X is cruel, but Y is kind. That person is ‘a nasty piece of work’ and that person is an ‘angel’. But is it really that black and white? Are people good or bad, nasty or nice? Not to me. With the exception of dangerous, violent psychopaths (most psychopaths are not) and a minority of others, people are capable of (and demonstrate) a wide range of behaviours. ‘Kind people’ may at times do things that might be deemed unkind. ‘Unkind people’ will sometimes do things that are kind. ‘Nice people’ will sometimes do things that are not very nice, etc.
But what if a ‘nice’ person becomes really unhappy? What if a friendly, upbeat person loses a loved one or is dumped by a partner? What if a grumpy being finds love or companionship? Will their behaviour and mood remain as it was? No. It is easy to judge people without having the big picture. Perhaps the biggest challenge for us all is to do something kind for someone whose behaviour or demeanour doesn’t appear to warrant it. If we all did something kind today for someone who seems selfish, inconsiderate or miserable I wonder what we’d notice. Why not give it a try? And if they are not appreciative, let it go! Approach the challenge with curiosity and don’t be attached to the outcome!
As the end of lockdown is in sight people can once again begin to plan for the future. After depressing daily news stories and regular government updates for nearly a year it’s good to have something to look forward to. But following the dreadful statistics have been dire warnings of a looming mental health crisis and many therapists have been preparing for a tsunami of psychological issues post-pandemic. So what can we expect as a nation mental health-wise?
New research conducted throughout the pandemic by clinical psychologist, Richard Bentall has shown that the nation’s mental health may not be as bad as predicted. The results of this study of over 2,000 people has shown that approximately 60% of the population has been highly resilient and shown no evidence of psychiatric distress and that 10% have actually thrived during this period. This is largely because collective trauma has a much lower impact on people than individual trauma.
Developing resilience (or coping skills) doesn’t mean that there won’t be bad days, or that you’ll be strong and positive every single day. You might have a string of bad days, but resilience is the ability to gather yourself together and find a way to go on. This will look different depending on your personal situation and if you have lost a loved one or are suffering financially it will clearly be more difficult.
Resilience doesn’t mean burying or denying your emotions. You might have noticed that your stress levels have fluctuated over the last few months; the tension of March and April easing over the summer and then ramping up again from September and into 2021. Even without the external stimuli of the news updates your own life may include situations that are stress provoking, or alternatively are enriching and rewarding.
If you’re facing multiple stressors, have experienced traumatic events during lockdown, or have a history of depression or mental health issues you’re more likely to struggle, at least in the short term. Be aware of that and be gentle with yourself and work within your capacity. While some factors that influence our resilience are out of our control, there’s a lot that we can do to boost our coping skills.
Our social support networks have been and will continue to vital during this time. Establishing and cultivating friendships and communities is also invaluable. You can improve your resilience and minimise your stress levels by reaching out to loved ones or engaging in hobbies or activities that bring you joy.
If you’re noticing that you’re continually feeling stressed and on edge it’s okay to get help. This might be talking to a friend, speaking to your doctor or seeking a therapist. Short-term help might involve learning techniques to manage your stress levels and increase your resilience. And remember, everything is probably going to be okay in the long run.
Need some help and want to have a chat? You can either schedule a call or send me an email.