Human beings like certainty.
We are hard-wired to want to know what is happening when and to notice things that feel threatening to us.
When things feel uncertain or when we don’t generally feel safe, it’s normal to feel stressed. This very reaction, while there to protect us, can cause all sorts of havoc when there is a sense of uncertainty and conflicting information around us.
A large part of anxiety comes from a sense of what we think we should be able to control, but can’t. Right now, many of us are worried about the continuing impacts of COVID-19. We may feel helpless about what will happen or what we can do to prevent further stress. The uncertainty might also connect to our uncertainty about other aspects of our lives, or remind us of past times when we didn’t feel safe and the immediate future was uncertain.
In times like these, our mental health can suffer. We don’t always know it’s happening. You might feel more on edge than usual, angry, helpless or sad. You might notice that you are more frustrated with others or want to completely avoid any reminders of what is happening. For those who already struggle with mental wellness, may feel more depressed or less motivated to carry out daily activities.
It’s important to note that we are not helpless in light of current and continuing events. We can always choose our response. If you are struggling, here are some things you can do to check in on your mental health in the face of this uncertainty and strategies to cope:
Feelings Set an alarm on your phone, or a reminder in your calendar, so at a set time each week you can quickly do a check-in on a scale from 0 (‘not at all’) to 10 (‘extremely’) of how stressed, anxious or down you are feeling. It is normal for these scores to go up and down each day and throughout the week but if you notice the scores are increasing and remaining very high, then it’s time to prioritise your mental health.
Body Take a moment to notice any tension in your body like tight shoulders, chest, or jaw. Other signs that you might be feeling stressed include dryness of the mouth, difficulty breathing, and a racing heart.
Sleep Have there been changes in your sleep pattern? If you are constantly struggling to get to sleep, waking in the night or waking earlier than usual, and finding it difficult to get back to sleep, these are signs your mind is unable to switch off and relax.
Thoughts Are you always worrying about the worst-case scenarios? Wondering if things will ever get better or if you will be able to cope?
Focusing on the ‘what if’ scenarios is not useful and it is best to limit this as much as possible.
Reactions/behaviour Every day brings challenges but it’s how we deal with them which shows how we’re coping. If you find yourself frequently snapping at those you love, finding it extremely difficult to focus, or depending on things like alcohol or food to cope, it is time to prioritise your mental wellbeing.
Check-in buddy Choose a check-in buddy. This may be your partner, housemate, or even a friend or colleague you’re keeping in touch with via video messaging. Be honest about how you are coping. Remember that physical isolation or distancing is not social isolation. When we’re at home, we may need to be creative about adapting the strategies we normally use. For example, if socialising helps your mood, schedule a virtual coffee. If going to the gym helps you reduce stress, try an online workout. If taking time out helps, find a quiet place, take a few deep breaths or listen to music. Whatever helps to settle your mind.
What to do if you are not coping
If you take the steps above and notice that you are not coping, you can:
1. Create a self-care plan
Create a self care activity list around your 4 bodies:
For each area above, write down the activities or strategies that you can call on, that are authentic to you and contribute to your well being.
Jot down a list of keywords or phrases from the activities list you created—choose whichever words resonate with you the most.
Get a white piece of paper or a poster board and transform these into graphic elements. Use different colours, drawings, photos, whatever works for you to create visual cues that resonate with you and your plan.
Once you complete your masterpiece, put it somewhere you’re sure to see it every day because doing so will help you think about and (re)commit to your strategies.
2. Do activities to help reduce your anxiety
Aim to do some physical activity and get some fresh air each day. Even just an hour of exercise a week has been proven to lower depression and anxiety.
Do something that gives you a sense of happiness and/or achievement each day. This could include cooking and eating a nice meal, reading a book, talking with friends, listening to music, tidying up around home, or work tasks.
Notice when you are thinking in unhelpful ways. Ask yourself, ‘is there another, more helpful way I could think about this situation?’ Meditate to calm your mind, and do some grounding to centre yourself.
3. Ask for help
If you are feeling very anxious or sad, and struggling to shift these feelings, it is time to ask for help. Remember, it's OK not to feel OK, so ask for help so that you can work with someone to feel better.