Let’s look it in the eye, the whole context of the pandemic is creating an underlying feeling of lack of control, fear, anticipation of worse to come and huge uncertainty about how this will affect each of us, in terms of health, finances, relationships and our whole life structure. We are wondering how life will be going forwards beyond the end of the virus.  In the UK, the economy is being deeply affected, many have lost their jobs and their homes are under threat too. We also have the added reverberations as the Brexit negotiations rumble on with no clear idea of what systems we will have in place for commerce and trade by the New Year.  

We all like to have a plan, to see our future, to decide what we’re going to do in relation to that plan. It’s terribly hard when all of that keeps changing. There has been the glimpse of the light at the end of the tunnel, but as things take a new turn, that light feels further away than ever. The things that we do to maintain a healthy balance in our lives and mental and physical health, e.g. holidays, eating out, seeing films, playing or watching live sport may be taken away for a longer period and that shuts us down and in, a truly depressive influence. It may be the right time to get help from a therapist to support you through and help you come to term with losses and the massive adjustments we are all making as we live through such powerfully disruptive times.

All that we have experienced to date in living through the lockdown and other restrictions will have set us up to manage the next few months from a stronger position in ourselves. It’s really useful to have had the practice during the sunny side of the year. We know how to occupy ourselves within our homes so much better. So many of us have redecorated and refreshed our homes so have nicer surroundings. We have turned to baking and craft work, artistic and musical expression, writing, exercise et cetera and have really established ourselves in social groups online, watch parties and the like.

The added difficulty now is because we are going into the winter months.  It’s a naturally hibernating time of year, a time for reflection, study and work within ourselves. It can open up big spaces of pleasure, cosiness and contentment, the Danish Hygge principle in our homes by making them cosy with firelight, candles and comforting food.

However, the lower light levels can also really affect us and make us feel naturally more closed in and a significant proportion of people do suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder which can create serious depression. If we put these things together especially with the powerful increased economic uncertainty, there is significant threat to mental health. The feeling of being trapped inside over a much longer period of time, in the dark time of the year, without recourse to our usual social lives and natural expressive outlets, could well bring about high levels of anxiety and depression.  I would encourage you to start a project that you can pick up on a regular basis throughout the winter. It could be Knitting that Fairisle jumper you’ve always wanted to try. It could be using every bit of Lego in the house to create a city with the kids. It could be like in the film. “Jules and Julia”, you work your way through a recipe book from start to finish. Do whatever floats your boat. Remember pleasure is the key to mental health.

Mental Health and Working from Home

Many of us are now being asked to work from home again and while being in isolation can be a joy for the introverts amongst us, for those of us who want and need in-person social connection and activity, it can be dire. Loneliness can be extremely painful and hard to see our way out of. We may become extra sensitive to our surroundings and feel the intrusions of joyful, noisy neighbours particularly acutely. The boundaries of normal work time and home life may become blurred and burnout is more likely when the self-care implicit in downtime is reduced.  In my experience, the roots of depression lie in feelings and needs being unmet, feeling powerless to improve our situation and being over-conscientiousness and reactive to demands.  Too much duty and responsibility and lack of choice coupled with depleted inner resources and true relaxation can create the perfect storm for anxiety and depression. If at all possible, make your boundaries clearly marked.  No work after 6pm and before 8.30am.  Put away the laptop.  Switch off the work email.  Reclaim your dining room table or sofa as a place of relaxation.  Work elsewhere if you can and close the door on it.

Coping with Losses During the Pandemic

We need to remember those of us people who have been touched by death due to the coronavirus. They will still be in the grieving process and know the reality of the illness and be in fear of it happening to them or someone else they love. The losses of jobs and homes, life as we knew it can also cast a long shadow. We need to love and support each other so reach out and be kind. If you are suffering and need support, please see the last a paragraph for our excellent people and resources available to you.

Happy Even in Lockdown- How To Nurture Your Relationship.

We all need the roof over our head, warmth, food, a feeling of safety and security. For many of us facing redundancy, loss or reduced income, these basic necessities are under threat. We need to be very mindful of our mental health when this happens so we can keep up our spirits and open up our minds to new opportunities and catch them when they cross our paths.  In these difficult times, even the best relationships can be strained by anxieties about the future.  We may experience loss of autonomy, too much time pressure-cooked together or enforced separation. The closure of our usual avenues of self-expression and enjoyment of life adds press in as well.  If you are struggling in your relationship, I recommend the book, “Eight Dates” By John Gottman and Julia Schwartz Gottman. It is essentially a manual for healthy relationships.  Likewise, “Conscious Uncoupling” by Katherine Woodward Thomas can help you look more deeply into your relationship, how it came to be as it is and offers new ways of being together and communicating to help free yourselves from any logjams you might be experiencing. There are coaching programmes to accompany each of these books to really support you, help you to hold more together and enrich your relationship. See www.heathergarbutt.com to book an informal consultation.

How to Thrive During The Pandemic

We need to prioritise looking after our feelings and needs. This means looking inside and asking yourself on a regular basis, “What am I feeling?” From there, being gentle and acknowledging the validity of those feelings. Thirdly. ask yourself what you need. It may not be that you can meet that need right now, but you can acknowledge it and plan to meet it. There is an audio recording practice on my website (www.heathergarbutt.com) called “The Foundation for Love Meditation” which will make it easy to do. It is about self-care as the cornerstone to healthy relationships and is particularly appropriate to this situation. 

For those of us where our predominate feeling is loneliness, it’s important to make regular connections with friends and family basis, online if it is not possible in person. When we are depressed it’s harder to do that, so it’s maybe better to set that up while you are feeling reasonably good so it has become a regular part of your life should you need to rely on it more deeply.  

Really evaluate what you enjoy and make sure you can do some of it. I cannot reiterate enough that pleasure is a cornerstone of mental health. So, if you like walking in the natural world, get out there and do it. If you enjoy creative craft or cooking, stock up ready for the winter with all the resources you’re going to need and set aside a regular time to do it.  Create a project so that you have a theme to follow.  Book and film groups are thriving now. If that’s what gives you joy, join one or set one up. 

Create a daily practice of evaluating what has been good about your day, what you can pat yourself on the back for, what you can appreciate other people for. We’re all else is out of your control, you can really take charge of the emotional quality of your life by shining this light in this way. It’s great for creating connection between couples, in the family or at the end of your working day with colleagues. Each communicate 3 things in each category. It lifts our mood and makes us more open to creative ideas and more pleasure. 

If you are already feeling anxious and low, have experienced trauma in these last few months or old issues have reared their head during lockdown, it may be really important to get help before we go into the dark time of the year.  At Our Centre for Counselling & Psychotherapy in Old Town, Swindon (www.tcpc-swindon.co.uk) our therapists are now working online or on the telephone as well as very carefully in person, so help is readily available. It is so important to be heard and understood by another person and one with profound skills to guide you through is invaluable.