mental wellness

If you build it, they will come, but you will cope

Person pushing against falling pillars

The one thing that I’m sure we have all discovered is the importance of dealing with adversity. We are living in challenging times, aside from the difficulties of just living a normal life, of going to school and work, and shopping, having to sanitize, and always wearing a mask when you’re around other people. Also, the loss of income that has resulted from lockdowns and quarantines. Not being able to see or hug loved ones.

One thing that cannot be overlooked, is that the pandemic, despite the challenges and difficulties it has presented, but there are also lessons we have learnt in building resilience, and also some practices, that we can draw from this. One key thing in overcoming adversity is building resistance.

  1. Write it out

One thing that trauma or adverse experiences create in us, is the need to ruminate on negative thoughts and feelings. And when we are in a space of negativity, all we think about is that negative thought, and we allow it to grow. But if we are to build resilience to be able to overcome situations that we cannot control, we need to change the narrative when it comes to ruminating on negative thoughts. When you feel that wave of negative emotions, sit with the feeling, it’s also not good to pretend that we don’t feel bad things. And then write down how you are feeling. And then spin it into a positive.

2. Face your fears

Slowly expose yourself to the things that you are fearful of. For example, I am so fearful of shopping right now. The environment in the shops is somber, and the fact that we are all wearing masks, and there are rules for shopping, and the need to sanitize, and I do not feel safe around other people. They are all a potential source of Corona, and are therefore scary to me. So for me, initially, I just did a quick top up grocery shop, in and out, and I was done. Then after a few of these type of trips, I went to clothing stores, but I wanted something specific, so I went straight to that item, and then left just as quickly. And eventually I graduated, to browsing in book stores, and buying takeaway coffees.

3. Practise self-compassion

Be conscious of your feelings. Feel what you are feeling, without judgement. Describe the feeling to yourself, and where you feel it in your body. Don’t repress your feelings, like we so quickly do, because “feelings are bad”. “Being emotional is bad.” Give yourself the time to feel your feelings, and acknowledge them.

Also, remember that you are not alone. That everyone in the world experiences big emotions. There is nothing wrong with feeling big feelings. And for not wanting to do anything. And to just want to cry. And to want to lie in bed all day. To feel deep anger and rage. To feel paralysed by overwhelm. Emotions are ok. And we all go through it.

And be kind to yourself. We are experiencing an incredibly difficult time right now, so it’s time to give yourself a break. And be compassionate with yourself and how you feel, and what you are going through. It’s ok.

4. Meditate

I’ve said it before, and it will come up again and again. Meditation has been scientifically proven to improve mood. It’s one of the best ways to remain mindful. Because for 5-10 minutes a day, you can just focus on your body, and your breathing, and truly be in the moment, and allow yourself to think about things, but then also to let those thoughts go. The easiest way to meditate, is to do a bodyscan, and focus on your breathing. Being in the moment, focusing on your body, and just breathing for a moment will help to improve your mood, and increase your calm.

5. Even bad has a bit of good in it

Spend some time appreciating the paradox of a traumatic event in world history like a pandemic. Even though we have lost certain freedoms we enjoyed, we have gained time at home with our family that we rarely get to experience. And even though we may feel vulnerable because of fears around contracting COVID, or losing family members or friends to Corona, we are ultimately developing strength that we didn’t know we had. We are playing multiple roles in our families, as parents, partners, teachers. Being forced away from our family members gives us strength to be on our own.

Sapling growing through snow

This pandemic is forcing us to relook our lives. We need to try and build resilience through dealing with our emotions, meditating, being self-compassionate and living out our new normal. We have been given the opportunity to review our lives and asses what we truly need, and when this is all over, what we are going to return to. We are living in tough times, and I encourage you to try and build resilience. It’s all we can do.

Sources:

https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/five_science_backed_strategies_to_build_resilience

https://hbr.org/2011/04/building-resilience

mental wellness · Uncategorized

Mental health in the time of Corona

The global pandemic has us all a little fearful, and paranoid, and stressed and anxious. And as someone for whom this is a daily experience, I thought I would share some ideas for maintaining mental health during these very uncertain times. Partly from my own experience, and partly from the advice from my psychologist:

  1. Routine routine routine

It may sound boring, but one of the best things that has worked for me, has been maintaining a routine, albeit very different from my pre-global pandemic life. During these uncertain times, there is not much that we can control, but how we structure our days is something we can (relatively) control. Having that structure lessens my anxiety because I know what is coming. There is a lot to be said for having a plan. And look, it doesn’t always look the same, but if we have this plan, and try and stick to it, it gives us one less bit of uncertainty in our lives. And a small semblance of peace.

2. Yoga/Meditation/Mindfulness

Our minds are overwhelmed with work, the Corona statistics, home schooling, staying fit and healthy, but also wanting to eat everything in sight (which is rarely a carrot stick), concerns about the health of our family, the general paranoia of not being able to touch anything before you’ve washed your hands and sterilized.

Spending some mindful time doing yoga or meditation will do wonders for your mental health. The key objectives of the yoga or meditation is to spend some time focusing on your body, and allowing thoughts in and then letting them go. These types of mindfulness activities, allow us to clear our heads, by making us focus on our breathing and body position. An easy meditation you can do for a few minutes a day, is body scanning: start at your head, feel its position in space, tense and release your face/jaw, and then continue to tense and release as you move down your body, from your shoulders, arms, chest, abs, legs, to your feet.

Spending time focused on something other than the thoughts running through your head will give you a space to think more clearly, and help with that feeling of overwhelm. Meditation has been scientifically proven to calm anxiety, so I definitely recommend spending some time out of your head.

3. Self Care

Ok, so right now, we’re able to go to meetings in our pajamas and slippers and no one would know. My advice here is to get dressed for work. And yes, for most of the week you will wear your apocalypse gear (stretchy pants /workout gear/ day pajamas), but try at least 2 days in the week to dress up for work, do your hair and make-up, wear shoes you can go outside in. Getting up and getting dressed is sometimes one of the easiest ways to alleviate anxious feelings. Look good, even if you aren’t feeling great. It helps, in a weird way, but it does.

Include some selfcare activities into your day. Selfcare isn’t always big activities like sitting in your bath, with a face mask, reading a magazine, with a glass of bubbly. It can be something as small as rolling your shoulders a few times at your desk to relax your body if you are feeling tense. Spend a few seconds deep breathing to calm down. Looking at a photo of your family. Micro selfcare is about anything, no matter how small, that is going to aid your feelings of anxiety or uncertainty.

4. Exercise

So before the global pandemic, I had fitness goals, which have subsequently been put on pause. But nonetheless, exercise gives me energy. And in the moments when I’ve felt awful, lethargic, and demotivated,  doing some form of exercise gives me those endorphins and energy to get me through the day. It doesn’t have to be a lot, I am currently doing about 15 minutes of basic functional fitness, using my body weight and things I have around the house, like chairs, and my children’s board books.

You don’t need to come out of this global pandemic fit enough to complete an Ironman, but doing a few minutes of exercise a day, will definitely help with the stress, anxiety, paranoia, loneliness, and general overwhelem.

5. Limit social media and news coverage

Social media is like a lifeline to the outside world, and if we stop, what are we going to do with our time? And if we stop scrolling, where are we going to see all those Corona memes? All true. But being on social media, and reading the worldwide corona stats daily will function to make you more paranoid, and feeling less than you are. Seeing all these super moms out there with perfect home school routines, and time to make their own playdough and paint, and making nutritious meals and snacks for their children, while your child ate cereal and a chicken nugget for supper while watching his 100th episode of Paw Patrol, is bound to make you feel like a failure. Not something you need right now. Also, try and limit your intake of news on Corona. We need to know what is happening in the world right now, but try to not go down a Corona media black hole, it’s just not healthy. Another tip, is to read/watch serious news in the mornings/early afternoon, going to sleep with those hard hitting news stories, can cause undue stress, and impact your sleep.

But stay on social media, we need those memes. Humour is so valuable in a time of crisis. So keep reading and sharing, but try and limit the time you spend there, to protect your mental health.

6. Video calls

Video calls is an awesome way to keep your distance, while staying connected. I’ve been able to stay in touch with my family and friends, and my kids are able to show them their toys and art that they’ve made. My kids have used Zoom for classes with their teachers, and parties with their friends.

Also, I happened to celebrate my birthday a few weeks ago, and we took to Zoom to party. We shared drinks, danced to music, it was one of the best birthdays I’ve had. I don’t know when last I’d laughed like that, since social distancing. It helped me to feel close to family and friends… healthily.

When you’re feeling lonely, video call a friend or family member or five. That’s one of the most difficult things we are going to experience during a pandemic that requires us to stay away from people. And we humans are social beings. Even us introverts. We all need our people time. So reach out when you need to.

7. Calming hobbies (reading, writing, knitting etc)

For me, one of my favourite things to do is to sit with a good book, or spend some time writing creatively. These type of activities have come in handy while I’m staying home. A few suggestions are reading, colouring in, knitting, painting, playing with playdough, sewing, drawing etc. Activites that will allow you to sit quietly for an hour or two. These type of activities are also mindful activities that enable you do move outside of your mind, and focus on doing something practical.

Another suggestion here, is to dance. It may not be a calm activity, but who feels stressed after having a dance party in your lounge? (knowing that you can literally dance like no one is watching). So move that coffee table out of the way, put on your favourite tunes, and dance it out.

8. Writing – even if you don’t normally

Even if you don’t consider yourself a writer, it is really helpful to journal right now. We are all overwhelmed by what is happening around us, stress about the “new normal”, fear for ourselves and our families, having to fill multiple roles, and feeling lonely and distant from our friends and families. And it is so useful to get those thoughts down on paper. If you are lying awake at night, get out that journal and write down the thoughts that are keeping you awake. It may start out as a grocery list, but then evolve, like “buy tomatoes. Replace remote batteries. Why does my life suck right now? Is it because my dad never showed me enough affection?”

Hey, who knows, maybe you’ll find a hidden talent you didn’t know you had.

9. Sleep and wake times and meals

One thing that has become so easy is eating all day, but then also staying up all night because we’re binge watching Netflix, and then we wake up late. My advice here is to try and maintain the same bed time and wake up time. It won’t necessarily be the same as before, but it will relate to that routine you have set up for yourself. It sounds simple, but once again, something that you can control during a time when there is so much that is out of our control.

Closely linked to this is sticking to meal times. And yes, we are snacking an inordinate amount, but we need to ensure that we have our regular meals. If this is out of control     , it can negatively impact your mental health. One thing I try and focus on, as a sufferer of anxiety, is to limit my coffee and sugar intake, and to ensure that I have regular meal times and snack times.

10. Time outside (Vitamin D)

Finally, spend some time outside, in the sun. We need to make sure that we get our vitamin D. Maybe have your lunch outside, or when you are journaling, do that outside in the sun. Also, something simple that you can do for your general physical health that will aid your mental health.

There is not much that we can control right now, so try focusing on what you can control.

Stay Safe. Stay Home.

mental wellness

Time heals all wounds… except grief

TRIGGER WARNING: death and loss

I’m sure you’ve heard of the Kubler-Ross model of Grief:

  1. Denial and isolation
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

These stages are not linear and not everyone goes through all the stages. It is, however, a useful model, especially if the emotions you are experiencing during your period of grief are confusing. And grief is confusing and difficult, and it helps to understand that where you are right now, is not where you will be forever.

“You don’t get over it, you get through it. It doesn’t get better, it gets different”

Grieving the dead

I recently lost a friend. She was young, and while she was sick for a while, when she did eventually leave this earth, it was still a shock. I felt this incredible sadness and questioning, of why her, why now? I had never lost a friend before, and I didn’t know what to do with my feelings of grief.

When she passed away, what happened was that the feeling of loss that I experienced for everyone I’ve ever lost, came rushing back. It was like I was losing them all over again. My grandmothers, my father-in-law, my uncle, my cousin. I was grieving for about 6 people all at once. I thought I’d moved on and found a way to manage the grief of losing them.

But what I’ve realized is that that is not how grief works. When it comes to grief, you will always feel a sadness and loneliness for the person that you’ve lost. And the only thing that changes over time, is that you build a different life from the one you imagined. Life doesn’t get better, it gets different. You learn to manage the feelings of loss whenever you think of them.

Grief comes in waves, and even if you’ve reached a stage of acceptance, you’ll hear a song on the radio that reminds you of that person, and find yourself crying in your car 5 years after your loved on passed on. It doesn’t mean that you’ve regressed, or that you haven’t really accepted the loss. It just means you loved them, and you miss them. And that is ok.

Even though I’d lost my grandmother in 2009, when I got married in 2013, I felt a sense of sadness on the day, when I thought about how much fun I would be having with her on the dance floor. That is grief. It gets you in those moments when you least expect it. And that feeling of loss hits you almost like it did the moment you realized they would no longer be a part of your life.

And that is ok. A quote I read recently said that it’s not the passage of time that is healing, but what you are doing in that time that heals. So grieve your loved ones, miss them, but also, live the life your dreams. It doesn’t mean that you’re “over them” or that you’ve forgotten them. So mourn, cry, do whatever you need to do. But also get up, and live your life.

Grieving the living

Sometimes, we go through certain experiences which necessitate that we need to separate ourselves from someone who is still alive, because it is too harmful to be in their company. This could be due to trauma, harmful relationships, dangerous relationships, many different things. But you need to be apart from them.

You need to go through the grieving process, and acknowledge that that person is no longer in your life. And you need to feel sadness, and loss, and eventually get to acceptance in the Kubler-Ross model, just like you would if that person had passed on.

And it’s ok. Even if it’s a parent. Society may tell you that you cannot cut yourself off from family, or that you cannot be estranged from your mother because she gave birth to you. But what if the woman who gave birth to you has done nothing but harm you since giving birth to you?

You need to assess which option is healthier for you physically, emotionally, psychologically: to have them in your life, or to be estranged from them. You need to accept that some people are too broken to change, and then you will need to grieve the loss of them in your life.

Sometimes, someone close to you may suffer illness, or disability and they change in ways that you cannot reconcile. You will need to mourn the loss of who they were before, or what they were able to do or to be. And then come to a place of acceptance for who they are now, and how your life together may change.

But just like grieving the dead, grieve this person, or people, and go through the motions of mourning and loss, and then live your life, in a way that makes you happy. Do the things you need to do, to be able to heal in the way that you need to.

Grieving the intangibles

Sometimes, we grieve things like loss of a career, loss of a family home, loss of a limb or loss of a marriage. And you have to go through the same process. In the same way as when you lose a person, and it changes you forever, losing intangible things can have the same effect.

And in the same way, go through the Kubler-Ross stages of Grief, because your life has changed. And you need to acknowledge how it is impacting your emotional state. And to get to a place of acceptance, of your new life, and how it is different.

And just as you would focus on living your life without a person in your life, and how different your life is without them, when you are mourning something intangible, you need to focus on living your different life, whether it is with a new career, or new place, or new way of being.

Sometimes, women who have children feel a sense of loss for their pre-children life. And you may feel guilty, but it’s really ok. Mourn your old life though, go through the Kubler-Ross stages so that you can get to a place of acceptance. What is important is to remember is to accept your new life, and then also focus on living your new life as a mom. Even though it is hard, and different and everything changes: your body, your friendships, your relationship.

Just like when we are mourning people, we need to remember that, you stop and mourn, and then you need to live your new life. In this new way. It’s important for your healing and sense of self.

*   *   *

The thing about grief though. It’s never over. Because you never stop loving. It comes over you in waves. A person could be gone for years and then you smell their perfume, hear their favourite song, see an old photo, and it all comes rushing back. The memories, the sadness.

What grief has taught me though, is to live my life. That life is short. And that tomorrow is never promised. And while these may sound like clichés, truly living a life of meaning is not that easy, but every day I endeavour to try.

“Grief, after the initial shock of loss, comes the waves… When you’re driving alone in your car, while you’re doing the dishes, while you’re getting ready for work… all of a sudden it hits you – how so very much you miss someone, and your breath catches, and your tears flow, and the sadness is so great that it’s physically painful” – a part of me is missing | The Mighty