We are currently experiencing living in a pandemic. This a new unknown challenge to us all involving lock down at home, job insecurities, money worries, and many family disputes being in such close proximity for long periods of time. This may affect us in many different ways and there is no right or wrong way to deal with. Best outcomes will involve following Government and medical advice and making the best of our own mental resources and skills to juggle work and family commitments as we learn to adjust and accept a new way of living.
The pressure of which however, may start to impact on our sleep, eating, patience and relationships. We may start to experience physical tension, a racing heart or headaches. This is all perfectly normal in the form of anxiety during a threat to our safety and that of our loved ones.
The emotion of fear triggers changes in our behaviour and physiology by activating the sympathetic nervous system getting us ready for ‘action’, i.e. the heart beats faster and muscles are primed ready to run. This can even change the way you perceive and interpret your environment and information around you at the time of threat.
This response is powerful when under short term threat, i.e. if being chased by a lion, but when the threat lasts a long period of time or has not been resolved, then longer term physiological and psychological implications can occur. Furthermore, whilst your body is in this survival mode, antibodies are not able to work to their full potential. This is not what we want in these times when we have a powerful virus to fight.
The best way to inhibit the sympathetic nervous system and help our antibodies and immune system, is to activate the parasympathetic nervous system (the other branch of the autonomous nervous system) and to try to keep our bodies and minds as relaxed as possible.
This is easier than you might expect; by triggering genuine positive emotions. Yes, it really can be that easy!
Genuine positive emotions and the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system can be attained through breathing exercises, mediation, mindfulness, nature, exercise, and social bonds: -
Heightened state of anxiety:
If you find yourself in a heightened state of anxiety then changing your temperature, by applying cold water to your face, rapidly cools the trigeminal nerve and brings us back to equilibrium in about 30 seconds.
Breathing exercises: calm both mind and body. This is the quickest way to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and help the antibodies and immune system do their job.
On a piece of paper, phone, tablet, or in your head, slowly draw a box.
When drawing the first side of the box, breathe in slowly for the count of 4 (or less if 4 is not comfortable).
With the second side of the box, hold that breath for the slow count of 4.
With the third side of the box, release your breath for a slow count of 4.
With the fourth side of the box, hold that breath for a slow count of 4.
Repeat x 4/6 times
When physically drawing each side of the box, whilst using the breathing technique, try and draw over the same line.
If drawing on a phone or tablet, you can change colours of each box font to help see how straight your lines are, and help with focusing the mind.
Exercise: has been scientifically shown to release endorphins which elevates the mood of a person and boosts immunity.
If we are limited to exercise type and duration's, then exercise can also be done inside, such as Joe Wicks workouts, yoga, dance, or family work outs etc. If getting outside is proving difficult find an activity that you enjoy and which works in your home environment.
Social bonds: have been shown to release oxytocin’s, calming the body’s physiology.
This is important to maintain during these times. Use technology to keep in touch with loved ones and friends that do not drain your mental well-being. Arrange group technology social chats/quiz’s/get together's, that do not involve talking about our current pandemic. Talk to neighbours at a safe distance over the garden fence and re-establish communication and community support for each other.
Altruism: self-efficacy and helping others, the feel-good oxytocin’s are activated not only to the altruistic person but also to the person on the receiving end.
Perhaps donate to the local food bank, help vulnerable people with their shopping or walking their dog, or phone local elderly residents for a chat.
Meditation/Mindfulness: help to regulate own attention into the here and now, to clear out ruminating thoughts and focus on a pattern of breathing, helping to calm both mind and body.
Scientific evidence proves the calming long-term benefits of meditation and mindfulness on both mind and body. Spend time watching and being with your immediate family and pets. Re-evaluate what actually is important.
This is a good technique to use when you are feeling anxious or overwhelmed to help regulate you and focus your attention in the here and now.
Stop what you are doing (safely)
Breathe from your diaphragm (stomach), hold for as long as is comfortable, and release the breath slowly x 3 times
Notice and name 5 things you can see
Notice and name 5 things you can hear
Notice and name 5 things you can feel on your skin
Interacting with nature: has a restorative effect on attention.
This is more difficult if government restrictions are in place, but make the most of your time exercising in fresh air. Perhaps also try ‘you tube’ videos of views and sounds of nature in the background at home.
Remember there is no right or wrong way to approach this new life change of direction that we find ourselves in. The best and healthiest way forward is about finding a way to adjust and accept a new way and meaning of life for the foreseeable future, in a way that is right for you. We will find some days are productive and others not so. This is all perfectly normal and absolutely fine. Relax as much as possible, stay as healthy as you can, and try to enjoy this time for reflection of the important things in life until things can return back to some sense of normality.
Childline – 0800 1111
NSPCC – 0808 800 5000
Samaritans – 0800 116 123
HOPELineUK (prevention of young suicide) – 0800 068 41 41
Women’s Domestic Abuse – 0808 2000 247
Men’s Domestic Abuse – 0808 8010 327
Refuge - 0800 2000 247
Children, Adolescents and Families
Advice on supporting your child during self-isolation – John Oates, Prof of Developmental Psychology at The Open University.
CAMHS, Young Minds UK
The Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families
The Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health
National Autistic Society resources
National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC)
Adults and/or children
Anxiety UK Corona anxiety support resources
BBC news, has a lot of useful resources
Carers in Bedfordshire
Government Guidance for the public on mental health and well-being during Coronavirus
Mental Health First Aid England
Public Health England
Rethink Mental Illness
British Heart Foundation – coronavirus and what is means to individuals with heart conditions
British Lung Foundation
Kidney Care UK
Macmillan Cancer Support
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