Lockdown no 3.0 has hit the UK and I am speaking with a lot of people who are really struggling this time around, many having really strong feelings such as anxiety and depression which can feel so overwhelming and relentless. I wanted to discuss how to cope with difficult feelings we experience during this pandemic. We have had terms such as ‘Coronacoaster’ and ‘Groundhog Day’ banded around and I’m sure everyone can relate to the highs and lows of the current situation from having the perfect ‘social media ready’ day, to feeling like you cannot get up and dressed.
Because everyone is going through this experience we don’t take stock of what is actually going on. We have lost our routine, structure, become socially isolated and had to adapt and change to a constantly evolving society, all within the backdrop of this deadly virus. How we even still function day to day is a miracle right?
I have been comparing this current lockdown to ‘burnout’ as many of us have struggled with ‘long term unresolved stress’ of the pandemic for nearly a year now, which is impacting massively on our well-being.
So, I thought it would be helpful to unpick some of the common symptoms of burnout, to bring this into the awareness as many people haven’t made this connection, and then I will share why we start to feel this way in the first place. By understanding where our strong feelings have come from we can then implement some simple strategies at the right time to preserve our well-being and get us back on track.
If I list the many symptoms of burnout how many can you relate to?… These include: fatigue, lack of motivation, escapism, self neglect, anxiety, panic, lack of sleep, feeling out of control, empty, physical symptoms such as headaches, sweaty hands, stomach and bowel problems, heart palpitations the list goes on doesn’t it.
Are we surprised we are all hitting burnout>? Not really…. We as humans are not designed to do what a lot of us do day to day anyway, without adding to the mix home schooling, caring for vulnerable relatives and all the other expectations we put on ourselves, the ‘shoulds.’
To understand where this comes from I need to delve into a little bit of brain science with you. Are you in?… We are all immersed in a complicated cycle whereby our internal and external representations of the world are impacting on us. This explains why everyone has different ‘realities.’ You know, when lots of people see the same thing but all have a different opinion of it!
When we experience an event (such as COVID 19) our brain filters based on thoughts, beliefs, memories, decisions and values (all personal to us) and deletes, distorts and generalises the information into our internal representation. This in turn creates our feelings and behaviour, such as anxiety, depression and the many symptoms we experience, which impact on our decisions and choices.
During the pandemic if we are focusing on a lot of negative aspects of the pandemic such as some negative media, the loss of not seeing family/ friends/ fear of contracting the illness/ loss of a family member, our external world will be focusing on these things, which then become the focus of our thoughts, and beliefs and we then use this to make our decisions about what we choose to do, which create the feelings of anxiety. Are you with me?
This is then also compounded by other factors, such as if we have experienced recent significant life events, like a bereavement or loss, which may be unprocessed in the brain, reinforcing the negative thoughts and creating strong beliefs about the world such as ‘if I contract COVID 19 I will die’ and ‘if I leave the house I will contract COVID 19.’
So, what does this mean for us? Well, one of my favourite phrases is ‘where focus goes energy flows’ which means that the more we focus on these negative elements of the pandemic, the more negative we feel and the more negative things become for us. The good news is, if we reverse what we focus on and focus instead on the positive elements (I know this one is much harder right now!), guess what, positive shifts start to come within our behaviour and our mindset.
I finally wanted to offer some tried and tested techniques to help nurture your mindset and enable you to shift your thoughts, feelings and behaviours to get through the rest of this crazy pandemic.
- Focus on what we can control: set realistic goals, expectations and schedules.
Many of us have ridiculously high expectations on ourselves where we try and carry on as if nothing has happened and have a lot of ‘shoulds’ where we try to achieve a ‘school days’ worth of work, a ‘full day of work’ being able to care for a vulnerable relative which is often a full-time job, have a clean tidy house, cook, exercise etc. Well guess what…. We are 1 individual who has 24 hours in a day and we need to look after ourselves as well! Everyone is different with how they set goals I thoroughly recommend using SMART targets (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely) and then planning the day/ week in time blocks. Understanding that you may not be able to achieve everything you NEED to allows you to prioritise what you CAN do and allow for some things that may not be urgent to be moved/ simplified. Planning whilst it sounds restrictive often gives you freedom to be able to get more tasks off the ‘to do list.’ So many people are using the ‘Pomodoro’ technique at the moment where you do 25 minutes sustained work then 5 minutes break. I personally prefer to time block in manageable chunks for me 1-2 hours. Everyone is different so do what works for you.
Looking after yourself is so key during this pandemic. Making time to do simple things like skincare routine/ shower/ get dressed. Planning in some healthy snacks/ meals/ exercise/ podcasts/ books whatever you are interested in, into our crazy often screen led weeks will help us to stay on track. Self-care is often the first thing to go when we are doing everything else as it doesn’t feel as important HOWEVER self-care allows you to refuel which allows you to RELEASE the stress of the day AND focus better. One final note on self-care is around media. So many people are watching every news programme, every article, every piece of social media content around the pandemic…STOP! It is filtering into your thoughts and becoming your focus. We CANNOT control the pandemic itself and how it unfolds… WE CAN CONTROL how we respond to it and therefore give attention to the right information.
- Getting enough sleep
How many of us are working late at night trying to plough through our to do list? Getting enough sleep helps restore, process information and boosts immune systems, meaning we are keeping ourselves as fit and well as we can.
- Mindfulness and Meditation
So many people have become interested in this at the moment it is really picking up momentum and very ‘on trend.’ Being present and mindful in the moment allows us to deal with our emotions much better. Simple breathing and relaxation techniques allow our mind and body to realign. There are loads of apps out there as well as good videos on YouTube I love HEADSPACE and CALM, and apps like DELICIOUSLY ELLA has great recipes AND other wellness practices such as mediation, breathing and podcasts.
- Positive affirmations and journaling.
One of the things so many people have really embraced during this pandemic is the art of journaling and creating positive affirmations. There is no right or wrong way to journal there are great apps such as DIVETHRU which take you on a structured process if you need some ideas to basically brain dump everything you are worried/anxious about. The key with this approach is not to sit with the emotion but after getting it all out to then create some positive affirmations for yourself. One of my go to affirmations at the moment is ‘This too shall Pass’ as well as ‘I choose to react positively to all situations’ and ‘You’ve got this.’ I created a FREE Facebook community group in July called keep going you’ve got this where I support people with lots of tips, tricks and techniques. I have a free 4-day goal setting and habit building challenge along with visualisations to help calm and a space to share and feel part of a community. https://www.facebook.com/groups/keepgoingyouvegotthis
I hope this list was useful to you. Stay safe and take care of yourselves!