The year 2020 has bought with it many challenges the biggest being a global pandemic. With this has also come so much disruption, confusion, and isolation. Mentally the impact on people include low mood, sleep disturbances, withdrawal from family and friends, phobia-like behaviours (#coronaphobia, agoraphobia) and panic-like symptoms. This could also particularly be a problem for those with pre-existing mental health conditions. That’s why this Mental Health Day I will share tips I learnt from Babylon’s behavioural therapist Bethany Thacker on “How to reduce anxiety and cope with our new normal”.
“Feeling stressed and burnt out should not be our new normal”Bethany Thacker – Babylon Behavioural Therapist
The connection between mental health and physical health is quite complex. Our body has a couple of ways in which it presents a stress response because of our thoughts. When our thoughts are racing they’re often accompanied by tense muscles and shallow breathing which then leads to increase in heart rate. When breathing is controlled when stressed, it improves focus as well as relaxes and clears the mind. With focus, practice, and repetition, focussing on breathing is highly effective. The repetition and practice would allow for it to then become habitual and the default stress response. Bethany shared the deep breathing box method. This method encourages full oxygen exchange, slows the heart rate and lowers/stabilises blood pressure.
Learning to say “no”
Sometimes we fall into a habit of taking on more thank we can cope with leading to stress. Setting clear boundaries is often highlighted as a way to maintain a sense of control. This is particularly important to prevent feeling overwhelmed which could then trigger the bodies stress response. Although it is sometimes particularly difficult saying no to those closest, it is important we do thins when needed to avoid feeling stressed.
When we are unable to meditate then a great alternative Bethany shared was the 5-4-3-2-1 Method. This supports in bringing the minds attention and awareness to the present moment and away from any thoughts. The way it does this is by making you focus on a specific number of sensory related things within your immediate surroundings.
Often stress is triggered due to the sense of lack of control. To overcome this, you can create strong daily routines which will provide a sense of greater control daily. Creating and maintaining a strong routine may take some time however this is effective.
Tackling negative self-talk is something that is often overlooked as we don’t always notice it. There are a range of ways to inject positivity such as using affirmations, practicing gratitude, remembering previous successes in times of challenge, and using visual cues of stop signs when you think negatively. One thing also consider is language and practicing the removal of some with negative impact. One extensively used word highlighted was “should”, which is judgemental. A daily family practice of this could be to share peaks and pits of your day at dinner.
Circle of Control
As earlier mentioned, we often feel stressed when we experience a perceived loss of control. It is therefore important to identify what is in and outside of it. Things outside of our control (e.g. what someone else does) needs to be let go of.
There were a range of self-care activities also highlighted to help with mental health. One was to focus on correctly identifying and labelling your emotions. When you know the difference between when you are feeling things such as stressed vs drained, would allow you to correctly care for yourself. Tracking your emotions was another way to help you identify key stress triggers over time as well as track your emotions. Scheduling time for self-care may not look the same for everyone so it is important to keep it realistic. Taking short breaks at regular intervals may be just as impactful. It also looks different for everyone so other activities such as colouring, drawing, listening to music, getting outdoors, speaking with loved ones, may also be helpful.
Special thanks to both Babylon and Bethany Thacker for sharing these for mental heath day.
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