Psychotherapist, Claire Hawkes has written an article advising how to look after your mental health during lockdown.
After 8 weeks of strict lockdown, and with restrictions only beginning to ease, many people are starting to feel the strain of social distancing and uncertainty about employment, childcare and the health of loved ones.
So how can you make sure you are looking after your mental health properly during this challenging time?
Dublin psychotherapist Claire Hawkes gave us her top tips for self care during this period.
First of all, she says it’s very important to address any serious difficulties you may be having right away.
“There are thoughts and emotions that most people, every now and then, will experience,” she explains. “You might feel stressed, feel a bit blue or down.
“Sometimes, there can be feelings of anxiety. They might be related to a particular situation that you have to face, like having an unpleasant conversation with a loved one or with a work colleague or boss. Then, after the event, it dissipates. But it is important if something is ongoing to catch it.
Mental illness is like any illness in a sense. The earlier you catch it, the easier it is to address.”
If things are feeling really overwhelming right now, Claire recommends speaking with your GP on the phone or in person. “GPs can refer you to a counselling service, and if you’re on a medical card you can access a service for free,” she says.
“Some of us are just prone to worry. And if that worry is overwhelming, and it’s really causing issues, it is maybe time to find a professional to address the worries with. And somehow put them in perspective,” she adds.
“It can also relieve your partner or loved ones. You can put them in a different place and examine them, and see whether they are rational. Is this something you should be worried about? And if so, what can you do about it? Sometimes, people might just need a five minute call.”
In terms of those with pre-existing mental health conditions, the psychotherapist, who also has her own private practice, says it’s important for people to check in with themselves.
“In normal times, it’s really important that people connect in directly with the mental health services. Which is not possible [right now]. At the moment, all the support is online,” says Claire.
“But even if people are in more rural areas, they can still check in with mental health organisations like Shine. They can email us and they can maybe even set up a regular chat or interaction to keep them going.
“So particularly for those with existing conditions, like bipolar disorder or even mild to moderate anxiety or depression, it’s important for people to be well aware of themselves and to spot their early warning signs or if they’re beginning to disimprove in any way and catch it before it deteriorates further.”
Claire’s top tips for lockdown:
Talk to people close to you
What we’d say to the general population is to talk, particularly about your feelings. You know, if you are a bit apprehensive or anxious.
Choose who to speak to. People who know you better or you’ve a closer relationship with, and also choose the right time to do so.
It may not be a very good time to speak to somebody if they’re up to their eyes with work or other issues. But pick a time and place and give yourself the time.
It helps to name things like worries, and then at least the other person can hear and respond to them. Sometimes it’s just the relief of it. It’s perfectly human to worry, but it’s not always rational.
Do physical activities you enjoy
Find out what you enjoy in relation to physical activity. And just do something you enjoy with your body. Whether it’s just literally a walk in the park, a run, a dance around the kitchen when nobody’s looking, online yoga… whatever it is.
Pick something with an element of enjoyment. Humans tend towards pleasure. So if something is pleasurable, it’s easier to do it. Extremely disciplined people can do things they don’t always find enjoyable, like running a marathon, and more luck to them! But just focus on that aspect of things.
Pay attention to your diet
Putting a bit of time and consideration into what you’re eating is important.
I’ve also read about an increase in alcohol sales. Pubs are not open, so of course there’s going to be an increase.It’s okay to have a drink and enjoy it, but it’s where it becomes a crutch that it’s an issue.
The effects are short-lived, you feel kind of relaxed and happy. But then, inevitably, if someone is drinking to forget a problem, unfortunately, the problem will come back until it’s resolved.
Keep in touch with friends, family and coworkers
When it comes to family and friends, even if you can’t see them in person you can still do the online or phone stuff.
Keep those contacts going. Sometimes it’s just dropping someone a line to let them know you’re thinking of them.
That connection with other people, whether it’s family or friends or even the professional communication with a therapist. Use those connections and whatever resources you have. I think the most important thing is not to suffer alone.
Schedule ‘me time’
Make sure to schedule some time for yourself, especially if you have children.
Once you’re a parent, it’s very easy to forget about yourself. And of course it’s important to put your children first. But for women in particular, as well as being a mother, you’re also a person. So it’s important to tend to the other aspects of your life.
Stick to the schedule of whenever bedtime is, the structure of bath, story and bed or whatever it might be.
But try not to run yourself into the ground, which is easier said then done! Even just to let the child or children know, ‘You know, look I’m just reading here’ and let them use their own creativity to draw, play or whatever it is. Give them some time out.
Accept uncertainty and that which you can’t control
My advice would also be to acknowledge that there’s so much we have no control over. This is a very dangerous virus and it is a serious time.
So maybe try to keep things in the ‘now’ as much as possible. Just look at what you’ll do for this day and this week.
As far as employment goes, this situation is difficult enough without having to worry about lack of money or living in poverty. So whatever supports are offered, make sure to avail of them.