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Mental Health Strategies to Combat Post-‘Lockdown’ Stress

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ExpertsPost Category - ExpertsExpertsWellnessPost Category - WellnessWellness - Post Category - HealthHealth

Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) is ending… now what? A counsellor shares six mental health strategies to manage stress and improve your outlook

As we emerge from our Phase 2 HA cocoon and re-recalibrate to ‘new normal’ it’s likely that you’re experiencing a myriad of emotions. There may be moments of sadness, anxiety, frustration, excitement, and joy as you re-connect. Taking care of your mental health will stand you in good stead for a smooth transition. In this article, school counsellor Claire Holmes offers 6 mental health tips and accompanying strategies to help you deal with change.

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1. Listen to your body

This is a perfect time to pay attention to your body. It lets you know when your emotions are heightened. Everyone’s stress signature is different, it varies from person to person. You might notice a racing heart, shorter breaths, butterflies in the tummy, sweaty palms, or something else entirely. Notice what happens for you. If you can identify this in a moment of overwhelm, you can make a choice to pause and reset. Here are a couple of strategies to try in such moments:

  • You may be able to articulate that you feel a certain way, scared, anxious or sad for example. Name the emotion/s if you can.
  • Notice where you feel the emotion in your body. Try breathing into places of tension and inviting these areas to relax as you breathe out. Try this for a few breaths.

Keep your thoughts in check

You probably have more thoughts coming and going than usual. Increased ‘thought traffic’ is our natural response to change. Our minds project into the future to fill the space of uncertainty with “What-if” thoughts. Before we know it, one of these “What-ifs” spirals into a story of how things are going to go wrong. It is easy to get swept along with our own narrative and be pulled all over the place mentally.

Awareness of your thoughts is key in slowing ‘the traffic.’ When you recognise that unhelpful thinking is around, you might like to experiment with:

  • Slowing things down by asking yourself; “What am I telling myself?”
  • Naming the kind of thinking that is happening. E.g. worrying, imagining, catastrophising…
  • If you can identify the thought you might like to ask, Do I know that this thought is one hundred percent true? If no, what evidence is there to tell me it is not? Could this play out in a different way, is it possible to imagine this scenario turning out better?
  • You might like to practice imagining yourself lying in a field and watching your thoughts as clouds in the sky. Perhaps you can visualise them appearing, moving across the sky, and dissolving. The next thought may do the same. Not reacting, simply noticing, being curious. Or you might imagine your thoughts as leaves, and watch them float off down a river, or they could be stones on a beach which you throw out to sea. Whichever strategy you choose, set a timer for a minute or two and practise every day.

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3. Be purposefully present

When you feel emotionally overloaded, bringing yourself back to the present helps to reset. Here are some things that you can try to be in the ‘now:’

  • Take a breath, notice where you feel your breath and allow your attention to settle there. Notice your inbreath and your outbreath. This is called Anchor Breathing; you can return to this when you need to.
  • Having a gentle mantra that you repeat to yourself may be soothing, something like “Let’s take this one day at a time” or “Steady and calm with each breath.”
  • A simple grounding technique is 5-4-3-2-1. Take a breath, look around and notice 5 things that you can see, 4 things that you can touch, 3 things that you can hear, 2 things that you can smell or smells you like, and 1 thing that you can taste, or a tastes you like. Take another deep breath. Repeat as necessary.
  • To expand on the power of the senses you might like to try this Safe Space Visualisation. You can come back to this recording or parts of it in your minds-eye whenever you need to find a sense of calm.

4. Focus on what you can control

There is so much that we cannot control or predict as we transition. To help you feel a greater sense of agency you might like to try:

  • Connecting with the things that you can control in this moment. Draw a big circle on a page and write inside all the things that are in your control right now. For example, washing my hands, my responses, what I eat, and how much water I drink.
  • Engaging your coping strategies. Do something that helps you feel better. This varies from person to person. You may be musical, artistic, a reader or writer – choose what works for you.
  • Connecting with the things that you are grateful for, daily. You might like to find a way to record these, creating a physical list that is available for you to revisit.
  • You might like to try giving time to your thoughts by finding a time in the day, in a certain place that becomes your ‘unhelpful thinking time’– do put a time limit on this. When unhelpful thoughts arise during your day, tell yourself to save it for later, at your chosen time and place. You may find it helpful to write your thoughts down in a journal, recall them in your mind, or say them out loud.

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5. Stay connected

Connecting with others, being heard, and articulating what we are thinking and feeling is cathartic. Spending time with people who make us feel good, who listen and support us meets our basic human need of connection. When we connect through acts of kindness it not only benefits the recipient, but it is scientifically proven to boost the person being kind too. Do not forget to show yourself kindness each day, too.

  • Identify your positive connections, a friend, partner or perhaps a colleague and intentionally carve out time to be with them during this transition.
  • Think about someone who you could show kindness to today and give it a go.
  • Be kind to yourself in some way every day by making a choice that it healthful for you, such as doing more or less of something.

6. Keep moving

Move to lift your mood. When we exercise the endorphins released break down the stress hormone cortisol. Many of us have our best moments of mental clarity, our epiphanies when we exercise. As you transition out of lockdown continue with something that you enjoy doing every day that gets you moving or start a new active habit

As we move through this period of recalibration, notice when you recall these tips or try any of the strategies, and congratulate yourself. Trust in your capacity for growth. Know that you can emerge from this transition equipped with new insights and strategies that support your mental health and your ability to embrace change moving forward. May you stay safe and well, looking after yourself in the next weeks and months to come.

Lead image by Jared Rice via Unsplash; Image #2 and #3 via Getty; Image #4 via Unsplash

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