How are we doing?
These past few weeks have been such strange, unsettling times for us all. Changes in every area of our lives. Nothing untouched by the creeping effects of a global pandemic. From the global to the local, it’s now with us in our communities; even in tiny, unnoticed, corners of the Welsh valleys, where I work, we have a very unwelcome visitor whose presence we can feel but not see. Its effects lay a trail of devastation.
How do we respond to such circumstances, especially when we are in caring health professions where mental health is our daily business? We are trained to intervene helpfully in situations where young people are experiencing anxiety, depression, trauma, emotional dysregulation and abusive family situations, or where they act in ways which are harmful to others or self-destructive. We follow NICE guidelines and evidence our outcomes for commissioners and we do a good job, in many an underfunded, underresourced setting.
In these unsettling days, we now also have huge adjustments to make in our own lives. We may be worried about elderly relatives, our children, our finances. We may be trying to work from home in cramped and unsuitable conditions with poor wi fi connections and no computer. Shopping for food and taking exercise is hard to fit in, and perhaps we have abandoned the things we do for our own health and relaxation because we can no longer concentrate or motivate ourselves.
Who now is the patient and who is the healer? Of course, we are all human, and no one is unaffected by this crisis. This pandemic is one of the greatest tests we have ever faced, and it makes us aware of our own mortality and the fragility of the structures in our lives which we had taken for granted and which seemed set in stone. This can play havoc with our own mental health and wellbeing, so I thought a few reminders about putting our own mental health as a priority would be timely.
What do we do to calm ourselves?
We all have ways we do this, some more health promoting, and some which are short term fixes to help us relax immediately but which may deplete us over time. When you find yourself without energy (as we may do more often currently), do you speak harshly to yourself, accusing yourself of being ‘lazy’ or diagnose yourself as ‘depressed’? Do you prescribe yourself more structure and activity as the antidote? Does this cause you more stress as you get annoyed with those at home and work and become frenetic in your attempts at organising and then give up in frustration at the uncooperative people around you? What energy sapping and fruitless activity this can be!
I think we could instead see this time as an opportunity to slow down. Allow yourself to turn inwards when you can, and rest and appreciate what is just in front of us. Hard as this is, let’s practice on ourselves those things which we prescribe for others. We cannot be effective in our work if we are operating from a place of reactivity and anxiety. Our decisions will be poor and misunderstandings and misjudgements frequent. We will feel like we are being blocked at every turn. Nothing will feel natural or easy.
Take a few moments to check back in with yourself and your body and to be in the moment. Do this before any phone call, meeting or effortful activity in your day.
First anchor yourself and breathe…
What are the colours, shapes, smells and textures around you at the moment?
Focus on what you are experiencing as you notice them.
ONE MORE RELAXATION TECHNIQUE …
- Find a comfortable position where your body feels supported. Focus on a restful view (this can be a picture, a postcard, photo or an uncluttered wall)
- Concentrating only on what you are viewing, with eyes open,
- Name 5 things you can see
- Close your eyes
- 5 things you can hear
- Keep eyes closed
- 5 physical sensations
- Then do a round of 4 in each category, 3 in each category, 2 in each category and 1 in each category.
When you have reached one, you can either continue and start again, or simply stop and enjoy the sensation of vividly experiencing the moment
If you get confused or loose your place, simply stop, enjoy the sense of deep relaxation.
We cannot choose the circumstances we currently find ourselves in, but we can choose our responses to them.
A poem to end:
Woman Work by Maya Angelou
I’ve got the children to tend
The clothes to mend
The floor to mop
The food to shop
Then the chicken to fry
The baby to dry
I got company to feed
The garden to weed
I’ve got shirts to press
The tots to dress
The cane to be cut
I gotta clean up this hut
Then see about the sick
And the cotton to pick.
Shine on me, sunshine
Rain on me, rain
Fall softly, dewdrops
And cool my brow again.
Storm, blow me from here
With your fiercest wind
Let me float across the sky
‘Til I can rest again.
Fall gently, snowflakes
Cover me with white
Cold icy kisses and
Let me rest tonight.
Sun, rain, curving sky
Mountain, oceans, leaf and stone
Star shine, moon glow
You’re all that I can call my own.