The pandemic and the second wave has left us feeling overwhelmed, to say the least. In the last few days, many of my clients, during therapy sessions have been sharing how anxious and scared they have been feeling. Here are some of the statements I have been hearing:
“I find it hard to concentrate and focus. Most days, I’m just exhausted.’
‘I’m anxious and wired 24×7 and that has impacted my mood and how I interact with friends and family.’
‘I’m worried for the health of my children and family, the worry just doesn’t leave me.’
‘My mood has been extremely low, and I feel helpless and hopeless in the current situation’.
What these clients have been experiencing is reflective of emotions that a lot of people in the country are feeling at large. This, in turn, has had a negative influence on our productivity, day-to-day functioning and even how we relate to our partners and family. Having said that, we can learn to focus on strategies and research-based techniques that help us manage our overwhelming emotions.
Examine your relationship with fear: Fear is an emotion that allows us to stay safe and even take the necessary precautions. Fear from an evolutionary perspective serves a purpose. It allows us to be prepared to deal with challenging situations. For cavemen, both fear and anxiety worked well to protect them from wild animals and in turn, helped them stay safe. As we deal with the second wave, we need to continue following the safety protocol and identify when our fear is becoming chronic or even unrealistic. It’s completely alright to experience fear given the current scenario. We need to be mindful about not letting fear consume us.
The power of routines: Esther Perel, a psychotherapist and author says, “Routines are concrete, repetitive actions that help us develop skills while creating continuity and order”. Given that we are living in such uncertain times, it’s a good idea to develop your personal routines that give structure to your day. Whether it’s a simple 10-minute meditation when you get up or watering your plants at a fixed time or calling a parent or a friend daily, it can all go a long way in sustaining your wellbeing’.
Develop your own self-soothing box: One of the best ways to release yourself from feeling constantly under threat and hyperalert is your ability to dip into the resources within. Our ability to calm ourselves and consciously engage in soothing activities, thoughts and feelings is what I would define as self-soothing. Examples of self-soothing activities could be journaling, going for a walk, having a cup of tea or even cooking.
I would suggest creating your own self-soothing box: make a list of all activities that calm you, put your favourite pictures, mementoes or even a book into the box.
Pause rituals: As a therapist, when I struggled with burnout some years ago, I came up with the term ‘pause rituals.’ In my book, Anxiety: Overcome it and Live Without Fear, I define pause rituals as so: “The word pause simply means a temporary halt or break in our daily life. Here, the keyword is ritual which involves creating a set of self-soothing daily activities into our daily schedule, instead of engaging only when we are headed for a breakdown /meltdown.” Identify activities that you can do daily as part of your pause ritual. The key is consciously only monotasking while engaging in your pause ritual.
Learn how to de-catastrophize: Very often, we engage in what can be called thinking traps or cognitive distortions. Catastrophizing is one of those distortions or faulty ways of looking at the world. When we catastrophize, we end up having thoughts about possible worst-case situations, even if there is no real evidence. We need to learn how to de-catastrophize and recognize that we are panicking in those moments. If you find yourself falling for this, work with a therapist to learn how you can do this, given your personal history and mental health experiences.
At the same time, take the necessary precautions, wear a mask, and remind yourself that you are safe and healthy as of now.
Mindfulness about social media consumption: As we continue to deal with the second wave, we are inundated with information via WhatsApp, Twitter and Instagram. Do you end up checking news obsessively and are you unable to stop yourself? If yes, it may be important to manage this and set boundaries for yourself. Have fixed times when you choose to check social media. I often tell clients that checking the phone first thing in the morning can be very overwhelming. Choose to develop your own relationship with social media. It’s okay to take time off if it’s adding to your anxiety.
Sleep Hygiene: As you end your day, it may be important to remember that if you are too wired, you won’t be able to fall off to sleep or even rest. Given that scenario, figure your rituals and routines that allow you to wind down before fall asleep. Personally, for me, reading a non-fiction book or even listening to calming music helps. Checking news just before sleeping can leave you anxious particularly at a time like this, and thus disrupt your sleep.
Most importantly, as you try practising some of these techniques, learn to be kinder to yourself and reach out to family and friends for support. If you find yourself dealing with severe anxiety, panic attacks or moods that are debilitating, reach out to a mental health professional. Reaching out is always a sign of strength.