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1st June 2020 

Coronavirus Support

During this period of coronavirus isolation I am not able to offer my normal face to face sessions. During this period I will be offering counselling via secure video link or telephone. Once this crisis has passed I will be returning to face to face work in my normal way.

Coronavirus and the associated isolation is creating new challenges for us all. Here are some tips on managing difficult feelings while in isolation.

Ways to Manage Feelings of Anxiety While in Self-Isolation

Anxiety comes from the fight, flight, freeze portion of our brain – the amygdala. An anxiety response is a normal instinct to keep us safe. Unfortunately for many of us that response is triggered too easily or more excessively than we need. This is not our fault! Coronavirus is a real threat, so an anxiety response is reasonable. The difficulty comes when we can’t regulate that fear. We become over anxious and may start to catastrophize (assume the absolute worst) or become anxious about things that are no threat at all. Repressed anxiety can lead to anger, intrusive thoughts or depression. It puts a strain on relationships and erodes our self-confidence.

Here are some ideas to help you re-regulate when anxiety becomes more than a passing thought.

  • When we become very stressed, our vagus nerve becomes over stimulated and stops being as effective in keeping our blood pressure and heart rate under control. Ultimately this can make us feel dizzy, weak or faint because our blood pressure can drop too much. Cold water can help (drinking very cold water, splashing your face or taking a cold shower). This works by switching the focus of the vagus nerve to adjusting to the cold and allows our parasympathetic activity to increase in our brain, regulating our blood pressure and heart rate and calming us.

  • Reality check. Your feeling is real, but is it in proportion to the situation? A thought is just a thought, thinking something doesn’t make it real. Take a moment to consider if your response is the same as your friends would make.

    Your initial response may be ‘yes’ but take a moment to really think about that. Is your feeling based on what has actually happened today, or is it grounded in your fear of what could happen?

    Try self-talking in a more positive frame, acknowledging what is fact and what is fear.

    If your response is based in fear, acknowledge that fear. All feelings are valid and important, being disproportionate, doesn’t mean they should be ignored. It doesn’t help to affirm the feelings, but it does help to support and comfort yourself in experiencing that feeling.

    Consider if your fear is a response to something from the past – your feelings about the current situation, may actually belong in an event from the past, a family script or a way of being.

  • Exerting yourself physically reduces stress and anxiety.

    This could take the form of jumping, throwing, running, speed walking or dancing.

    Following an exercise routine online is an option – there are lots to choose from.

  • Fresh air and being outside in whichever way you can will help.

    If you are social distancing (and while government regulations allow) try getting out for a walk, run or cycle ride each day.

    If you are self-isolating, try spending time in your garden.

    If you are in the highest risk group or are having to totally self-isolate, and cannot be far enough away from others anywhere outside, maybe you could open a door or window and let fresh air in.

  • Try chewing, maybe crunching on an apple or carrot or try a favourite flavour of sugar free gum (sugar gums are bad for teeth). Chewing helps lower cortisol levels (the hormone triggered by stress).

  • Our feelings and senses are triggered in the same part of our brain. Anything affecting our senses in a positive, calming, soothing or uplifting way can help to calm anxiety. Soothing scents (perfume, candles, aromatherapy, cooking etc.) can be very helpful.

  • Breathing exercises. There are a range of breathing exercises to be found online. One of my favourites is the 5 – 7 method.

    Slowly breath in through your nose to the count of 3 and then gently exhale to the count of 5. Repeat this several times and then increase your in breath to 4 and your out breath to 6. Again, repeat several times before increasing to 5 for the in breath and 7 for the out breath. If you have a higher lung capacity you can increase this in further increments, but you shouldn’t feel uncomfortable at any point. You can do this for just a few moments, and it will help, but to maximise the effect, taking 10 minutes to very slowly increase the increments can be particularly beneficial.

  • If you catch anxiety building you may be able to distract yourself with a favourite activity.

  • Tidy a draw, room or cupboard. Making order in our surroundings can help our minds feel more ordered too.

  • Any kind of mindful activity. In its simplest form mindfulness just means being in the moment.

    Some people love meditation and mindfulness practice, if you are in this group you may already have a mindfulness routine or you can use one from YouTube or an app such as Headspace or Calm (many more are available, I do not endorse any one site or app).

    You could try paying attention to something for a moment – maybe notice how a shaft of sunlight is reflecting on the glass of your window, or making a shadow on your lawn, look at a tree and notice the leaves, stroke a pet and pay attention to the feel of their warmth and softness (or not) of their fur.

    Try craft or art of some kind – it’s very hard to be fully immersed in an artistic activity without giving it your full attention. If you don’t feel creative consider adult colouring.

  • Grounding yourself. There are many grounding techniques you can find online, this is just one.

    Take your shoes off and place your feet firmly on the ground, sitting comfortably upright. Slowly breath in and out a few times. Be fully conscious of the floor beneath your feet, the chair beneath you, your hands on your lap or by your side. Can you feel fabric, or a hard surface? Tense and relax your toes, hands and whole body.

    Imagine tension running down you’re your head, through your body, down your legs and feet and out into the ground.

    Notice any sounds around you, if you feel warm, cool, hot etc. Be aware of being in this moment, separate from worries or events in your life.

    Remind yourself that in this moment, you are safe.

  • Remember, even in isolation, you do not have to struggle alone.

  • Ways to Express Frustration and Anger Safely While in Self-Isolation

    We all feel angry sometimes and when we are restricted, or in close proximity to others, moments of anger are more likely to occur.

    Anger is often a secondary emotion that covers pain or sadness and suppressing anger can lead to anxiety, depression, stomach upsets, sleeplessness, headaches and many more difficulties.

    Here are some ideas to release anger that can be carried out within the lockdown restrictions. You may have additional ideas of your own.

  • If you can exert yourself physically that is the most effective way to release anger healthily.

    A few examples could include: jumping, stamping, punching a pillow, running, speed walking or dancing.

    An aerobic exercise routine online could help – anything that raises the heart rate.

    If you have a garden, or reinforced floor, a slam ball could be a good form of anger release – and good exercise at the same time – they cost in the region of 20.

    If you have enough space in the garden, hitting or kicking a ball with force is a great.

    You could try tearing multiple sheets of paper or cardboard, kicking empty cans or popping or stamping on bubble wrap.

  • Write down your feelings, preferably by hand. Journaling can be a great way to get your feelings out of your system. If you are writing about someone in your household, you can always shred the paper once you have finished.

  • Draw or paint your feelings. Start by creating a frame on the paper and draw inside the frame – crazy as it sounds, this helps to contain your feelings. Drawing or painting can also be soothing.

  • Breathing exercises. There are a range of breathing exercises to be found online. One of my favourites is the 5 – 7 method.

    Slowly breath in through your nose to the count of 3 and then gently exhale to the count of 5. Repeat this several times and then increase your in breath to 4 and your out breath to 6. Again, repeat several times before increasing to 5 for the in breath and 7 for the out breath. If you have a higher lung capacity you can increase this in further increments, but you shouldn’t feel uncomfortable at any point. You can do this for just a few moments and it will help, but to maximise the effect, taking 10 minutes to very slowly increase the increments can be particularly beneficial.

  • Acknowledge your feelings. Even if nobody else seems to, allow yourself to feel validated.

  • Aromatherapy oils can help to calm you – check with a midwife first if you are pregnant.

  • Singing – find a playlist with plenty of energy and sing along as loudly as you can.

  • Scream – maybe sit in the car for privacy, and let that anger flow out of you.

  • Lie on your bed and kick your legs like a toddler having a tantrum.

    No one thing works for everyone, and this is not an exhaustive list, see what feels OK for you and give it a try.

  • Ways to Process Bereavement and Grief During Lockdown

    Bereavement is what has happened to you, mourning is what you do and grief is what you feel. In order to start grieving and move on to a different, but meaningful way of living, we need to fully mourn the loss of our loved one. Separate from ‘stages of grief’, it is thought that we have six ‘reconciliation needs of mourning’ (Wolfelt, 2016). These include:

  • Acknowledging the reality of the death
  • Moving toward the pain of the loss
  • Remembering the person who died
  • Developing a new self-identity
  • Searching for meaning
  • Receiving ongoing support from others
    Having these needs met helps us to acknowledge our loss and start the process of grieving.

    Funerals are a vital part the grieving process because they provide a framework that facilitates mourning. A lack of funeral may leave the bereaved person feeling they have ‘unfinished business’, that they have not said goodbye properly, or even that the person has not really gone. This can make grief especially hard.

    If you were not able to be with your loved one during their last days, and especially if no family or friends were allowed to be with them, the loss may feel particularly traumatic.

    Not having the ritual of a funeral will be very hard, but it is possible to create a form of substitute ritual from your own home to help recreate ways to get your reconciliation needs met. There isn’t a right or wrong way to approach this, but I have included some possibilities here.

    Acknowledging the reality of the death and moving toward the pain of loss
    This may sound obvious, but there is a difference between knowing someone has died and really connecting with that deeper, feeling level of understanding. Without a funeral, it can take much longer to reach that point.
  • Give yourself permission to feel and to cry. Our culture doesn’t encourage the open display of emotion, but during funerals it does. This display of emotion is very beneficial. Many people try to hold back tears, but this is just repressing your grief. Repressed grief can turn into anxiety, anger or depression or can express itself in physical illness. Expressing whatever you feel is healthy.
  • Lighting a candle at a particular time or day may give a focus for acknowledging the death or remembering the loved one. This could become a repeating ritual if you wish.
  • Saying a poem, religious reading or prayer may help to give you a focus.
  • Remembering the person who died and receiving ongoing support from others
  • Talking to others who loved the person, about the loved one who has died, sharing memories, stories and photographs.
  • Repeating the death story – what happened and how you feel – as frequently as you need. This helps you make sense of what has happened on a gradually deepening level.
  • At a funeral, most people have a eulogy. Creating a remembrance book or box may help. You could ask people to post or email memories or pictures and you could write about your loved one, or put in the loved one’s favourite poem or lyrics of a favourite song. Sympathy cards or mementos could also be included.
  • If you use any online media, you may like to set up a group ‘chat’ or blog in memory of your loved one.
  • You may like to make a playlist of your loved one’s favourite music, or tracks you shared together or remind you of your loved one.
  • Arranging a page in a remembrance book can help. At Easthampstead Crematorium (our local crematorium) the remembrance book can be accessed online at any time. There is a charge for the initial entry but not for viewing the page. Many other crematoriums offer a similar service.

    Searching for meaning
  • Journaling can help. This involves writing about your feelings. It is helpful to look back on; but if you are concerned you may want to write something you wouldn’t want others to read, it is still valuable to write it down and then burn or shred the paper afterwards. Hand writing is usually the best way as it engages different parts of the brain than using a computer or tablet.
  • Perhaps you could plant bulbs, a plant or a tree in memory of your loved one (online delivery is still available). This provides a living reminder of the one who has died and gives you a focus to care for. It may be possible to put a small plaque by the plant.
  • Some people choose to donate to charity, and / or ask others to, in memory of the loved one.

    Developing a new self-identity
    Most of us identify ourselves in relation to others. We may be a spouse, a child, a sibling, a parent, a grandchild, a friend, a colleague, a classmate, a team member etc. etc. When someone dies that role shifts. Of course, we will always be that person in one way, but now it is defined from a different angle. For example, if you are a spouse and that person dies, you will now be defined as a widow(er). A funeral helps with this, because implicitly people around us are saying they acknowledge our loss and they recognise the change that has happened to us.

    Depending on the relationship, some people literally feel a part of them is lost when someone they love dies. Having friends and family around us to recognise our continued, but changed, existence is an essential part in helping us accept our altered identity.
  • Accept contact from others in ways and at times that feel manageable to you. This could be a video link, telephone call, card or letter.
  • Allow yourself to reach out to others.
  • Accept support that may be offered by your community.

    This is not an exclusive list, anything that gives you permission to grieve, an opportunity to share memories of your loved one and a chance to concentrate on your loved one will be hugely beneficial in allowing the necessary process of grief to take place.