COVID-19 Pandemic – how are you looking after yourself?

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Author: Kamila Szymecka-Owen, Psychologist and CBT Psychotherapist based in Gdansk, Przystanek Po-MOC (www.przystanekpomoc.com)

I don’t know about you, but I find the current situation with the Coronavirus highly distressing and disrupting to not only my private life, but to my social and professional life also. All of a sudden, my freedom has been restricted and I have found myself trapped at home with my husband and my 3-year old child whose kindergarten had been closed. I start every day by searching for information on Facebook, BBC and Polish news sites about the spread of Coronavirus in the world and in Poland, feeling a sense of fear, anxiety and sadness all mixed together. I fear things getting worse – I fear scarcity of food, wages, money and people’s morals going down. I have read today about surge of clients in veterinary clinics asking to put their pets down for fear of contracting the disease from them. That makes me sad and anxious as the future and people’s reaction to the pandemic is so changeable.

 I work as a psychotherapist and while trying to switch from face-to-face psychological counselling to online sessions, I realize how hard it might be for the clients living with their relatives or caring for children. I worry about clients and the effect of Coronavirus on their current mental health. When walking out to buy the groceries, I look into people’s eyes and I sense anxiety and mistrust. I freak out when my little boy touches surfaces in the grocery shops and I refuse to visit my mum and dad worrying that we might infect them in case any of us are carriers? I worry about my finances, I worry about my family’s health, I worry about how the economy will be affected and how our life will have to change in the end. I feel deep sadness and compassion for our Italian neighbors who have witnessed the terrible losses of their loved ones. All of these emotions are so overwhelming – it’s like an open wound with tiny triggers that cause constant pain. However, the pain is not physical but emotional, it relates not only to my body feeling tense and tired but also to my thoughts running through my head a billion times an hour, making me feel disconnected and distracted.

I worry. Worrying is normal and a natural response in the current times of uncertainty. As long as we accept it and learn to deal with our anxiety in a constructive way, possibly using the time of pause to reflect on our life, our values, career goals and strengthen the connection with our loved ones, worrying is not unhealthy. What helps me deal with my anxiety? There are a few self-caring activities that I include in my daily life:

1. I care for my friends and family – I talk to my friends and family more often than usual. I call them but I also write messages via Messenger, WhatsApp and phone. I think about their well-being and feel concerned about their health. I feel deep love and connectedness to my son and my husband, to people around me and that makes me feel I am not alone.

2. I think about my values and about what is the most important for me – I think about the way I can contribute to society. And given that the situation is unchangeable, how can I spend my time and energy constructively, rather than worrying or blaming or dwelling? Again, I reconnect with my values: what do I want to be about in response to this situation? What are some tiny values-driven steps I can take? I try to think about the ways to utilize my strengths, my values, my skills to help others – therefore this idea to write this article came in the middle of the night. In everyday busy life, I find it much harder to write. I love writing and I love helping others. So, there you go – Coronavirus helped me fulfill my deepest needs.

3. I use STOP technique: A crisis can present itself in many different forms. Coronavirus can result in the worsening of your mental health, having more worries about getting sick or the sickness of a loved one, loss of a job, suffering from isolation, even financial disaster. When you are hit by a crisis, an emotional storm is likely to whip through your mind and body, tossing painful thoughts and feelings in all directions. Here’s what you can do to survive and thrive: S.T.O.P.  (From Russ Harris “The Happiness Trap”)

Slow your breathing
• Take a few deep breaths, and mindfully observe the breath flowing in and flowing out. This will help to anchor you in the present.

Take note
• Take note of your experience in this moment. Notice what you are thinking. Notice what you are feeling. Notice what you are doing. Notice how your thoughts and feelings are swirling around and can easily carry you away if you allow them.

Open up
• Open up around your feelings. Breathe into them and make room for them. Open up to your thoughts too: take a step back and give them some room to move, without holding onto them or trying to push them away. See them for what they are and give them space, rather than fusing with them.

Pursue your values
• Once you’ve done the above three steps, you will be in a mental state of mindfulness. The next step is to respond to the crisis by pursuing a valued course of action. Connect with your values: ask yourself, ‘What do I want to be about, in the face of this crisis? What do I want to stand for? How would I like to act, so that I can look back years from now and feel proud of my response?’

4. I do something for myself – each day I plan to do something to look after myself, even if it is only a little thing: warm long shower, long bath, baking a cake or a bread, reading my favorite book, watching a TV show or a film, practicing yoga, mindfulness meditation or eating my favorite snacks.

5. I connect with nature – I take walks along the beach and in the forest to appreciate how beautiful the world is. That calms down my anxiety and makes me feel connected to nature. Looking at the sun, that makes me realize that the sun will not stop shining even with Coronavirus. It gives me hope and it gives me strength to carry on, to use the extra time spent at home to enhance connectedness. I can also use the time I have to develop my skills and become a better psychotherapist and to think about the people I care for and what is important for me.

We all have to find our own ways to deal with our anxieties and I encourage you to look deeply into yourself to find the ways that would suit you.

Please write to me with your concerns, comments or anything that you would like to share or ask. I am at home and I want to be connected. I long to hear your voices on how you are dealing with your Coronavirus anxiety and what is helping you survive these unusual times.

My e-mail address is: przystanekpomoc@gmail.com.

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