At Counselling Twickenham, I usually offer face-to-face counselling, online counselling through Zoom, Skype, or phone to meet your mental health needs during the pandemic. I will return to face-tot-face counselling once it is safer after social distancing comes to an end.
What’s happening to me?
Anxiety and fear are normal reactions to a global pandemic that is threatening humankind. There really is danger in our midst. But allowing your anxiety to overwhelm you will only make things worse. And fighting it will lead to fatigue. So it’s absolutely necessary to discharge the stress hormones in your body, and achieve some measure of quiet solitude at a time like this.
No I am not going to tell you: ‘Just keep calm and carry on.’
What you need to find is a balance that suits you. Rather than suffering the spikes and troughs of high anxiety, you need to look for opportunities for the more restorative moments of quiet, stillness and peace. I do not mean find perfect calm, but a moment to pause and breathe.
This means experimenting until you discover your own personal way of dealing with your anxieties. Once you take ownership over how you adapt you are more likely to commit to your practice. It is also essential to engage the body, not just the mind, if you want to regulate your emotions and the unconscious triggers that prey on you.
Different responses to anxiety
Most of the fight animals among you will go into overdrive looking trying to problem-solve the crisis, seeking solutions and physical exercise. Thee avoid animals, will feel the impulse to flee, or escape from the world. While sensation-seekers, are more likely to seek ways of gratifying your urges by binging on food, drugs, alcohol or the rush of dopamine-fuelled behaviours. And if you’re a freeze animal, you probably want to withdraw from others, and disconnect from your emotions.
You need to accept these are valid reactions to a real threat. And you are not irrational, or pathetic for feeling vulnerable. But try to remember there is no point focussing on the threat of a virus until you’ve been infected. In the meantime, no amount of pro-active behaviour will protect you in absolute terms. There is no perfect way of protecting yourself from an invisible microbe. Rather than fixating on catastrophic outcomes, you need focus on the process, by getting yourself through the day, moment-by-moment.
Equally do not surrender you confidence. Try to practice active acceptance, of your situation, not passive submission. You need to the lockdown, by surviving mentally and physically intact. And learning how to do this without too much hyper-vigilance is a process. You cannot get the outcome you want just by worrying about it and: ‘Advance straight to GO’.
If you are going to get through this you need to build a ‘safe environment’ in the body and mind. Using mindfulness you can develop this one step at a time. Any idea that you can find the perfect solution, or peace is a delusion.
It’s a process, not an outcome
At Counselling Twickenham, I will help you through these difficult times of isolation and social distancing. Although you may feel like the four walls are closing in, you need to develop routines and practices that allow you a sense of space and the capacity to choose. A solution-based approach to survival is not sustainable long-term. So focus on the process of being in the moment, paying attention to your experience. Coming out of your racing thoughts and observing your bodily sensations. Observing and regulating how you feel, by creating moments of quiet and solace will help – in a park, walking, in a room or gardening.
Being present and learning how to breathe mindfully, is especially effective. As well as ground yourself, stretching and exercise that lifts your heart rate and deepens breath. Mindful practice can also lay the ground work for helping you manage your emotions in a crisis later on. And because everyone’s body is different, you need to learn how sensitive you are to your senses, your ability to reflect inwardly and how to slow down in meditative or restful states.
The difference between a process and an outcome is this: a process is one continuous practice, or movement that allows you to transform yourself, or adapt to the environment by trial and error. And because there is no such thing as perfect outcome, you just keep moving, adapting and learning from experience. You do not need to put pressure on yourself to succeed. Try not to get trapped inside your own head.
By slowing things down enough to pause and breathe: you can learn to take stock, mobilise, act if you need to, then discharge your stress and rest. Feeling safe isn’t ever going to be a permanent state.
You cannot stay safe, forever, because you can guarantee this for yourself. So we all need to accept that adapting to this new way of life is the best we can do. Slowly learning how to live with change.
All you have is now to find a way of making the fear, stress or anxiety manageable. And while you’re present, you are responding to each and every moment the best you can. You cannot rely on strategies alone, someone else’s way forward. And you cannot pretend to control the situation. No man is an island and the environment is much bigger than you are.
So you have to find a way of coming back home. Somewhere deep inside of you that is true to you. Retaining your sense of self, while recognising you cannot stay in survival mode too long; it’s exhausting.
And on some days you have to find a way to live: day-to-day, looking for moments where you take pleasure from the small things in life. The things that really matter to you.
Right now, at Counselling Twickenham, I offer online counselling or internet counselling in response to social distancing and will return to face-to-face counselling when it is safe to do so.