In this post we talked to Kelly Watkins, a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist and Forensic Psychologist. At Drops of Heal mental health is at the forefront of where we started. Similarly, Kelly works to end the stigma around mental health. She offers online sessions and consultancies as well as visual talks and workshops. You can find Kelly here at https://linktr.ee/kellyvwatkins or on her instagram @kelly.the.cbt.psychologist.
1. Limit or avoid watching, reading or listening to news that could cause you distress.
During this time it seems that everything you see, read or hear is about Coronavirus or news that causes you some distress. It might seem that this is unmanageable and overwhelming but it can be managed. We all want to be kept up to date with the goings on in the world but a way to stop this feeling overwhelming is to set a time every day that you will look for an update and stick to that time and also set a length of time you will look e.g. 7pm for 10 minutes. Ideally do not make it longer than 30 minutes.
Remember when looking for news, this is only to look for practical tips or reliable news updates, this does not include scouring the internet or social media to read stories which will not all be fact based and will often increase your anxiety or distress and make you feel worse than you did in the first place. There is a lot of misinformation swirling around so stay informed by sticking to trusted sources of information such as trusted news sites or the government and NHS websites.
Consider balancing out the above with positive news websites such as:
2. Managing Social Media
Consider the other ways you learn of news. Don’t be afraid of having breaks from social media or fine tuning it.
Be aware of what accounts you are following, you may want to unfollow or mute certain accounts on social media. Be mindful of your clicking, consider avoiding clicking on coronavirus or related hashtags.
You may want to mute triggering words on Twitter or hide Facebook posts and feeds that you dislike.
Take some time away from social media. It might be a good time to do something else such as speaking to a friend, listening to music, watching TV or reading books.
When speaking to others it is also okay to mute WhatsApp groups if you find them too overwhelming. If you are in person with someone who is speaking about something, do not be afraid to explain to them that you are finding the conversation distressing and perhaps change the subject to something we love to chat about . . . The Weather.
3. Stay connected with others who have a positive impact
Of course, what we want to do and can do is limited due to certain restrictions at the moment. However, do not let your thoughts stop you from contacting others. Focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t.
Such as speak to others on social media or video chat, listen to your favourite music, watch enjoyable films, go outside into your garden, sing and dance, do yoga and smile.
If you are able to don’t be afraid to speak about your anxieties or intrusive thoughts as chances are your friends without mental health difficulties such as anxiety or OCD, may also be having a bad day (about anything) or they may be sharing some of the concerns you are, focussing on them and their problems can sometimes be helpful in allowing us to focus away from our own problems and sometimes gives us perspective on our own concerns.
Conversely notice if speaking about it is making your mental health worse. Sharing the latest details with family and friends will be common. But it keeps us thinking about it, which can influence our sense of threat/risk. To counteract this, don’t initiate the conversation and change the subject if it does come up. If you’re comfortable doing so, ask friends and family to not discuss Coronavirus or other news updates with you. This might help you feel less anxious and help others too.
If you’re shielding, self-isolating or working from home, strike a balance between having a routine and making sure each day has some variety. Get up at the same time, make sure you get dressed, make your bed and eat and drink at appropriate times.
4. Give those anxious and OCD thoughts nowhere to go
In many respects OCD and anxiety is about worrying about something that might be a problem, because it’s got potential to be a problem.
In an ideal world we will tell ourselves we will worry about it when it does become a problem and not a moment before.
However we often manage to predict things will be a problem before they have even become a “thing”.
Another trick OCD and anxiety have is thriving on uncertainty. For example if you say “I might be contaminated because I did not wash my hands for 20 seconds or “If I go out I might become unwell”.
Because of the word ‘might’ we create the uncertainty that anxiety and OCD thrive on. But if you tell yourself “I am contaminated and I will get sick”, whilst not a pleasant thought, it actually doesn’t give anxiety and/or OCD much “wiggle” room, because you have already acknowledged the worst case scenario and carried on with your activity/day despite it.
This takes practice, but these subtle changes do help change our focus and can even make OCD and anxious thoughts lose the power to scare and worry us. If you want to make the thought lose its power even more try singing the thought out loud to the theme of “Happy Birthday” or “Twinkle, twinkle little star”.
BUT this is not taking away with the general precautions you are being recommended to take, it is just supporting you having more power over your overwhelming thoughts.
5. Managing anxious and OCD thoughts
Ask yourself are the thoughts you are having: FACT OR OPINION?
To balance your thoughts, you may want to ask yourself: If your loved one said that thought to you what would you say back?
Another way to challenge your persistent negative thoughts is the courtroom technique. Confront your thoughts with a rational counter-statement.
For example, if your persistent thought is something like “Everyone I love will die from this virus” or “the world is going to end” you can counter it with factual statements such as “Actually, most people who get Covid-19 are likely to make a full recovery, and that’s assuming mum, dad and my little sister will even catch it at all” or “although there are some horrible things going on in the world, I can do things to make a difference”.
We should also be aware of and avoid increasing habits that may not be helpful in the long term, like smoking and drinking alcohol.
Even though we are in a public health crisis, it will get better. Put things in perspective. It’s a worrying time, and many of us, may have loved ones who might be showing symptoms or are vulnerable, but the tendency to jump to the worst-case scenario very rarely reflects reality. Be kind to yourself. It may be a bit cheesy, but this too shall pass.
6. Self-care is the best care
We have discussed some particular techniques to manage anxiety and OCD symptoms as well as just managing your mental health. Now lets have a think about self-care. Now self-care can be reading, writing, speaking to loved ones. Basically, anything that makes you feel good.
- Do exercise. Even if it’s just star jumps in your bedroom, or shaking your body parts like you’re in the warm-up section of an acting class, exercise will help get the adrenaline out of your system and channel the panic elsewhere.
- Gratitude – write down three things you are grateful for every day.
- Meditate – you can follow a guided one or simply sit or lie comfortably. Close your eyes. Make no effort to control the breath; simply breathe naturally. Focus your attention on the breath and on how the body moves with each inhalation and exhalation.
- Yoga you can find some amazing online classes and many yoga studios on Instagram have brought their sessions online.
- Eat well getting the nutrients you need.
- Stay hydrated with water.
- Treat yo’self – anything that will give you a little boost can help. It doesn’t need to involve spending money: you can also cook yourself something nice, have a hot bath, or listen to a song you love.
7. Grounding Techniques
Grounding techniques can also be helpful. These are techniques you use to ground yourself in the moment instead of where your head is going.
Use your mind – Choose one or two broad categories, such as “musical instruments,” “ice cream flavours,” “mammals,” or “sports teams.” Take a minute or two to mentally list as many things from each category as you can.
You may want to use a nice smell to bring you back in the moment. Inhale the fragrance slowly and deeply and try to note its qualities (sweet, spicy, sharp, citrusy, and so on).
You can use movement such as bending over to touch your toes and then very slowly standing up (for about 10 seconds) starting at the base of your spine.
Use your senses, name 5 things you can see, 4 things you can feel, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste.
Use your breath by counting your “in breaths” for a minute just so you know the average breathing rate is between 12-20 breaths. If you are breathing a lot more than that keep repeating the minute until you get in the average breathing range.
Another breathing exercise is placing one hand on your tummy and another on your chest. Breathe in for the count of 3 and out for 5. If you like you can increase this to breathing in for 5 and out for 8 and repeat as necessary. When your breath out for longer this slows down your sympathetic nervous system and activates your parasympathetic nervous system.
Share this post on Facebook and instagram and tag @dropsofheal and @kelly.the.cbt.psychologist. If you are struggling please do reach out to Kelly. We know how difficult this time can be and they’re are people here to help. Sending you love from the drops of heal team!