New freedoms may bring new stress

Isn't it a paradox that with the vaccine available and hopes of returning to normal, you feel anxious, even though you have spent several months homebound and in social isolation? Regardless of your new-found freedom, you find it difficult to relax.

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The pandemic created a continuum of uncertainty and fear, which has led to a downward spiral of hopelessness and helplessness. To fight your way through this spiral, you know that you need to be at your optimal best. 

Let’s talk about why looking after your current mental health is essential in light of these facts.

The transition to your regular life in a COVID- ridden world has its own set of problems like planning for back to work after working from home for months or avoiding crowds while grocery shopping.

You’re trying to do your best to normalize your family’s life since the pandemic started. In doing so, you tend to ignore the sinking feeling in your stomach or brain fog, physiological signs of stress. Having a doughnut will bring momentary relief, but not for long, as you can feel the same jittery feelings re-emerge but more intense this time.

You soon feel tired and exhausted. You start losing sleep; you can’t fall asleep or remain asleep. You have racing thoughts as you are worrying about almost everything (generalized anxiety). 

Here’s it’s important to remember that worrying about sanitizing and staying safe is “normal” for nowadays, but brooding and ruminating if you’ve done an excellent job of sanitizing is not. It’s advisable to have a physical check-up to rule out any major health issues.

You start avoiding places and situations that bring on negative feelings. This avoidant behaviour leads to an irrational fear where you cannot distinguish between real danger and perceived danger and escaping it is impossible. (agoraphobia). In this case, it’s essential to differentiate between the usual anxiety of getting the virus and agoraphobia.

With your inlaws or friends you haven’t seen for a long time, you get anxious about being judged for not having a clean home (social anxiety). Again, it’s crucial to have a healthy balance as staying connected to others helps to destress.

You can’t keep up with your racing thoughts of what-ifs. One way to have some semblance of control over your thoughts is to document your automatic thoughts, as per cognitive behaviour therapy.

 Here, you can start by keeping notes of the times when you’ve higher stress. You’ll soon have an idea of the situations that act as triggers to having racing thoughts. Gradually, you’ll be able to identify the consequences of your automatic thoughts.

Another strategy is to assess your functioning on a 10 point scale, one to ten, where one is low, and 10 is high. It will provide a baseline or starting point for you to plan your day, thereby preventing over-exhaustion.

Cultivating rituals bring structure and normalcy, which your whole family can adopt.

Deep breathing and setting mini-goals like taking a short walk to calm down will enable you to stay focused and motivated.

The virus is still bringing havoc, but having a plan will help you stay mentally healthy to face it.

Adapted from my article  published in the Telegraph-Journal.

The picture is from Mind Matters A.S. Consulting;

 Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes and should not substitute for psychotherapy with a qualified professional.

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