Self care in times of uncertainty
During uncertain times, when it feels like there is much beyond our control, it is important that we do what we can to take care of ourselves.
We are living through strange times. Whilst the Covid-19 virus spreads globally it is understandable that people are worried and concerned for their health, loved ones, economic impact and overall levels of suffering and disruption. We are all facing uncertainty.
Anxiety is an appropriate response to an uncertain situation. For those who already have high levels of anxiety these times can be especially difficult. Given that anxiety is a known symptom for peri and menopause it is likely that many midlife women will be struggling with higher levels than usual. As well as fluctuating hormones we may have elders to care for, family responsibilities and the pressure of providing. At times like this it is so important to prioritise self-care, and find ways of grounding ourselves, to prevent becoming overwhelmed.
To that end I have listed below a number of ways to help reduce anxiety, and encourage moments of calm. Have a read and see which appeal to you, what works for one person will be different to another.
· Avoid checking the news/social media too often. When we feel anxious it is tempting to check constantly for updates. With so many sources available this is very easy to do. While understanding recent developments is useful too much exposure can result in us becoming hyper-aroused, or triggered. The checking may feel compulsive rather than healthy. If you find yourself doing this try to find ways to distract yourself each time you feel the urge to check, or decide that you will only check for updates a certain number of times per day.
· Make time for ordinary. In extra-ordinary times when life feels unreal we often crave the ordinary. Tasks like cooking, work related activities and gardening can be anchoring.
· Use familiar routines and rituals. These can help us to feel grounded again. Eating meals at regular times, walking the dog (if you can go out), our morning coffee, family TV time, reading before bed or whatever it is that makes life familiar. They may seem simple or trivial but they provide a sense of safety and consistency.
· Use simple meditation or relaxation techniques. Meditation has been proven to reduce stress and anxiety levels. Slow deep breathing - in through the nose and out through the mouth, with the belly soft and eyes closed – for several minutes each day can calm the Fight or Flight response. Don’t worry if lots of thoughts arise, simply acknowledge them, let them go and refocus on your breath. There are many meditations and mindful exercises available on You tube and on apps like Headspace. Find one that you like if you prefer to be guided through an exercise.
· Take care of your body. Get plenty of sleep, eat a balanced diet and schedule time for exercise. Physical activity improves blood flow to the brain, helping you to think more clearly. It is also a great way to release endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers and feel-good hormones. There is evidence that fit people are better able to handle the long-term effects of stress.
· Spend time in nature (if possible). Numerous studies have shown that time in nature can significantly improve mental health and wellbeing. If you can’t get out in nature spending time in a garden will have benefits, and if that is not an option some studies suggest that even images of nature have a soothing effect.
· Get in flow. Positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi described flow state as an ‘optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best.’ It usually happens when we are doing an activity that requires enough of our attention to keep us focused, but not so much that we are stressed by it. Musicians, dancers or artists may feel in flow while they play music, dance or create art. But it may also be felt riding a bike, solving puzzles or a myriad of other ways. It usually leaves a person with a sense of satisfaction. Think about when you feel in flow and what activities you can do to find it again.
· Reach out to others. Drawing strength from others is particularly valuable. This can help us to feel less alone, and provide empathy and understanding.
· Be present. One of the features of anxiety is an emphasis on ‘what if’ and future events. Coming back to the present moment may lessen anxious feelings. Look around you and notice what is good. Breathe in for 4 counts and out for 6. Notice the sensations in your body. Where there is tension let your muscles soften.
· Be prepared. Have a plan in case of different eventualities - who you will call on if you need support, consider how isolated loved ones will have access to regular food deliveries etc and how to stay in touch.
· Accept difficult feelings and draw on your values. There is a simple model which is taken from Acceptance and Commitment therapy (ACT) which argues that, rather than fighting distress, we need to accept that it is a natural part of life and do what we need to do in spite of it:
o Accept whatever feelings arise in response to a situation.
o Choose a direction, or way forward, that is rooted in your values. To do this you must understand what your values are in relation to whatever situation you are confronted with.
o Take action. The action will be born out of your values.
I hope this has given a few ideas to try. Wishing you all the best.