Mentally surviving change that we cannot control. 

It began with an election, a referendum and will hopefully end with a vaccine. After the last few years, many of us would not be at all surprised if little green men and women landed by the Taj Mahal on Valentine's Day.

Seismic shifts in politics have affected our lives far more directly now and a world pandemic has reminded us that our home, this planet that we have readily exploited, abused, and complacently expected to continue nurturing us, has had enough. 

The Brexit referendum following hard on the heels of a ruthless government program of austerity has exposed underlying resentment and bitterness that has propelled the UK and the EU towards unpredictable change. The US elections have done the same. Friends and families have argued and fractured reflecting in our government feeding an undercurrent of anxiety. 

Change and fear of change effects most of us adversely.  

The Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale lists the following top ten stressful life events, with the death of a spouse being the highest cause of stress, that can indubitably contribute to physical and mental illness.

  1. Death of a spouse
  2. Divorce
  3. Marriage separation
  4. Imprisonment
  5. Death of a close family member
  6. Injury or illness
  7. Marriage
  8. Job loss
  9. Marriage reconciliation
  10. Retirement

It comes as no surprise that these external events herald inescapable, deep change to the rituals and patterns of daily life, and that is without considering the emotional cost. 

Given that the consequences of political upheaval are unknown and unpredictable, that our world leaders appear incapable of making confident decisions at best whilst inciting sedition and revolution at worst, all amid an unprecedented global pandemic that has turned the world on its head, the above scale represents every occasion… and some. 

It is doubtful that anyone living through these times will not have moments of confusion and despair at repeated lockdown, isolation, and the threats to livelihood or any of the myriad of dreadful ramifications of Corona19. 

Anyone caught in the grip of depression or a mental health disorder such as OCD, or struggling through any of the above life events will have their coping mechanisms stretched beyond endurance with this added uncertainty. 

Noone would argue against recognizing that all these elements are colliding and whipping up a perfect storm of depression, anxiety, and mental health disorders. 

From the children who have lost the simple pleasures of playdates and the bittersweet school closures to the elderly and ailing being isolated from loved ones and everyone in between, with an incredibly special nod to those in our society working on the frontline of this virus, no one will exit this episode in human history unscathed.  

The uncertainty, restrictions, isolation and fast, deep changes to our freedoms and behaviors will impact on each one of us in profound ways, now and in the aftermath. 

There will also be silver linings, a realization gratitude for all those trivial things that we take for granted such as coffee with a friend or watching children play in a park; how communities can pull together to support each other and how Mother Natures ‘reset button’ has shown us what could change or be returned to the past for the better. 

Nevertheless, change, good or bad, is unsettling and tends to stir up some very inherent emotions and feelings. An unprecedented mass pandemic coupled with a steep change in world power dynamics such as an acrimonious divorce between Europe and the UK, America teetering on dictatorship, Putin flexing some serious muscle and the ongoing unrest in the Middle East, not to mention what is or is not happening with China could be described as the negative side of ‘change.'

How can we protect ourselves or bolster those strategies, potentially precarious, for maintaining mental wellbeing? New Dawn TMS Psychiatry Los Angeles outlines excellent coping strategies listed below. However. in the event of overwhelming feelings that no longer respond, please do not hesitate to seek medical assistance, treatment, psychiatry or any of the other therapies that serve to support your mental health. 

  1. Firstly, it is imperative to acknowledge what you can and cannot control. Coronavirus has brought in essential changes to manage the progress of the infection that can cause immense personal frustration. Nobody can totally control a virus and its ramifications, governments and wealth of experts are struggling so becoming resentful about what it is and what it is causing is understandable but impotent. It will only increase negative and angry self-talk which only damages you and anyone around you especially when you feel powerless. Cue ‘Frozen' and ‘Let it go'….. Attempt to identify when your own internal dialogue is ramping up your emotion. This is the fastest way to experience anger or distress at something trivial. Consider when a Facebook post or news item outraged or saddened you, were you able to experience the emotion then move on, or did it change your day? It is remarkably similar only the trigger is exclusive to you. On that note, minimize contact with social media and news to keep that pendulum swing of reaction as still as possible.
  2. With constantly changing lockdowns, rules, isolation, and the subsequent anxieties, ‘taking one day at a time’ could not be more apt. Nobody knows what the future looks like under normal circumstances, but we all have routines, rituals, and much predictability in our daily lives. We also have boundaries set by ourselves, our personal groups, communities, and society. These have all been quickly eradicated by a threat to our health. Going back to the earlier comments, this cannot be controlled. Attempting to do so is akin to holding back the tide. Know your limits, focus on what you can control such as what and when you eat, what you wear, whether to do some exercise etc. Do not waste good worry on tomorrow or next week until it arrives. 
  3. This is a big ask, practice gratitude. We tend to have our eye on the next goal, whether it is getting a coveted item in a sale or a bigger house. we lose sight of what we already have, in fact many of us are already setting up the next ‘desire’ without taking any time to really appreciate the one we have just achieved. Alternatively, we invested so much into accomplishment but do not achieve the fulfillment we thought it promised. Practicing gratitude is about taking everything back to basics. dismantling the complicated framework of your ideas about what you believe will make you happy, accepted, belonging, successful, content. It encourages you to see what abundance you already have in your life through new eyes. Your health and how it allows you to participate fully in life. Imagine, really imagine losing your legs or your sight, then you will understand gratitude for having them. Fresh, clean sheets on a comfortable bed that you can sleep in every night, breathe in the scent of washed cotton and the sensation of cool bedding moulding warmth around you. Pay attention to the people in your life and contemplate how they enrich your life and what it would be like without them. Tell them. Some people keep a journal and list a few things for which you feel gratitude every evening before sleeping, others add small notes to a gratitude jar. Whatever works for you, but this is an amazing practice to centering yourself and being mindful.
  4. Random acts of kindness are another form of gratitude and has positive repercussions that echo beyond your awareness. attempt to be open to opportunities to be kind such as smiling at every stranger you encounter on your walks or giving compliments on Facebook. Buying a coffee or a meal on or volunteering to support vulnerable people during the lockdown or at your local food bank will distract you from your own anxieties and be supporting your community. The hidden benefits are making connections with new friends and increasing routine activities during this unprecedented time.
  5. Move your body and contact nature. Exercise is one of the most crucial elements of mental health wellbeing and has immediate effects. Simply walking to the local corner shop or getting out into the garden is a start and, in some cases, is enough. Cold or warm, breathing in fresh air and using your body is healing. Practice gratitude for being able to walk, being aware of the sensations running through your body, not just the aches and pains, experiencing the weather, watching the sky, listening to the birds listening to all contributes to your sense of self. Nature reminds us that life goes on and is irrepressible, from the grand stature and endless nature of trees to the dandelion defeating the odds to reach through paving stones.

Take advantage of all the resources available online, from books to podcasts to apps to forums; initiate and engage in conversations about your friends and loved one's feelings, there is no obligation to offer solutions just a sympathetic ear; take each day as it comes and always reach out for help if you feel you are drowning in depression or anxiety.

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