Tag Archives: mental health

Partially empty Christmas table

It’s ok–Christmas hasn’t been cancelled!

Across the world many will be experiencing a different kind of Christmas this year. The Covid-19 pandemic has shocked the world. In the UK, it’s been announced that many cannot spend it with anyone outside their household. I’ve heard people say “Christmas is cancelled” so I’ve felt moved to respond.

This year, people have been hit with loss beyond anything anyone expected, we’re beginning to try and pick up the pieces, hoping Christmas will help, then we’ve been told, a week before Christmas that we need to change our plans. Some will be feeling frustrated about the guidelines “constantly changing” or anxiety about spending Christmas in an unplanned way, some will be annoyed at the Big Brother treatment or overwhelmed with managing last minute changes. Personally, I’m angry and sad at people who’re incapable at following simple guidance, it’s the small minority spoiling it for the majority who’re now having to follow more stringent rules.

What’s important is, whatever you’re feeling, it’s valid and you give yourself space to feel what you’re feeling, while also understanding what you can and can’t control.

Let me explain

Your feelings are your feelings and no one can tell you what you’re feeling. You might even be feeling relieved—sometimes it can help to write down how you’re feeling or talk about them with a trusted friend.

Problems come when you deny your feelings, push them down or try to swallow them, they’ll come out eventually; you or those around you will suffer. We can’t control the virus or the guidelines set out by the government. What we can control is how we respond and keeping a positive attitude helps makes it easier to cope. A positive attitude doesn’t mean, pretending everything is fine!

Perhaps this year, we can learn from the first Christ-mas…

During her last trimester, the government ordered Jesus’ mum to take a long journey. How unsettling would this have felt?! But she didn’t complain, she just did as she was told. Does this remind you of anything?

Joseph considers leaving Mary as he thought she’d been unfaithful but he didn’t, he trusted God. How many people are angry at God, just now? Blaming him and asking “how”? Or “why”? Perhaps, instead, we can say, “please be with us in our troubles”? For he will be there in a heart beat, as soon as we reach out.

There was no room for Mary and Joseph but an inn keeper let them stay in his cattle shed. This year, how will you help the homeless or those less fortunate?

Jesus was born and laid in an animal’s feeding trough. At this time of year, it’s usually a time of plenty where food and materialism takes centre stage. Some people, this year won’t have enough food, How great would it be if our children grew up appreciating the smaller things in life instead of ‘needing’ the lasting gadget due to FOMO?

Mug of hot chocolate with marshmallows and ginger bread biscuit

Christmas isn’t about presents, decorations or even about friends and family. This year, some people won’t be able to afford presents, may have lost their home and may not be spending it with anyone they choose but Christmas can be what you make it. Perhaps a lie-in, a spot of yoga, a walk and a Christmas movie while enjoying a some cheese and crackers will be what works this year? Perhaps you’d rather play an album of heavy rock a full volume while head banging and playing air guitar is your thing? This year is about doing what works!

It may not be possible to be with our loved ones this year but technology may bring us together. A short zoom call could bring some important connectivity.

Some thing good that occurred when the church building doors shut in March this year. Many churches are continuing the live stream all of the services. Perhaps this Christmas you could check out one of these? You’ll be able to find the Arch Bishop of Canterbury Justin Welby on Facebook by using this link. My local church St Mark’s will be live on YouTube with all the links accessible from the website.

Family decorating Christmas tree

But what about all those traditions?! Maybe this is the year you re-evaluate whether you really want to continue all those traditions, is it time for new traditions? This is a great time to have a good think about what’s really important, have you been doing things the same every year just because that’s what you’ve always done? If you come to the conclusion that you really want to stick with everything you’ve always done, there’s always next year; but maybe you’ll see things with fresh eyes and realise that you don’t have to do things the same every year!

Remember this is just one year, one day, don’t put so much pressure on it that it’s spoilt. Be honest with yourself and those around you about how you’re feeling but don’t let those feelings control you. You can chose how you respond.

What is lockdown brain? And what to do about it!

A survey conducted by the Alzheimer’s Society showed that since being forced to stay isolated and inside their homes, 82% of people with dementia saw a deterioration in symptoms.

Knot on finger "Just a reminder"

But it’s not just those already showing memory problems who’re struggling. Many of us are forgetting to buy milk, to write that email (again…) or that word that’s on the tip of your tongue!

There are different types of memory, research is helping us to understand how the constraint have impacted us.

  • Loneliness has had the biggest impact on people’s mood—feeling depressed is known to have an impact on memory
  • Lack of social interactions—repetition of stories helps consolidate memories of events (episodic memories). Watercooler moments can mean we talk to dozens of people in day, these aren’t happening with people furloughed or working from home. As big events have been cancelled, even when we have chatted with friends and family we’ve had fewer stories to tell meaning we’re not exercising out episodic memory.
  • People have been feeling generally more anxious and there’s more uncertainty. This has been worst for young people, people living on low incomes, people in urban areas and those with children.
  • When there’s less variety in our lives and lack of memory cues—it’s hard to differentiate one day from the next and we simply can’t remember what we’ve done! When all your meetings are in front of the same screen, they’re all the same, there’s no way to tag your memory. In the office you might walk passed the lift where you had a conversation and it reminds you to email someone or you’ll drive by the petrol station on your commute home and it’ll remind you of the milk you need to buy.mum using computer looking tired with children in the background running riot
  • Disturbed sleep due to lack of stimulation and worrying about the pandemic is causing fatigue. The brain, like any organ needs us to be fit and healthy, poor sleep, lack or exercise and poor sleep, and it’s functioning less well.
  • Not going out and about and finding our way around means the size of our hippocampus is decreasing (the seahorse shaped structure in the brain involved in learning and memory)—it’s a use it or lose it scenario! Research has found London cab drivers have an incredibly large hippocampus!

But there is good news—there are things we can do to stimulate our brains again!

  • Go for a walk each day, especially along unfamiliar streets.
  • Turn the videocall into a phone call and go for a walk instead of sitting in front of the computer.
  • Make sure the weekend is different from the weekdays or make sure you have specified rest days that are noticeably different.
  • Do something creative and new and tell someone about it afterwards.
  • Deliberately reflect on your day, even in a diary can help. Remembering what you did and recounting it exercises your brain.
  • Don’t be ashamed of using alarms and alerts on your phone, these are helpful cues for your brain.walking in the countryside
  • If trying to remember a list of items, for example a shopping list, imagine yourself in the aisle in the shop actually picking up the items.
  • To fight fatigue, good sleep hygiene is best for a good night’s sleep—no caffeine or sugar before bed, sleep in a dark cool room and make sure you’ve had fresh air and/or exercise everyday.

If you’re struggling with anxiety or depression, it’s important to get the right support. Contact your GP or speak to a counsellor or therapist. If you’re finding it difficult to cope, talking about it will be the best thing you can do.

Lady using phone and laptop

Therapy in a post-covid world

Imagine you’ve been seeing a therapist once a week to help manage a mental health condition, then the COVID-19 pandemic hits your country and you’re suddenly in lockdown. Everyone around you is concerned with whether they can buy enough toilet roll, work from home, arrange childcare or finish buying the supplies for their DIY project; while these things are important to you, you’re world has been turned upside down because the one place you felt completely safe was your therapist’s room and you have no idea when you’ll be able to return.

There are a number of issues to consider when thinking about delivering therapy remotely, it’s important to think about keeping everyone safe:

  • Is the client’s space confidential? How comfortable do they feel? Might they be distracted/interrupted by other people/chores etc? This is particularly important for cases involving domestic abuse or relationship issues.
  • There are a number of options—phone, text only or video conferencing all have pros and cons for client and counsellor. Security of the software is a consideration as well as how the clients data will be managed.
  • It’s important to assess the psychological needs of the client, it may be inappropriate for certain people to engage remotely/virtually due to the type or severity of their problems—this needs to be handled sensitively.

For some agencies in March 2020 (when lockdown hit in the UK), their automatic reaction was shutdown, there was no way that they could function if they couldn’t meet their clients face-to-face. For their clients this could have hit them incredibly hard, they could have felt let down, even abandoned, past hurts may have been recreated. Of course, at ever point, risk assessments were carried out to try and meet the needs of the clients, check in calls were offered and referrals were made to ensure high risk clients could be supported by other services.

What are the pros and cons of virtual therapy and what does it really fell like?!

Not meeting a client face-to-face, obviously, a lot of the nuance is lost. Depending on whether the communication is on the phone, via video call or text based, you may lose body language, eye contact, facial expression or even intonation of voice. Experts say that 70-93% of language is non-verbal so you lose a lot when you’re not in the same room as the person you’re talking to.

young female looking sad texting

But everyone has been struggling during this global pandemic and it’s been vital for people with mental health difficulties to get support. So many therapists and counsellors have stepped up and sought appropriate training. It’s important to take the following into consideration:

  • From the client’s perspective, meeting in their home could feel invasive, or they may not be able to find a confidential space. However there could be benefits such as the client not having to commute. If, however, the client finds it difficult to wind down after a session, grounding exercises can be used.
  • The therapist may continue to use their therapy room but if they use videoconferencing in their own home, they need to consider what’s in the background (books? photographs? things they wouldn’t usually choose to disclose?). If the therapist chooses to use a photograph to conceal the background, how does that look to the client? What are they hiding?
  • It has been found that clients are less inhibited when remote from their counsellor, they will therefore find it easier to criticise the counsellor and will also talk about deeper issues more quickly than when they’re not face-to-face. The counsellor will need to be prepared for the former and it will be important to remember the client may feel vulnerable if the latter occurs.
  • When using phone or text only medium, it’s harder to use silence as a therapeutic tool. If videoconferencing, breaking the silence with “has the screen frozen?” isn’t particularly therapeutic!
  • Contracting needs to have additional consideration e.g. what happens if the technology fails? what do you do if there’s an interruption?
  • Counsellors need to be aware of the blackhole effect. This is the impact that occurs when a client disappears and is not contactable (what to do if this happens will need to be in the contract). Although this can bring up difficult feelings when the relationship has been face-to-face, it has been found the clients are more likely to do it when the relationship is virtual and the feelings that surface in the counsellor can be difficult to manage if counsellor is unprepared or inexperienced.
Lady on video call

I’ve wondered why it took such an extraordinary event, a global pandemic, to open up the world and ensure that people with disabilities could access work and services equally? It’s fantastic that remote counselling is now so widely used and so many more people are now able to access it but there’s a lot to consider.

It’s important that therapists and counsellors are confident in their abilities and fully trained as there are many differences between face-to-face and remote counselling. Since the world of counselling isn’t regulated, this is another layer that has required professionals and students to act responsibly with regards to our ethical framework.

If you’re looking for a counsellor, it’s more important than ever to ensure they belong to a regulate body, such as the UKCP or BACP and that they have suitable training if you’re going to meet with them remotely.