I continue to process my own responses to the ongoing trauma of this pandemic. This with the ongoing mutual support of my colleagues and with extremely useful online training and information that I have received from both local and international sources. I am pausing with deep muscle relaxation, on a very regular basis, to let the relevant and credible information settle and to draw deep inside myself for strength, calm and balance. It helps greatly that I am living and working surrounded by beautiful nature.
I am vigilant in knowing the difference between a normal response to traumatic events with a heightened experience of anxiety, panic, irritability and depression that settles with time and resilience, to when my clients are feeling progressively overwhelmed with uncontained anxiety, major depression and the need for urgent, further professional intervention to prevent significant current and future mental health issues.
I listen deeply and empathically to each person’s story. It is a privilege for me to share their stories and emotional tapestry in a collaborative, safe space; their anxieties, depression, joy, resilience and huge courage.
There has been a tendency to cook, bake and eat comfort food in this very distressing time in our lives. This is often an attempt to comfort the deep dis-ease within. We talk in therapy about clients’ different ways of sharing food with people who are desperately poor and hungry, to ways of donating money, time, talents or other resources with those who are in need. We also talk about the value of eating nutritious food and snacks at this time so as to avoid unnecessary weight gain which is a common complaint of my clients.
It has been interesting to hear the natural urge of most people who want to go outside to walk, run or cycle. It goes without saying that exercise inside or preferably outside in the fresh air is a great way to burn up stress and to calm down. It is a way to feel in control when the unpredictability of the pandemic challenges our assumption of ever having had control.
With no control over the outside world and the future, I am enjoying, metaphorically and virtually, walking with my clients into their inner worlds; exploring their imagination and creativity; these from the foods that they are cooking and baking for themselves and for others, to the paintings and other artworks that they are making. A client started creating a beautiful balcony garden of herbs. She described how this process lifted her mood and calmed her in these turbulent times.
Another client was waiting for lockdown to end so that she could buy mannequins to paint. When she could wait no longer, she searched her home and found some porcelain pots. She showed me the most beautiful artwork that she has created on these pots and shared how it has been so healing for her. This client is in lockdown after getting out of a physically dangerous marriage. So not only is she coping with the anxiety and depression of her abusive marriage but also with the isolation and financial uncertainty of her forthcoming divorce. I have been inspired by her courage and faith.
I am learning from the tools that people are creating and sharing with me and with others. I have listened to classical musicians playing wonderful music for patients who are in ICU in New York. They have organised to have phones placed next to patients. The patients who previously were hearing the frightening noises of the ICU are now hearing the beautiful sounds of music. In response to this, healthcare workers have reported a significant calming of their patients.
I have encouraged my musical clients to play their music for themselves and to hear the joy of their own voices when they join others in their neighbourhood, or further afield, to play music together; while being physically apart. Those of us who do not play an instrument, can listen to the music of others and feel our breathing become deeper, more rhythmical and calmer.
Clients are remembering fun, treasured memories from their lives before lockdown and sharing their moments of laughter even in these times of pain and loss. I recommend this as a healing tool, especially if they can learn to do this without experiencing overshadowing feelings of guilt.
We are walking together into the unknown. While I have always felt respectful of my client’s journey and always believed that I should walk at the pace of my client, with this pandemic, I am even more careful and respectful to walk at the same pace as my client, so that we can navigate this everchanging learning curve together.
Regular sleep is known to build resilience with a healthy immune system. This helps us to cope better with anxiety, depression and the challenges of relationships. So sleep hygiene; with regular bedtime in a cool dark room is part of what I suggest. This, together with the relaxation exercises discussed below.
Deep muscle relaxation with creative visualisation and music is a skill that I learned and adapted over the past many years primarily to lower anxiety levels, promote pain relief and improve sleep. It is a tool that I have successfully shared in workshops with colleagues, the business community and in my private practice.
Should you wish to try this practice yourself, or add it to your toolkit, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with DEEP MUSCLE RELAXATION in the subject line and I shall send it to you via WeTransfer. There will be no cost to you.
In summary, please remember that no one needs to feel alone. Know that in a crisis, such as this pandemic, there is frequently a state of panic, with anxiety and depression and with some time and increased resilience, there is an adjustment, both physically and emotionally, to the new normal.
Some signs that you need more intensive help include unrelenting higher levels of anxiety and deeper depressed mood with disturbed eating and sleeping patterns. If you are feeling overwhelmed, and increasingly anxious and depressed, and this feeling persists for a while and is worsening over time; despite that you have used some of the above and/or your own self-help tools, reach out to your medical, psychological and/or holistic healthcare provider.
Take Care and Stay Safe.