Category: Pandemic Matters

How can I help at this time as a Counselling Psychologist?

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 susan@musikanth.com  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.

 

Healing Acts of Kindness

My clients are a group of special people, many of whom have been checking in on me to find out how I am doing. This, in the midst of their own challenges.

 

It’s as if there is a supportive system of connectedness in the world where the best kind of energy and strength is being shared, and where we are learning the ropes from each other as we walk this unpredictable and often scary journey together.

 

There are wonderful people who are discovering that through sharing their time, talents and resources they feel more proactive, purposeful and less anxious.

 

 

For some, it is the small things like leaving dry food on top of bins for the weekly collectors of garbage and thinking about the ordinary person who is trying to do their work in the face of the danger of catching the virus. By wearing a mask to avoid others’ getting sick, and staying home so as not to risk getting sick and overcrowding the health systems, we can all impact many lives.

 

The kindness of the very wealthy celebrities, like sportsmen and women, musicians, artists, actors and more, who are bringing joy, fun, food and money to those less fortunate. These icons are to be respected for being willing to get their hands dirty and to place their feet firmly on this shaky ground.

 

Then there are those whose sense of community leads them onto the rooftops of apartment buildings to play music, or make communal noise to thank the heroes who are putting their lives on the line in the work they are doing.

 

Whether it is a spiritual belief, a trust in the force of nature or following an organised religion or a gut instinctive feeling, I am comforted by the knowledge that we are not alone. We have support from other people on earth and from the greater universal energy, however that may be defined and described by each individual person.

 

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 susan@musikanth.com  with DEEP MUSCLE RELAXATION in the subject line and I shall send it to you via WeTransfer. There will be no cost to you.

 

Exploring Emotional Responses

I am grateful that I am able to continue to offer telehealth, or distance therapy, sessions for my clients. I have noticed that some have responded to the trauma of the pandemic with expected intense feelings of anxiety, low mood, guilt at having food and shelter whilst so many are deprived of these basics, and stress over ongoing unpredictability.

 

 

Having a Purpose

Clients in this group are generally able to fund their expenses. They are mostly feeling a great sense of purpose and control when they are able to give of their time, talent and money to those less fortunate. They appreciate having more time and not having to rush from one meeting or appointment to another or from exhausting social gatherings, all of which have been termed ‘hurry sickness’.  They are either locked down with their families and are enjoying this special and rare bonding time or are alone with partners in good or good enough relationships.

 

These clients talk also of the cleaner world that they are seeing around them. They enjoy hearing more birdsong and breathing cleaner air, this when they are able to go outside. They express the wish that the world of governments and industry will see the value of a greener, cleaner earth for all of us.

 

They are recognising that the plight of the desperately poor is not new and their hope is that there will be a new focus on the divide between the haves and the have-nots in the new normal world. These clients who are mostly coping, with renewed resilience and courage, are sometimes feeling that they are riding a rollercoaster with the highs and lows of change, but are generally feeling quite strong.

 

Double Trauma

Then there are clients who are really struggling with the ongoing and unrelenting trauma of this pandemic. It feels to them like a double wounding and a double trauma. These clients are finding that the pandemic is triggering their worst fears and feelings; anxiety that was an issue prior to the pandemic is amplified and very difficult to moderate, and depression is intensified with the isolation of lockdown. It is this group of clients who need extra care and attention at this time.

 

Below are some of the feelings that have been expressed by many of my clients; some by those who are generally coping well and those who are particularly vulnerable at this time of ongoing trauma.

 

Stress of boredom

I have heard the stress of boredom from many people; some who are used to a busy social life and others who depend on being with people in person, both at work or at home, to entertain and stimulate.

 

Loss of privacy

We have, in the past (pre-pandemic), spoken at length about partners, husbands, children and pets if there are any. So far, I have only met the well-loved pets online, and heard some background noises from the children, but haven’t as yet met partners or husbands.  There was, however, an unexpected appearance on Zoom of a client’s Mom who didn’t realise that her adult daughter was in a private therapy session. It turned out well though with Mom being introduced to me and quietly exiting the space.

Financial insecurity

Feelings of anxiety, depression and anger when clients have not been able to work, either on their own or in someone else’s business. This leads to severe financial insecurity and lack of control over their futures.

Uncertainty

Most people are expressing the stress of uncertainty; ‘How long will this last?’, ‘When will we be able to get back to work?’, ‘My sanity depends on regular walks at any time on the beachfront’, ‘I really, really need to get out there and into my life. I don’t know, however, what my life in the new future, will look like?’

 

Elderly clients whose children and grandchildren live overseas and who have had to adapt over the years to irregular visits, are experiencing the anxiety of: ‘What happens if I get sick?’ ‘How will my son visit when he cannot travel?’, ‘Who will come to my funeral if I get sick and die from Corona or from the other illnesses that I currently have?’

Loss of familiarity

Most clients are facing the stress of change where everything is different and where just as they get used to a new status quo, things that are becoming comfortable and familiar are again changed. There is a mourning of familiarity and a sense of loss of normalcy.

Information frustration

Many clients are suffering from media information overload and infodemics; the latter where the pandemic is used to fuel conspiracy theories, these in the minds of already vulnerable people who are fearful and searching desperately for answers and someone or a government to blame.

Childcare conflict

Clients with babies and toddlers are working from home and really struggling to deal with the seemingly endless needs of their children. This is resulting in conflict within the parental relationship that is amplified as both parents are working. The grandparents, who would usually assist, are in isolation and unable to do so.

 

There are parents juggling the demands of work, housework, healthy food preparation as well as managing home-schooling schedules for their children in different schools. Helping their children to manage their school work and their anxieties requires a lot of their energy, patience and time. Some young and older children are either struggling to fall asleep at night or are waking in the early hours of the morning; too anxious to fall asleep again. This of course impacts further on the parents, leaving them feeling exhausted and helpless.

Loss of self-care. Loss of couple-care

With so many demands at home, the parents are describing how they are not finding the time nor the energy to care for themselves. This too translates into little time, space or energy left for partners to relate to each other; physically, emotionally and/or sexually.

 

Some clients who live with their families in small apartments and are used to getting out to work and to exercise are now feeling very cooped up and not able to get much needed space. Weight gain due to lack of regular exercise and increased comfort eating or junk food intake is causing some clients to be more stressed now. A change in sleep patterns caused by struggling to fall or stay asleep through the night is also adding stress for some.

Loneliness

People who are living on their own have been particularly stressed by not being able to connect in person with others.

 

The elderly, who previously relied on being visited by their children or grandchildren, are now expressing a visceral ache of loneliness as their lives were made more valuable by a visit and a hug from family.

 

They are also missing their regular visits to the GP, specialist or me, where they felt safe and could speak freely. While they consult online if they can, it is not quite the same for these clients. This pandemic has changed everything for them.

Fear

I listen to those who have serious illnesses and they understandably worry about consulting their doctors in a hospital setting where, already immune compromised, they fear catching Covid-19. Clients are fearing the unknown.


Grief

This is a time of great loss. My clients are mourning the loss of everything that they knew as normal. While none of them have as yet lost anyone through Covid -19, they are fearing this loss as we move towards the peak of the pandemic in South Africa. They are also experiencing secondary trauma when they watch world news that is reporting so much death and destruction from this pandemic.

Guilt

I am hearing of guilt and shame from clients who are trying to help others but are feeling that they can never do enough for the poor and hungry. There are those who feel so emotionally wretched and do not want to burden their already burdened family and friends with their troubles.

 

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 susan@musikanth.com  with DEEP MUSCLE RELAXATION in the subject line and I shall send it to you via WeTransfer. There will be no cost to you.

Telehealth

My partner and I are staying in our holiday house in Paradise Beach, Langebaan, for the foreseeable future. We left our apartment in Green Point on the 25 March after hearing about a positive Coronavirus case in our building. I am so thankful that at a time when the focus and attention of myself as a psychologist is essential, I can continue to support previously established face-to-face therapeutic relationships as well as a few first-time clients, online, via Telehealth.

 

 

Telehealth, or ‘distance therapy’, refers to the use of technology for therapeutic needs of clients, who are not located in the same room as the mental health professional. With no real training or experience with long-distance therapy, this pandemic has pushed me to learn quickly how to provide services to my clients that don’t feel too different from when we physically share space in my therapy room. For this reason I encourage clients to have a cup of chai tea, coffee or water before joining our online sessions in the hope that their familiar drink will be nourishing in the same way as when we shared my therapy room before lockdown.

 

I have encountered some drawbacks to online consulting, such as the guest appearances of pets and young children wanting attention as well as the sudden loss of internet connection, just at the point of an intense interaction. Noticing subtle non-verbal cues of clients through the veil of a screen is becoming less of a challenge for myself as well as for my clients. There is a feeling of camaraderie, and a sense that we can and will help one another to feel at ease in this new online therapy situation, and with each session, it does indeed feel more natural to communicate this way.

 

In therapeutic sessions we talk about clients’ world view that keeps evolving. I listen, acknowledge and respect all of their feelings; from the pain of loss of normalcy and loss of control, to the devastating effects of isolation and loneliness, from lack of touch and human contact, to fear of catching Covid-19 and possibly dying alone. When possible, we share stories of exquisite joy, fun and moments of peace, even as the feelings of vulnerability and uncertainty continue to push back.

 

Quite recently, we’ve added to the heaving emotional load, fears of our security and police forces, who we have witnessed acting with a particularly heavy-hand when dealing with non-compliance of the new laws.

 

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 susan@musikanth.com  with DEEP MUSCLE RELAXATION in the subject line and I shall send it to you via WeTransfer. There will be no cost to you.