The repercussions of Brexit, the Covid-19 pandemic, and more recently the war in Ukraine has been negatively impacting our collective mental health in different ways. Distressing images of the loss of life, lockdowns, fear about catching the coronavirus virus, economic instability, job losses, and 24/7 negative news can cause informational and emotional overload. This is on top of the stresses that we already experience in our everyday lives. Therefore it is not surprising that you may be feeling heightened levels of stress, anxiety and worry about the future.
You may have found yourself responding in ways that are unhelpful over the long terms such as drinking or eating much more than normal, binge-watching endless TV, doomscrolling, having angry outbursts, sleepless nights, or avoiding leaving the house. If you’ve noticed that you’re doing things like this, it could be time to start making some small positive changes to improve your wellbeing over the long term. This change can feel overwhelming it itself, so here are some ideas on how to make a start.
1. Notice Your Emotions
It’s very easy to be so busy with life that you are unaware of how you are feeling. Then days, weeks and even months may pass by without you realising the constant stress you have been under until you’re feeling completely overwhelmed and burned out. Instead, it can be helpful to practice pausing for a few minutes at different times during the day to focus on the present and become more aware of your feelings. When you know what you’re feeling, you then have information to help you discover what you need to feel better, and then you can take positive action to manage your thoughts and soothe difficult emotions before they become overwhelming.
2. Practice Self-Compassion
You may be feeling annoyed or frustrated at yourself for feeling worried, or you may be afraid to tell others how you feel for fear of being criticised. This can result in you burying your feelings, or actually adding to your stress by being self-critical. This often makes the situation worse. In reality, it’s natural to be impacted by events around you, and feeling anxious or concerned is completely understandable. So when you notice how you’re feeling, instead try to change your inner dialogue to be more caring, self-compassionate and understanding. If you find this difficult, imagine what you’d say to a friend in this situation, and then instead say to yourself!
3. Accept that some things can’t be controlled
Feeling like we’re in control, can help us to feel OK. So when events make aspects of life feel uncertain and out of control, it can be natural to start worrying. However, worry isn’t the same as troubleshooting, it’s more like sitting on a rocking horse. It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t take you anywhere. If you can catch yourself worrying, can you pause and notice if it’s something you can or can’t control? If you can’t control the situation, you may need to find a way to park it somewhere, like writing it on a worry list, that you can leave for a while. If there is something that you can control, then you can move into troubleshooting and take positive action.
For example, if you’re worried about the easing of covid restrictions, you may instead decide to continue wearing a mask and in the short term, you may decide to socialise with people who you know are careful and take your concerns seriously. If you’re worried about increasing fuel prices, you may look at ways that you can reduce your consumption, or look at other ways of cutting costs. If you’re concerned about what’s happening in Ukraine, you may want to donate money or supplies to charity, or volunteer at organisations that support war-torn countries. None of these examples are easy or quick-win solutions. The point is to try to channel your energies into something that can improve your wellbeing, rather than contributing to you feeling endlessly stuck. It’s also important to not worry about what others think but to do what is right for you.
4. Practice Self-Care
Self-care is about engaging in activities that soothe your mind and body so that you can get back to a place of feeling more grounded and balanced. Self-care could be engaging in activities like puzzles, cuddling with a pet, having a warm bath or eating good food. You could connect with compassionate friends or family members or colleagues digitally or in-person either to express how you feel or to have a laugh to lighten your day. Mindfulness is also a useful activity to help with managing your emotional wellbeing. Learning to be mindful (present) for even a few minutes a day can reduce cortisol, the stress hormone you can find links to some mindfulness apps here. And if sitting silently does not work for you, rhythmic physical activities such as walking, bicycling, dancing or jogging might help you connect to your body and relieve stress.
Everyone is different, and what works well for your friend, or colleague may not work well for you. So be prepared to try different things, and if you don’t find something that is helpful, ask yourself why, and if you can adapt the activity to suit you. If not, it may give you clues as to what would be more helpful.