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What's vital is to keep yourself moving forward

Brent Pope

We all have a set of tools that can help us mentally through this stressful time, writes Brent Pope


'Writing things down allows us to assimilate the information far more productively than just thinking about it' (stock photo)

'Writing things down allows us to assimilate the information far more productively than just thinking about it' (stock photo)

Getty Images

'Writing things down allows us to assimilate the information far more productively than just thinking about it' (stock photo)

After a few short weeks of this pandemic, it's hard to imagine life will return to normal. For many that is scary. It is hard to grasp. Our mental wellbeing depends largely on the 'status quo', none of us do 'change' well.

Despite a life spent dealing with panic attacks and catastrophe anxiety, I am in a better position to deal with enforced isolation than most. I have built up coping mechanisms to survive, a set of tools to get me over periods that have been psychologically difficult.

How people feel in lockdown will depend on their physiological make-up. For some, it is a welcome respite from the daily grind. Others, especially those already suffering from anxiety, are now experiencing a heightened sense of worry.

There are also the 'worried well' glued to Dr Google, convincing themselves they have what they have been most worried about. We have all heard of the 'fight-or-flight' response to danger. For many, that can be a positive response if used effectively - a little anxiety can keep us alert and prepare us for action.

Most of us experience anxiety because we perceive our lives to be out of our control, and the coronavirus has that effect. For me, it is about controlling the anxiety, the loneliness, the boredom of isolation.

Stage one: I structure my day and that always means writing it down. Writing things down allows us to assimilate the information far more productively than just thinking about it.

Start with achievements, small daily goals you can accomplish. For me, it's getting up at the usual time, showering, making a healthy breakfast and then writing my list of projects (painting the house); for others, it may be taking a brisk walk around their 2km restriction zone, or going online to get into the downward dog yoga position. Set small achievable goals for your day, and leave the life-changing decisions until after this isolation ends. You will have time for those, but now they only add stress.

Grasping control also means doing all you can by keeping safe, and following guidelines around care, hygiene and social distancing. Achievement, even in small doses, is a boost for positive mindfulness. I score my little achievements out of 10 on a card, and maybe that's something you could do with your children. How did it make them feel to sit quietly at the dining room table engrossed in a new painting or a book or to help dad paint the fence?

Stage 2: Connect. Right now we all crave human connection with friends, neighbours, family or community. Social media is great in that regard.

Stage 3: Enjoy yourself. Take time to enjoy meditation or wellbeing exercises, play the piano, or enjoy a movie or vinyl. The mind cannot concentrate on different thoughts at the same time, despite you thinking it can. So when I'm in a movie I'm in it.

Lastly before I go to bed, a good night's sleep is also crucial, I write down three or four things I am grateful for in my life, and even when I'm down and it's a struggle to find them, I always do: gratitude in life, kindness, nature, love, family, community or country. There are always things to be grateful for around you every minute of every day, it's just about noticing them - try smelling the roses rather than touching the thorns.

For so many years, I was ashamed that I couldn't always fix myself by myself, that it was a weakness as a man to open up. But it's OK not to feel OK sometimes and it's OK to ask for help. At times like these, find someone you trust to confide in. I have finally realised that being able to ask for help or to open up may just be my greatest strength.

Rugby pundit Brent Pope is a leading mental health advocate and has qualifications in psychotherapy and counselling

Sunday Independent

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