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Stress, depression and anxiety have all soared during lockdown, with parents and carers experiencing the most pressure. Indeed, research from Oxford University shows that parental stress and depression were elevated during the first lockdown (when most children were home-schooled).
Furthermore, the same study found that many parents — especially those of secondary-age pupils — say they are worried about their children’s futures.
When it comes to the issues people are experiencing, difficulty relaxing, feeling hopeless and being irritable were among the most prevalent.
According to the research by University College London, 40% of people report exercising less in the current Covid-19 lockdown than in the first, with just 13% saying they exercise more. Furthermore, 19% of people say they are watching TV, streaming films and gaming more than in the first lockdown.
These findings are particularly concerning when you consider the health benefits (both physical and mental) that regular exercise affords.
People are struggling
Add to this the sense of volatility in terms of politics and government and the struggle feels more heightened. The Capitol riots in the US and the racial health issues that the pandemic is spot-lighting here in the UK are just some of the social factors impacting most of us on some level, increasing the load of the covid context.
So if you feel like you are struggling more now compared to the first phases of this pandemic, know that you’re not alone. We are all struggling more than we’d normally be. Not only is it perfectly okay to feel overwhelmed at the moment, in fact, it would be a cause for concern if you said you were doing great. That’s why it’s not only okay to be at Amber right now, it’s actually the healthy state to be in.
Why it’s healthy to be at Amber now
In a nutshell, we use Green, Amber and Red lights to symbolise how a person is doing — much like the dashboard indicators in a car. When we are at Green, we are doing good, feeling solid and sturdy. Amber symbolises that are are starting to struggle or what is going on is challenging for us. Red means we are really struggling and now reacting by instinct (often our Flight / Fight / Freeze response) rather than responding constructively. Ideally, we want to recognise the Amber signs so we can make changes to avoid finding ourselves stuck at Red.
Back in October, we wrote a blog about how to stay strong during the upcoming Covid winter. In it, we outlined why it is important to always keep an eye on those around you ‒ friends, family, colleagues, loved ones, etc. ‒ as well as yourself and look for signs of struggle. We explained how there are a number of early indicators you can look out for to identify when someone is struggling. You can read that blog here.
A first for me
I am finding myself saying: ‘the healthy state to be in, at least more of the time, is Amber.
This is a first for me because while I have said this to people on an individual basis, I have never applied it across everyone I’m working with but that’s pretty much the case with every consultation I’m doing.
Normally we would be aiming for the baseline to be Green and sometimes cycling up to Amber, perhaps then Red red and coming back down, that’s not the case right now. The centre of gravity has shifted, for now, to Amber and that’s where we are now hanging out most of the time.
A person who is persistently presenting at Green at the moment, to me, is actually a concern, like a warning signal. This ‘Green’ presentation suggests that the person is in denial or avoiding dealing with what’s going on which at some point is then likely to come through in inappropriate behaviours or health issues (mental or physical).
The brain in lockdown
I use the slide above when delivering managing leaders training to help people visualise the difference between the three parts / scoops of your brain. If you’ve been following our blogs for a while, this will be a concept you’re familiar with. If you have not heard about this metaphor before or you need a refresher, you can find out more in this blog post.
The basic premise is that our ability to think is impacted by our current state of being. When we are in the stress state (Fight / Flight / Freeze), we have access to less of our brain, which affects our ability to think through what’s going on and make constructive choices. When we are in a calmer, more relaxed state, we have more of our brain available to us and that includes the more resourceful part of our brain.
How do you know which scoop you’re talking from?
When all our scoops are online and accessible, we can take advantage of the top scoop. It enables us to see the bigger picture and understand that we’re all in this together. However, raise the adrenaline and that results in less brain power which could see us lose access to the top scoop. With this top scoop gone, we’re likely go into siege mentality and think it’s us and them. So it could be my family versus the in-laws or it could be my team at work versus another team at work.
If you increase the stress even more, as is the case with the Covid context which is demanding so much extra thinking from us, we can even lose access to the group scoop. This leaves us with “it’s me versus everyone else” thinking.
Recognising that this isn’t ‘just you’ and that actually giving yourself that sense of empathy and permission to find ‘now’ difficult is your most powerful next step. A person I support reminded me yesterday of the Helpful phrase: it’s ok to not be ok. Never before has it been so appropriate!
When you’re struggling, keep an eye on those direct debits
With everything that’s going on, we need to be mindful of the impact the situation is having on our energy levels. An easy way to think of it is like a direct debit coming out of your bank account each month.
Normally, the direct debit associated with managing uncertainty might be like £50. In the current context though, it’s probably more like a few hundred pounds a month in terms of your energy. Why? Because even simple tasks at the moment are more difficult than normal. Think about what it’s like when you need to send parcels, go food shopping or just visit your family. The level of troubleshooting we’re doing now consumes so much more energy.
Your energy is affected when you’re struggling
So the first thing to do is recognise this load and not assume that your performance can be what you would normally expect. Don’t expect yourself to be as agile or as resourceful as you might normally be. Your productivity will be affected and you may need more sleep, food or rest than you’re used to. Here at The Helpful Clinic we’ve had to adjust our expectations in terms of what’s realistic for us as a team to achieve. An example is that this is the only blog this month whereas normally we write two.
Your social stamina is also likely to be affected. We often don’t realise just how much energy it takes to be social and process the input from conversations, especially when there’s more than just you and someone else. We’ve referred to this as social atrophy and you can read more about that in our blog from last summer.
With an issue like this, there is an opportunity to use the situation as a learning experience, to upskill if you like by adding to your skills with your thoughts and feelings. We refer to this kind of opportunity as an ISOP. If you want to make lockdown your masterclass and strengthen your ability to trouble shoot as well as deal with uncertainty and overwhelm check out this blog here.
Check in with yourself and those close to you
Here at The Helpful Clinic, we are huge advocates of having regular check ins — both with yourself and those around you. Why check in with yourself, you ask? Because simple self-care not only helps you, but also those around you.
When you constantly put off looking after your own needs first because you believe that someone else’s should take priority, you’re missing the point. When you run out of energy, health, resources etc., you’re not going to be able to help the people who matter to you because you’re depleted. Find out more in our self-care blog post from October here.
Knowing someone cares helps
Now the Samaritans recently ran a campaign ahead of Blue Monday encouraging people to check in by having a virtual chat and a cuppa with people they care about. ‘Brew Monday’, as they called it, was designed to help beat the blues and make sure that people are doing okay.
The charity’s own research — which was conducted by YouGov from 27 November to 30 November and included 2,075 UK adults — found that 58% of UK adults felt that speaking regularly to friends and family either on the phone, via video calls or in person over the last year had a positive effect on their mental wellbeing.
The research also revealed that simply knowing someone who cares for your wellbeing is there for you can make a big difference. The bottom line is regular check ins can really help when people are struggling.
Be a good role model
It’s Children’s Mental Health Week next week and this is something we really want to champion because children in the UK have the lowest happiness levels in Europe — as highlighted in our Feelings are information blog (here).
Parents have a massive impact on their children, sometimes without even knowing it. That’s because children constantly look to their parents as their primary role models and take cues from them for every aspect of their lives.
When you’re struggling, your kids will know. While they might not say anything, they know. It’s another reason why practicing self-care is so important. When we can demonstrate to our children how we care for ourselves when struggling and how we find our way through, it helps them by providing them with some of the tools they’ll need as they grow older. It also highlights that it’s okay to show you’re struggling and seek help when you need it, which serves to break down the taboo surrounding mental health in general.
Please consider adding the dates to your diary and checking out the free resources from Place2Be.
Bring you focus back to what’s in your sphere of influence
It’s important to remember your sphere of influence and that you only have control over specific things. Situations, behaviours and people that you can’t affect directly are outside of your s of influence. It’s not like they can’t be worrying, it’s more that using your brain’s energy budget on thinking about them is unlikely to be helpful. In the blog about ABC First Aid for Feelings we talk about the technique to help with that.
To build on that, there are also a number of free Helpful meditations you can take advantage of:
This third meditation is particularly helpful because how you start your day and the expectations you set for yourself at the beginning of the day are likely to help you move through the day easier.
The final Helpful tool that we encourage you to use is triangulation. This is the triangulation of Time – Tasks – Resources (more detail in this blog post). So think about what you’re expecting yourself to achieve today. Does it actually add up in terms of your capacity and the time you have? Are you taking into account just how energy intensive the ‘covid-context- trouble shooting is?
Being realistic and practical about what’s achievable will help you hold steady enough and not get stuck at Red. Savouring what brings you joy or contentment will help you tip into Green at least some of the time. Actively being kind to yourself will help you be available to yourself and others. Practising these skills means that as we all move through this current context we can shift that centre of gravity from Amber and into Green, at least more of the time.
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Go gently, hold steady, stay the course.
All the best, Thor