Coping With Life After Lockdown
We're returning to a "new normal". For some, that comes with uncertainty and stress.
Most of us have spent the past few weeks at home, building a cocoon of safety under Singapore's circuit breaker measures. Now as restrictions are tentatively lifted, some people may feel anxious about readjusting and reintegrating into society, whether it’s because the measures provided some respite, or from the stress of returning to the office after so long.
Whilst the lockdown was necessary in the greater scheme of things, findings indicate that people are likely to have developed symptoms of psychological stress and disorders, including low mood, anxiety and irritability. And even for those eager to have some semblance of social life again, there remain fears of contagion.
“What we should expect when we start gradually easing back into society is that there will still be restrictions and measures in place to prevent the spread of the virus,” says
“We will continue to feel some discomfort, irritability, stress or even anxiety in response to different measures and changes in our lifestyles,” she says. “The constant need to adapt to various changes in our environment can be a source of psychological distress for many.”
Our environment is often only one of the sources of psychological distress, she adds. Another large influence is our own thoughts and psychological processes. But these negative thoughts – from agonising over your future, job prospects, to concerns of your wellbeing and of those around you – will only fuel the fire and do little to calm emotions.
Here, Dr Chow shares six ways to deal with the uncertainty and anxiety, as we adjust to the “new normal.”
1. Mindfulness – Observing non-judgmentally. Take stock of what is actually happening around you: What are you thinking about? Is it about the future, past or present? Do you think it is affecting how you are feeling? What is going through your mind when you’re feeling anxious, low or stressed? When you start to notice and be aware of your thoughts, you’ll be able to start identifying what might be contributing to your distress. Doing this non-judgmentally means not reacting to your observations or thoughts (and/or the emotions attached to it) but rather simply letting the observations and resulting thoughts and emotions arise, and being aware of its presence in your mind.
2. Mindful Breathing. While mindfulness is a practice that helps us to not get swept away on a wave of your unhelpful or negative thoughts, people may find it difficult to observe their thoughts and emotions without reacting to them.
Try this simple exercise: Breathe in and out. Maintain your usual breathing rhythms without manipulating the preciseness of each breath. Let your lungs expand and fill as you inhale, and contract as you exhale. Bring your attention to each inhalation and exhalation through your nose. As you do this, you may notice your mind starting to wander. This is natural and normal. Just notice non-judgmentally, and with curiosity and kindness that your mind has wandered. Then gently redirect your attention back to the breathing.
3. Schedule “Worry” Time. First, identify all the tasks or items that are within your “sphere of influence”; essentially, matters that you can do something about. You may not always be able to control or determine the outcome, but you can take steps to influence or alter the outcome. Identify what needs to be done and complete those tasks. You’ll likely feel better once you make a checklist and tick them off.
Then tell yourself this: “there are always going to be things that are not within my influence (your “sphere of concern”)”. I am going to allow myself to worry about it, for no more than 10 minutes. But after these 10 minutes, I shall leave my worries for my tomorrow self to grapple with”.
4. Challenge unhelpful thoughts. If you still feel a lingering worry after your scheduled worry time, you may want to directly address or challenge these persistent thoughts, during this COVID climate, including:
Catastrophising: “The world is going to end”, “I’ll definitely get the virus if I go out”
Filtering: Only focusing on the negative parts of the situation but not the positive aspects. For example, “being at home is like prison”, rather than “being at home is keeping me and everyone else safe”.
Some ways to challenge such thoughts are to ask yourself: Is that the only, and the whole truth? Are there other perspectives that I should consider? Am I constantly making reference to a state of perfection that does not exist? Am I worrying too much about how things should be instead of embracing and dealing with things as they are? This leads us to our next tip…
5. Acceptance. Remember your sphere of concern? There will be many concerns that we cannot change or challenge successfully. These thoughts will usually keep us in a bubble of constant worry and anxiety instead of helping us deal with the situation. But fretting about this situation will only result in more distress, anxiety or stress. Acceptance does not mean that you approve of or like the situation you find yourself in. What it means is that you have decided to embrace and acknowledge what is happening. You have made peace with the situation being what it is – no more, and no less – and you are no longer actively struggling or resisting the fact of its occurrence.
6. Don’t forget your health. Yes, this means regular exercise, eating balanced meals, avoiding alcohol and drugs, and sleeping well. There is a ton of research about the mind-body connection, it is not a myth! How you feel emotionally and mentally can affect your physical health, and vice versa.
The best demonstration of how your mental health and physical health are closely related is seen with burnout. When you’re pushed beyond your limits and putting too much stress on yourself, you experience burnout in forms of headaches, migraines, bowel issues and so on. At the same time, this also has implications on your motivation levels, your cognitive functioning, and may even make you easily irritated or emotional.
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