2020 – what a year so far!  A year unlike any others in living memory.

As we slowly shift into a ‘COVID normal’ reality, many of us are experiencing the symptoms of stress, anxiety and low mood as we learn to live in this new world.

Many people are finding themselves ‘not ok’.  For some, it’s the first time and for others it’s a recurring but amplified feeling.

When we start to feel the difficult emotions of anxiety or stress, our brain kicks into the ‘fight, flight and freeze’ (the 3 F’s) response.   However, recently living in this COVID world has meant for many people that we are living in a state of 3F’s more than we should in order to be emotionally healthy.

The 3 F’s exist in effort to alert us to danger so that we can change our circumstances.  So, what can you do if you are in this state of arousal too often?

Signs and Symptoms to be Aware of:

Anxiety, depression and stress can present in many different forms and can affect each of us quite differently. For some it can make you feel like you have no energy, you can lose interest in parts of your life that you previously enjoyed, or it can make you hyper-aware and hyper-attentive, and unable to rest.

Beyond Blue have summarised some of the most prominent signs we should be aware of:

Behaviour

  • not going out anymore
  • not getting things done at work/school
  • withdrawing from close family and friends
  • relying on alcohol and sedatives
  • not doing usual enjoyable activities
  • unable to concentrate

Feelings

  • overwhelmed
  • guilty
  • irritable
  • frustrated
  • lacking in confidence
  • unhappy
  • indecisive
  • disappointed
  • miserable
  • sad

Thoughts

  • ‘I’m a failure.’
  • ‘It’s my fault.’
  • ‘Nothing good ever happens to me.’
  • ‘I’m worthless.’
  • ‘Life’s not worth living.’
  • ‘People would be better off without me.’

Physical

  • tired all the time
  • sick and run down
  • headaches and muscle pains
  • churning gut
  • sleep problems
  • loss or change of appetite
  • significant weight loss or gain

It is important to note, that it is normal to feel and experience all of the above throughout your life.  However, if you notice feeling this more often than usual, or if you don’t have significant relief from these feelings, or they are causing you distress it is time to check in with someone who can help.

What can you do when you feel ‘not ok’?

  • Remember it’s ok to not be ok! 

If you don’t want to do something, it’s ok. Start by giving yourself permission to not be OK.  This is such an important start, because by ignoring those moments of struggle you ignore opportunity to respond to yourself with care.  Being ‘not ok’ is your body’s way of grabbing your attention, so pay attention!  You may need to slow things down, acknowledge the feeling, offer yourself the opportunity to have a ‘mental health day’ and do something that feels nourishing.   

Be patient with yourself, it may take you a short while to understand the clues and make sense of your experience so that you know what action you need to take.  Our Psychologists are trained to help people learn their cues, and develop healthy and adaptive responses to moments of distress.

  • Turn the World Off

In our ‘connected’ world it can sometimes feel impossible to disconnect.

Whether it’s the constant bombarding of COVID-19, or the flurry of email alerts that hit your smart phone, it’s increasingly difficult to break the cycle of communication. However, it’s probably a great start to giving yourself some time to reset.

Open a book,  cook your favourite meal, spend the day at the beach and drink in the sounds, smell and sights, play your favourite album from start to finish or just potter around the house.  Whatever suits you!  Finding thins you love to do when you are feeling stress, overwhelmed and ‘not ok’ can be a great start to feeling like yourself again.

If you find it hard to shut off completely, why not choose blocks of time where you cut the cord and go offline. You’ll be amazed at how refreshing these breaks are and how they reduce stress by putting a mental recharge into your weekly schedule.

Forcing yourself offline and even turning off your phone gives your body a break from a constant source of stress. Studies have shown that something as simple as a break from emails can lower stress levels.

  • Look after Your Body

We all know exercise is key to keeping your body in shape, but numerous studies now show the positive effects it has on your brain. Exercise can also come in many different shapes and sizes so it’s important to find something that suits you. It could be a slow session of yoga or a lung busting F45 session, any movement is good movement.

This also brings us to fuelling and resting your body. When it comes to healthy minds, it’s important to give your body the nutrients it needs and avoid the substances that alter the chemicals in our body (think alcohol!)

When you sleep, your brain literally recharges, so that you wake up alert and clear-headed. Your self-control, attention, and memory are all reduced when you don’t get enough — or the right kind — of sleep. Sleep deprivation raises stress hormone levels on its own, even without a stressor present.

  • Connect with Friends

It’s easy to shy away from our friends and family when we start to feel overwhelmed, yet it is at that exact point that we need the most help. Sometimes, something as simple as talking about your worries will provide an outlet for your anxiety and stress and supply you with a new perspective on the situation.

Don’t ever be afraid to pick up the phone and say, “I’m not ok right now and I just need to talk about it.”

  • Get professional support when you need it – the sooner the better

You see a doctor when you feel unwell, or a physio when you hurt your back – so it’s important to also see a Psychologist when you need to take care of your emotional health.  Our emotional health is so important, especially now.

Psychologists can support your emotional and mental health by helping you develop strategies to manage difficult emotions and thoughts, offering a comforting ear, helping you develop a positive regard for yourself, and helping you understand yourself more clearly.