Last month I wrote a piece for Voxel Hub about dealing with individual trauma at a time of collective trauma, and I’m really grateful for the number of comments and positive feedback I received across social media as a result.
It clearly resonated and demonstrated how common it has been to struggle with personal crises and perspective through the pandemic. A comment from a friend that particularly struck me read: “Last year I was bumbling along thinking I was dealing with everything just fine, but in hindsight I definitely wasn’t”.
With that in mind, and with exceptional circumstances so many of us are still contending with – how do we know, or how can we learn to spot the signs, that we are struggling?
There are some emotions and behaviours that are very clearly indicative of low mood or poor wellbeing, but others may be more nuanced, more subconscious and therefore harder to recognise.
The first thing to acknowledge is, if any of these traits feel familiar, it doesn’t mean that a diagnosable mental health issue is the outcome or is necessary. Many of us are experiencing a reaction to very abnormal circumstances – for instance a lack of physical social contact is a big contributing factor to poorer wellbeing. It’s common, normal perhaps, to have renegotiated your own thoughts and feelings throughout a global pandemic – but here are some things to keep an eye on and try to regulate wherever possible:
The basics: sleeping and eating
The fundamentals of your day-to-day life may change if you are struggling emotionally. Sleep patterns may be disturbed or more erratic and it may be more difficult to drop off at nighttime. Similarly, your relationship with food may change – eating significantly more or less over a sustained period of time can affect mood and physical health. Noticing and addressing any problematic changes to sleep and eating can help regulate emotions. The Mental Health Foundation has some tips on how to improve sleep and the connection between nutrition and wellbeing.
In the previous blog, I wrote about the importance of finding what works for you to maintain your wellbeing – from productivity to triviality. This can at times turn into self-medicating behaviour, and although this may often feel necessary, it’s important to monitor how healthy the things we do to stay entertained actually are. 1 in 5 of us have been drinking more often during the lockdowns (AlcoholChange.org.uk) and heavier drinkers are less likely to have cut down. Drug use has in many cases changed from being a sociable, recreational activity to a more private struggle. Stay in tune with your impulses and trends, and do reach out to friends and/or professionals if your methods of self-medication begin to feel problematic.
Restlessness and irritability
If there’s ever a time for feelings of restlessness to be quite justifiable, it’s now. The lockdowns have stripped us of the very basic need to have physical contact with others, and the restrictions have necessitated lots of indoor time. This would, quite naturally, have produced feelings of irritability among many of us, especially those who thrive in sociable situations. It is common to blame irritability on stress, but at the moment there should be more leeway for feelings of restlessness and irritability and it would be useful to give ourselves a break for those moments of irritability (assuming they are not negatively affecting those around us). Creating routine and consciously building in enjoyable activities can help reduce these feelings.
“Concentration difficulties are a common symptom of depression, yet one that people may not associate with depression” says Jon Rottenberg, author of The Depths: The Evolutionary Origins of the Depression Epidemic in this Forbes article. The piece also acknowledges that concentration may also be compromised because of another serious symptom of depression – rumination – “in which a person turns certain topics over and over again in one’s head (past regrets, future worries), which can be time-consuming, futile, and depressogenic itself”. It’s certainly true that for many of us, the pandemic has given us a wealth of extra ‘rumination time’ which may not always be welcome. Healthy sleep, eating and exercise routines can help concentration, along with spending time mindfully – be it in nature or with music or meditation.
A different perspective on social opportunities
Coming out of this (hopefully final) lockdown may pose quite the quandary for those who have evaluated where they draw their energy. Physical social contact may feel more daunting than before – at the very least, more of a novelty. If you’re noticing feelings of fear, anxiety or even avoidance around re-approaching social activity, then ease yourself into it in the post-lockdown world. Social anxieties may have circumstantially reduced in the last year, but if you find yourself noticing heightened discomfort around life ‘opening back up’, psychotherapist Charley Gavigan has some useful words in this BBC article exploring the topic.
The Mind website has lots of useful information and resources exploring many different wellbeing topics, including knowing how to spot signs and symptoms of poor mental health – and how you can help yourself and those around you.
If you need immediate support or someone impartial to talk to, please contact:
- Bristol MindLine on 0300 123 3393 (Mon to Fri, 9.00 am – 6.00 pm in Bristol area)
- Samaritans on 116 123 or at [email protected] or [email protected] (UK and Ireland)
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on 1-800-273-8255 (US)
- All leading international helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org