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Jessica Graham

Jessica Graham

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Coping with COVID-19

With COVID-19, there is a current state of uncertainty spreading through society. It can be very easy to get sucked into a state of panic and anxiety. In times such as these, it is more important than ever to ensure that you are engaging in self-care. Below are some tips about how we can promote mental wellbeing during this time. 

What is in my control?

It is highly likely that in the coming weeks we will all be exposed to the repercussions of widespread illness and fear. This means disruption to services, social distancing, economic disruption and financial difficulties, difficulty accessing everyday needs such as food, and a healthcare system struggling to meet demand. it can be easy to become overwhelmed and frustrated with the state of things. In these circumstances, it is important to bring your thoughts back to what you can control. We cannot control the illness itself, we cannot control the economy or the behaviour of others. What we can control is what we do in this moment, and how we react.  

Grounding and mindfulness

When we are feeling anxious, our thoughts are focused on a future that we cannot control, rather than on the present moment where there is currently no immediate danger. This can impact how we engage with the present moment. When you are feeling overwhelmed and find your thoughts stuck on worries about the future, you can ground yourself by consciously directing your attention to the following:

  • 5 things you can see
  • 4 things you can touch
  • 3 things you can hear
  • 2 things you can smell
  • 1 thing you can touch

By directing our attention to our senses, we can ground ourselves in the present moment.

Deep breathing

Another way to direct your attention to the present is to engage in deep breathing. When we start to panic, this is generally started by beginning to breathe more quickly and shallowly. By slowing down and deepening our breathing, we can slow down this physiological process. BreatheEasy is a great free phone app that can be used to aid to guide your breathing.

Be curious about news

Currently, we are experiencing an overwhelm of news and information. It is important to always receive news with curiosity and not believe everything that we are seeing. It is important to get your news from credible sources such as government and health websites rather than social media as this is not a regulated medium. 

As well as this, while it is important to remain up to date, it is also advisable to limit your exposure to the news in these times. We do not need to be constantly researching for new updates. Checking once a day will likely give you the necessary updates and also give you the space to focus your attention on other things.

Maintaining routine as much as possible

Social distancing and self-isolationmeans that many of us are thrown out of our regular routine e.g., working from home, limited access to the gym. While this limits your ability to engage in your regular routine, it is important to keep this as much as possible as this can have a positive impact on mental health. Continue to exercise in a safe way, e.g., home workouts if your gym is closed (or engaging in the recommended hygiene practices if attending the gym), walking outside (while maintaining recommended social distancing), continue your regular work hours (even though a Netflix marathon may be tempting!), wake up and go to bed at the same time each day.

Connect with others

Along these lines, it is important to maintain your contact with others. This does not need to be face-to-face if you are in self-quarantine, but ensure you are speaking to people over the phone or messaging. It is important to maintain this contact as isolation and loneliness can be very detrimental to mental health. If you are not in self-isolation but know those who are, or there are people in your life who are vulnerable (e.g., the elderly), ensure you are contacting them regularly via phone. 

Also, try to talk about regular day-to-day things to distract from COVID-19. I don’t know about you, but practically every conversation I have currently is COVID-19 related, and it is always refreshing to have a distraction from this.

Values

When things are out of our control, it is important to reconnect with our values. As long as we are acting in line with our values, then we can continue to lead a happy life. When noticing you are feeling affected by the panic surrounding the current situation, ask yourself how your current actions, whether it be sitting and ruminating on the state of things or considering panic buying (we have all thought of it!), ask yourself if this sits with your values. If we continue to engage in behaviours that are in line with our values and what we truly want for ourselves, then this will have a positive impact on our mindset. In times of self-isolation/quarantine, it may require some creativity to continue to live by our values. For example, if you have the value of “connecting with others”, this may require some compromise of connecting over the phone rather than in person. 

Take care of each other. We will get through this.

*Please be sure to stay up to date with the latest government recommendations and adjust the above accordingly 

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Encouraging Positive Body Image

We might not be fully aware of it all of the time, but diet culture is constantly present within our society. We are bombarded with messages that our bodies are not good enough or do not meet a standard of “beauty”. Through advertisements on television, radio, the internet, and social media (especially social media!), we are presented with unrealistic images and messages that we see as the “norm” and that we are failing in some way if we do not look like these people. This can be very damaging to the relationship we have with our body, as well as impacting the developing self-image of young people. Due to this, it may be helpful to actively implement strategies to combat these messages and create a positive body image. Here are some top tips to encourage positive body image:

 

1. Model a healthy relationship with your own body

It is common to focus on and highlight all of the elements of ourselves and our body that we do not like. This models to others that it is okay to talk negatively about ourselves, and that it is self-involved to speak positively about oneself. Our children and other people around us learn by listening to what we say and observing our behaviours as adults. If you are frequently talking about dieting, disliking your own body, or trying to lose weight, this models to others that this is normal behaviour. Instead, model what you would like for other people – highlighting what you like about your body.

 

2. Do not label food as “good” or “bad”

 

When we label food as “good” or “bad”, we assign value to food. As well as this, we start to label our own behaviour or ourselves as “good” or “bad” based on the foods we have eaten. This sets up an unhealthy relationship with food and creates judgements around the foods that we eat. Food is neither good nor bad, it is just food that provides energy and nourishment for the body. The key to a healthy relationship with food is to be able to listen to what our body wants and needs and to be able to eat flexibly, from a diverse range of food groups. Food is fuel!!

 

3. Appreciate what your body can do

 

Instead of focusing on all of the negative aspects of your body, appreciate your body for what it allows you to do. For example, you can run, jump, swim, walk, play with your children.

 

4. Remind yourself and others that we are not just a body

 

A lot of people place their worth solely on their external appearance, but there is so much more to us than simply the way we look. For example, when describing what you like about your closest friend, I doubt the first thing you say is “I love how skinny they are” – you are more likely to describe their internal qualities because that is what truly matters. Highlight this to yourself and others in your life.

 

5. Limit exposure to negative information about body weight and shape

 

There is a lot of media content that enhances problems with body image. Most advertisements you see encourage the idea that you are only worthwhile if you look a certain way. Some of these messages are hard to avoid (e.g., television and radio advertisements), but we can limit our exposure to these by unfollowing social media accounts that encourage weight loss or control, or whose messages only serve to distort your own relationship with your body. Follow accounts that build you up instead or bring you down.

 

6. Notice the thoughts that you have about your body

 

In cognitive behaviour therapy, we know that our thoughts influence how we feel and then how we behave. It is common for people to have negative thoughts about the way they look, which then leads to feelings of dissatisfaction and sadness. A lot of the time, a lot of us do not take notice of the automatic negative thoughts that we have about our bodies and how these impact our feelings. We listen to these thoughts without being fully aware, even though they may not be true or helpful for us. If we tune into these thoughts, we can start to challenge and change them to help us start to see our body in a more positive light.

 

7. Show your body compassion and love

 

Your body has done an amazing job of carrying you through life up until now – show it the love it deserves! Do things that celebrate your body and makes it feel good e.g., exercise that you like, yoga, stretching, get a massage.

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Mindful Parenting

In today’s society, our lives can become hectic and busy with the expectation that we have to be and do everything. To be the perfect friend, parent, sibling, employee… As a parent in this world, those expectations appear to be heightened, sometimes to the point that we may become so busy in our lives that the richness of raising children becomes reduced to the management of children and the family, instead of simply being with them. This can lead to us parenting on auto-pilot. Due to having an endless to-do list inside of our heads, parenting can become just another task on that list. We start to lose touch with our experience of being a parent and of being in the moment with our children and our families.

The constant pressure to be giving our absolute all to every role in our life leads us to be in a constant state of stress. When our brain is in this state, it is hardwired to act as if we are in a life-threatening situation. Our brain is wired this way to protect us and to ensure our survival. The problem is that, in today’s society, our brain tells us we are in life-threatening situations when we are not. Being late to work, or running late for school drop off, is not life-threatening (although stressful!) but our brain tells us that it is. This is a problem because the brain then tells us to act as if our life is in danger. Stress causes us to take the “short route” in our brain. Instead of taking time and accessing the prefrontal cortex, the part of our brain that uses logic, thinks rationally, directs attention, engages perspective taking, plans, and organises, it bypasses this and goes directly to the limbic system, where emotion is processed. This means that as opposed to thinking through our decisions, we act on instinct and impulse. While this is helpful in a situation that is life threatening (e.g., jumping out of the way of a moving car), it can lead us to act in ways we would not normally during stressful situations. In parenting, stress can have a negative impact including decreased attentiveness and more impulsive reactions.

I am sure you are all now picturing how this works in a parenting scenario. Imagine you are getting ready in the morning. Two of your three children are ready and waiting in the car, but your youngest child is still upstairs re-doing their hair for the ump-teenth time even though you have called upstairs three times asking for them to come down. You have recently spoken to the teacher who is concerned about your children’s constant lateness to school, and your boss has already given you a warning for being consistently late to work. You decide enough is enough and you really have to leave. You go upstairs to give your youngest child their final warning. You open the door and they fling themselves on to their bed screaming that they don’t want to go to school. In this scenario, what bodily sensations do you notice? What thoughts are going through your head? What feelings do you notice? I am sure reading through this you can resonate with this being a stressful situation. We can all think of what we would like to do in an ideal world - be responsive to our child, see what is happening for them. But in the reality, with pressure from work and school, we are more likely to act on our stress and impulsively yell, drag them to the car, etc.

The problem with the above incident, is that while we are in this state of stress, it is difficult for us to see the pattern that has arisen until we are mulling over the incident hours later. In mindful parenting, the goal is to become more in tune with our emotional reactions and use this to adjust our behaviours. Mindfulness is all about the direction of our attention. In a busy world, our attention is often divided between tasks, especially as a parent. For example, while reading your child a bed time story, mentally you are thinking about all of the things you need to do once you are finished, e.g., “I need to do the dishes, fold the washing, do the ironing, maybe I will have time to watch an episode of Grey’s Anatomy before bed…”. In mindfulness, the aim is to notice that our attention has drifted from what we are doing presently (reading to our child) and redirecting our attention back to that task. This can be done by noticing our 5 senses. What can you feel (your child leaning against you, the feel of the paper), hear (your child breathing, you reading the words), smell (soap from the shower), see (the pictures on the page), or taste (the mint from your toothpaste). By doing this, you can be fully present with your child and enjoy the moment with them. This is a new way of doing things, so you might find that when you first start to mindfully do these types of tasks, that your mind keeps drifting off, and that can be frustrating. Like any new skill though, the more you practice, the better you will become. Through this type of practice, you will notice that you become more mindful in other areas of your life. Eventually as well, you will begin to notice when you are stepping in to the automatic stress response when you are under pressure, which will give you time to step out of auto-pilot and act differently.

If you are interested in becoming more mindful in your parenting, start off by picking one task a day that you would like to do more mindfully with your child (e.g., mindful playtime, mindful reading, mindful dinner time, mindful walking) for the next week and see the difference it makes!

If you need more assistance with increasing mindfulness in your parenting or everyday life, or any other advice on parenting strategies, contact us at Drop of Life.

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