Being out of our comfort zone

As a lecturer, counsellor and trainer I have devoted my career to supporting people grow and develop and all of these activities have been done face to face….until now.

I am not a technophobe by any means but I do prefer to be in a room with the people I’m working with and due to the situation with the virus, all this has changed in a matter of weeks. My lecturing work is now online via a virtual classroom which sounds amazing but for someone whose career is about people and not PC’s, simply organising and understanding a new way of working led me to feel a variety of difficult emotions.

When I teach and I’m in front of people sharing what I know and am passionate about, I am firmly in my comfort zone which can feel like a lovely comfy armchair. Life is familiar, reliable, structured and I know how things work.

Now I am looking into a screen, reliant on technology “doing its thing” and my scant knowledge of that technology and trying to learn new skills very quickly…this is not a comfy armchair!

When life changes slowly for us, we can adapt and transition into a new reality relatively painlessly. But when life changes dramatically and everything we are familiar with changes in a short space of time, it can lead to a variety of strong and sometimes overwhelming emotions.

Imagine a beautifully laid out table, lovely glasses, all the plates and cutlery is laid out where they should be. Then someone grabs the tablecloth and pulls it sharply away, everything wobbles for a bit and shifts to the left. This is essentially how life feels in April 2020!

Life in lockdown

Many clients and students I’ve spoken to in the last few weeks have shared feelings of anger, sadness, feeling lost and confused, disconnected, scared, vulnerable, stuck, guilty and grateful to name a few. If you have experienced these feelings (sometimes several in the same day) it can feel exhausting, so what can you do?

· Do not spend hours on social media or news channels – this will not help your mental health and if you’re not sure, ask yourself how you felt after spending time on Facebook, Instagram or Sky news and there’s your answer. If you’re thinking to yourself “But I don’t spend hours on social media!”, consider installing a wellbeing app on your phone and it will tell you exactly how long you’re spending on different applications. In his book Irresistible, Adam Alter reported that a study surveyed people’s sense of wellbeing linked with social media usage and 59% said it made them unhappy. If this describes how you feel, consider a digital diet.

· Have a structure to your day – it can be tempting whilst at home to let things slip, get up a bit later, wear your PJ’s on a conference call, forget your regular exercise. But research shows that one of the key factors in a good self care plan is a structured day. So get up around the same time every day, eat regularly, do basic self care, regular exercise and go to bed at the same time.

· Set yourself goals – These don’t need to be earth shattering goals but basic ones like completing 2 tasks on your to-do list each day and any more than that is a bonus.

· Connect with people regularly – Technology can present challenges to our mental health, as I said above linked with social media usage. However it can also present opportunities for connection. So reach out on a regular basis to people in your life and consider applications where you can physically see the person, as this allows a greater sense of connection.

· Recognise what you are in control of and what you are not – To use another chair analogy, if you spend your time worrying over something you cannot change or control it’s like sitting in a rocking chair, it’s giving you something to do but you aren’t getting anywhere! Recognise what you can change and control in your life and if you notice your mind moving to something outside of this, notice it and bring it back.

· Sit with your feelings – It can be tempting when faced with difficult emotions to want to distract/avoid these feelings. However, remember that our emotions are messages trying to tell us something. So, if you become aware that you’re feeling low or anxious, ask yourself gently what this is about, where is this coming from? If it helps, say to yourself “I will allow myself to sit with this feeling for 10 minutes and then I’m going to do X” – this helps to contain difficult emotions rather than avoid them. Also recognise when you need to reach out for support from others, this could be family, friends, a counsellor or therapist*.

· Be mindful of your coping strategies – If you are struggling, it can be tempting to reach for something to soothe your mood. This could be food, drink, retail therapy (online of course!), gaming or gambling. Become aware of this behaviour and if you feel your coping strategies are escalating and having a greater impact on your life, consider reaching out for support*. If you are struggling, consider healthy coping strategies like phoning/facetime a friend or family member, go for a short walk, listen to music or watch a favourite film, look at old photos, do a meditation session, read a book, do some yoga or have a rest – whatever makes YOU feel good.

At the moment, life feels unsettling and uncomfortable….far from my lovely comfy armchair. Simple things we have come to expect and rely on aren’t available to us like going to a coffee shop or visiting friends and family. We also don’t know how long this period of uncertainty will last which also presents us with mixed feelings. So ask yourselves a question “what am I already doing to look after myself that I want to continue and what could I start doing to support my mental health?”.

Emma Campolucci (MBACP, BSc Psych) www.the-therapy-house.co.uk

*Further help and support

Samaritans – 116 123 (free call 24/7), emotional support for anyone struggling to cope www.MIND.org.uk – advice on mental health conditions, also useful info to support those living with people experiencing mental health issues www.NHS.uk – advice on both physical, mental health conditions and addiction www.counselling-directory.org.uk – Find a counsellor for online/phone therapy www.bacp.co.uk – British Association for Counsellors and Psychotherapists, find a therapist

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