Between rapidly changing pandemic-time rules (curfews! rule of six! weddings of 15!); talk of a ‘second wave’ and the incoming end of the furlough scheme, you’d be forgiven for feeling somewhat anxious.
If the latter issue does affect you, perhaps you’re experiencing heightened levels of panic. While a fresh initiative – the ‘Job Retention Scheme’, in which the government will top up your wages if you’re reduced to part time hours – has been announced, as you know, this only applies to ‘viable jobs.’ This somewhat clumsy, cruel language refers to occupations in industries which are still suffering the effects of coronavirus measures, such as those in the night time economy or in retail.
For those threatened by the loss of income, whole or partial, it’s very natural to be struggling. Here, Clinical Psychologist and author of The Imposter Cure, Dr Jessamy Hibberd, and Therapist and founder of Cultureminds Therapy Platform, Sharnade George, offer some wisdom. Hopefully, you find something to help you work through this shaky time.
1. Work to manage your feelings
‘The uncertainty of whether you will or won’t lose your job can be difficult: It’s natural and very human to experience a range of emotions in response to this, and it’s important we allow these feelings, giving ourselves time to adjust to this new information,’ says Dr Jessamy.
‘Our emotions help us to make sense of what’s going on. We can’t just jump to coping without processing what’s happening first, and then finding a space for it to fit into our thinking – a bit like dealing with grief, loss or trauma. Whilst it’s good to allow your feelings it’s also important not to get stuck in them and to differentiate between what’s helpful and what’s unhelpful.
‘The Buddhists say that whenever something difficult happens two arrows fly our way. At the moment that first arrow might be the looming end of furlough and the threat of job loss. The second arrow is your reaction to it. Now, we can’t avoid the pain and suffering the first arrow causes. However, we do have a choice in how we react – and we can prevent ourselves getting shot a second time. Whilst you’d hope after the first arrow, our minds would jump into gear and start supporting us, in fact our mind starts to work against us, telling us it’s futile and not to bother doing the things that make us feel better and, instead, enticing us with all the things that leave us feeling worse, such as catastrophising, alcohol, withdrawing and worrying.
‘It’s hard to go against this, but there is a choice – and that choice in how we react can make a big difference to how each day goes. It’s important to keep in mind the positive choices we can make, even when things are very difficult.’
Try Dr Jessamy’s ideas, below:
- Allow your feelings and give yourself time to adjust to the current situation (the first arrow), it’s understandable that right now you may be feeling a range of emotions – anxiety, upset, hopelessness, anger, resentment, despair. Be aware of how you’re reacting and try to do the things that you know will help you (rather than leave you feeling worse).
- Ensure what you’re doing is driven by fact not fear.
- Make sure you’re doing the basics, eating well , sleeping enough, staying hydrated, resting.
- Try not to personalise. This isn’t about you, this is about the current situation we’re in, so many people are affected.
- Bring compassion and kindness when dealing with your feelings, rather than judging your response or adding self-criticism to the mix. Study after study shows that self-criticism is correlated with less motivation and worse self-control, in contrast with being kind or supportive to yourself, as you would to a friend – especially when confronted with failure.
2. Seek support
Also crucial is leaning on others. ‘During hard times, it’s vital you speak to people,’ explains Sharnade. ‘Connect with family, see a therapist if you can – the more you talk you get insight into other’s experiences. What we don’t want is people feeling worried, suppressing emotions and withdrawing, which is linked to further mental health difficulties.’
3. Have time off from your thoughts
‘Make sure you give yourself time not to think about it, too,’ says Dr Jessamy. ‘There’s nothing to be gained by focusing exclusively on your fear. Shift your focus away to other things that bring you comfort, pleasure or help you to relax and if that’s tricky try distraction. I know this sounds easier said than done, but we do have control over our thoughts and what we choose to focus our attention on – and this can really help.’
4. Practice mindfulness
‘For me, a mindfulness practice is key,’ says Sharnade. ‘In doing so, you can learn to take the moment for what it is. Sometimes, situations are not within our control: such as furlough ending, or being made redundant, and acceptance can be helpful.’ Never tried it before? Check out the WH guide to using the Headspace app (it’s free.)
5. Take action, if you can
That’s not to say you should accept things you can change. ‘If it’s a worry you can do something about, take action,’ says Dr Jessamy.
‘For example, say you are on furlough right now, you might get your CV up-to-date and ready, or think about what you would do if you weren’t doing this job. You could also talk things through with someone you trust, chat to friends, ask advice. If you can, speak to someone at your current work so you get a better idea of what’s ahead for you.’
6. Write it out
Taking pen to paper can prove a soothing tonic to an overwrought mind. ‘A lot of the time, our fears and thoughts are in our minds – we ruminate, we overthink,’ says Sharnade. ‘When you write them down it gives you clarity, and can give you perspective on what you are most worried about, and what is actually more manageable than you might have thought.’
7. Use body-calming techniques
‘The simplest way to calm your mind is to calm your body,’ details Dr Jessamy. ‘The mind and body are amazing. They are constantly sending messages to each other and work together to look after you and keep you healthy.
‘Regularly practicing breathing exercises, muscle tension and release, relaxation and stretches, as well as imagery and mindfulness can help improve sleep, decrease stress and anxiety, strengthen immunity, and increase happiness, optimism and wellbeing long-term.’
Try the two, below.
When you are stressed, you may experience an overload of feelings and thoughts, sometimes called racing thoughts. This can feel overwhelming, and you may not be able to determine which thought to focus on at that moment. Instead, ground yourself in your environment.
Find five things you can see, notice what you can hear, and then what you can smell, taste and touch. Or find one thing like the pattern or the moving leaves of a tree and focus your attention on that.
Your body responds to stress physically. While you may have no need to run away or fight off your daily stressors, your body will respond as if it does. Your heart rate increases, your breathing gets shorter and shifts into the chest and your muscles tense. Reversing this reaction with a slow breathing technique shifts you out of the stress response and into the calm part of your nervous system. To do this try counting your breath, slowly increasing the number with each breath.
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