It is such a tough season, right?! I know that the pressures on me personally have mounted from all sides. The varied responsibilities of managing work, assisting other family members, childcare, home schooling, sourcing groceries, socially distancing, dealing with disappointments and facing my own anxieties around the future have all waged war against my usually positive and healthy mental state.
At many points over the past few weeks I have turned to my good old friend Google to help me get through this patch. To try to gain some sort of survival tips and to ally some of my fears via reading a wide span of articles on infectious diseases, current government announcements and articles sharing wide ranging advice about how to stay safe and keep positive.
The thing is though, at the end of it all we are all facing a situation that not one of us have has ever faced before, we are all essentially in the same storm, but each of our boats has a slightly varied combination of stressors and, of course, each one of us comes with our own wonderfully unique personality and set of behaviour patterns.
So as we live through this uncertain season brought about by the COVID-19 storm we thought that here at Becoming you we would provide you with some solid expert advice on how to keep it together mentally, some warning signs that indicate you might benefit from some extra support and where to find trusted help.
This post is timeous because May is in fact Mental Health Awareness Month and for this solid expert advice we are pleased to be collaborating with Recovery Direct – a specialised private rehabilitation centre in South Africa that works to understand individual needs of people and helps to develop tools to help them move forward.
Keeping your mental game together in tough times
If you haven’t already figured out your new daily and weekly routines, then don’t feel like you have missed the chance. Putting realistic routines in place is something that will help anyone maintain a sense of well-being during a stressful time. Keeping a simple daily routine will allow you to function better on many levels.
“Maintaining simple focused positive routines that cover the essential bases for your greater wellness is the best tactic.” – Recovery Direct
Practically this can mean setting aside certain times for work, taking a tea break at the same time, enjoying a weekday night catch up Facetime call with a close friend. It is these simple rhythms that in the long run add up and can help us stay motivated and also help us to tackle the things which we otherwise could become demotivated to do, like certain aspects of work perhaps?!
Daily routines also assist one to be more efficient by eliminating wasted time and stress in figuring out what to do next in your day. They are also an essential tool in helping one put a stop to destructive or self-limiting bad habits.
Keeping your stress levels low
Stress elevates both adrenaline and cortisol in our bodies and these are linked to lowering our immune system – less than ideal during a pandemic. Keeping a check on our stress levels is therefore a vital key in not only keeping healthy physically but also mentally.
So how do we practically make sure our stress levels keep within a low band? How do we prevent our body getting fired up and stressed, the biological automation of our body responses during stress cannot be controlled but there is hope!
Recovery Direct suggests we classify stress into 3 tangible categories that each need specific attention when they arise wellbeing.
- Physical stress: Accidents, injuries, surgery, and other physical traumas such as physical abuse etc.
- Chemical stress: Bacteria, viruses, hormones, toxins, hangovers, disease, blood sugar levels, serotonin levels etc.
- Emotional stress: Relationship issues, family tragedy, divorce, societal perceptions, death, incarceration, emotional abuse, work issues etc.
All the above will cause our bodies to react in one of these three ways flights, fight, or freeze. In the case of disease we are not able to control our bodies reaction to those internal responses, however in the case of 1 and 3 there are simple things that we all know, but would do well to prioritise, that will assist your body in its responses keeping you in effect less stressed.
These include the following:
Maintain a healthy body. This includes being aware of what you are putting into your body. You need to make sure you are drinking enough water as there are many health benefits of drinking water more frequently. Changing your diet can have life changing results. Read more about the importance of gut health and the benefits of probiotics for the immune system.
Exercise. The positive effects of this on stress levels is well documented. Add a variety of cardio, strength and stretch exercises to your routine and your body will cope better and you will reduce the effect of stress responses.
Positive social relationships are perhaps undervalued in reducing stress. Keep in touch with those people that build you up, encourage you and support you. Keep connected to those that positively impact you and this will bring will reinforce your ability to cope in stressful times.
Sleep and rest. Such an overlooked basics in the toolbox of coping with stress. Rest. Build this into your routines. Make sure you are getting an adequate amount of sleep at nights. Take naps in the day and make sure you take at least one day off from work during the week to rest. We were certainly not built to keep on being productive day in, day out. You can read more about the Importance of Sleep here.
You might be reading this and be responding internally with. Yes! I am doing all of that, but I still feel totally drained, mentally jarred, and emotionally finished. We see you; we hear you. This season is tough for even the strongest mentally fit person and this is where recognising warning signs and seeking help without shame is so necessary.
Mental Health Warning Signs
Anxiety can present itself in many ways and can fall under a varied set of mental health challenges. Asking oneself these questions can give you an idea if you should seek outside help.
1. Do you persistently stress, for no apparent reason or without knowing exactly what you are worried about?
2. Do you always expect the worst outcome in situations?
3. Do you have intense fears that are not based in reality?
4. Do you have a pronounced fear or phobia of something in particular?
5. Do you suffer from intense reactions to change?
6. Are you anxious that a stressful event that you have lived through previously may repeat itself?
7. Do you have any compulsive, repetitive actions that are rooted in a sense of being able to soothe anxiety over a situation? (Constantly checking on things, overly repetitive personal routines).
8. Have you lost control of your emotions and reactions in an extreme way?
9. Do you have physical symptoms such as rapid pulse, short of breath, strained voice, light-headedness, difficulty talking, chest pains, clenching jaw, twitching facial muscles, muscle tension, extreme fatigue, unexplained nausea?
10. Do you have an urge to escape?
11. Are you suffering from insomnia?
12. Are you turning to things like coffee, alcohol, medication, or illegal drugs to help you feel calmer? Happier or more at ease?
13. Do you suffer from extreme insomnia or nightmares?
We hope that your answers to these questions might assist in you in identifying the state of your own mental health and will motivate you to prioritise your mental health, implement with greater commitment some of our suggestions or realise that you might be in too deep and in need of some external support.
Whichever place you may find yourself in today, we are here to point you in the right direction and our friends over at Recovery Direct have made some amazing resources available.
Where to access Free Mental Health Support
Check out Recovery Direct’s ‘Connecting Daily’ live feed on the Recovery Direct Facebook page at 12:10pm South African time which aims to assist people in understanding themselves better and will certainly help you with some insights into your mental well-being.
Over on the Recovery Direct YouTube channel there are free live recovery groups hosted by professional counsellors each day. All you need to do is subscribe to this channel and click the live video notification feature for when the streams go live.
Recovery Direct Contact Details
Besides these wonderful resources, Recovery Direct offers a range of a comprehensive recovery programs to suit every need. Currently, they are operational with strict COVID-19 precautions in place and can assist in securing travel documents if you need to visit the centre.
Helpline (8am – 5pm) : 087 378 1330
Whatsapp/24-7 Calls : 079 235 7415
Sources on Recovery Direct Cape Town