A psychotherapist’s perspective on managing the ‘coronacoaster’

We’re in unprecedented times. The Covid-19 pandemic has contributed to us experiencing unprecedented emotions. So much so that there’s a new word for our ups and downs: the ‘coronacoaster’.

  • One day you may feel absolutely fine, as though life feels manageable and in control and solid.
  • Another day, you may feel as though you’re in panic, freaking out about the reality of what’s happening.
  • Other days you may feel so low that you can barely move: all the plans you’d had for this ‘time off’ may have come to nothing, and you may be beating yourself up for being unproductive.

All of the above may be your ‘new normal’. It can feel weird to have so many emotional ups and downs – and perhaps rather cliche to call this a ‘rollercoaster’. However, in our lifetime we haven’t been through this before: separated from our loved ones, being in an enclosed environment for days and weeks on end, and not having any certainty or security about what will happen next.

As a psychotherapist, I have seen people become supremely comfortable with being separated from the world, and interacting only digital ways – and others who climbing the walls to get out and back into life (with whatever that will mean). Sometimes the same person will experience both extremes in the same day. Feelings and emotions that may have existed before lockdown may now be heightened as a result of being shut in your home.

I’m therefore offering some tips from a psychotherapist’s perspective to managing these emotional ups and downs:

Know that there will be ups and downs. Acceptance is the first step to feeling a tiny bit easier about what’s going on.

Take control of what you can. ‘Out there’ is a biggie. You can’t control what’s going on in the world, what politicians and their advisors do or say, or what your neighbours are doing. You can only take control of what is in your control. And you can only really control your response to what is happening, rather than let it get to you.

Limit what stresses you. This may be TV news bulletins, social media feeds, emails from friends. Why put yourself through endless streams of content that unsettles or distresses you?

Focus on small, achievable tasks. Being stuck at home can make life feel as though it is stretching out unendingly. Making your day feel as though you have achieved something can be a help. Create a structure for your day. Create a to-do list and tick off tiny little tasks that you can accomplish. This can be something as simple as washing up last night’s dishes, calling your relative, or tidying up your laptop screen. The feeling of achieving something is what’s important.

Write down your dreams, as they may be quite vivid at this time. Dream time is usually an opportunity to process your day. With less activity in your daily world, your dreams may be dipping back into much more unconsious material.

On your heightened days… try to get back into your body by doing exercise or getting in flow by doing what helps you lose yourself in the moment, be it gardening, dancing, singing, humming, cleaning, cooking, baking etc.

On your low days… It may help to journal your thoughts, to draw or build them, to help gain perspective from what is dragging you down. Speak to loved ones who can bolster you through the troughs of your mood.

Trust that you will get through this. 

If you’re struggling and need professional support to get through this, call /text me on 07956 823501 and we can arrange a time to speak. Sessions are available by phone or Zoom during Covid-19.

How being by the seaside is good for mental health

Coastal living can reduce the chances of suffering from depression and anxiety.

Living close to the seaside has a swell of benefits for mental health, especially for people on lower incomes, according to a study from the University of Exeter.

The research, which looked at the link between coastal proximity and self-reported mental health using data from 26,000 adults living in England, was published in the Health and Place journal. The findings show that people living less than a kilometre had “significantly lower odds” of suffering from a common mental health disorder (CMD) compared those living 50km away. This difference was more marked in those from low-income households.

In England, an estimated one in six adults (17 %) surveyed were suffering symptoms of a common mental disorder, such as anxiety or depression. However, this survey is the latest in a series of studies that shows how exposure to natural environments – green as well as blue spaces – can support mental health and wellbeing.

Those benefits can include more opportunities for social contact and physical activity, reduced stress, improved air quality and immune functioning, lower levels of psychological distress, and a greater chance to feeling psychologically restored after a trip to the seaside.

Dr Mathew White, environmental psychologist at the University of Exeter, is calling on leaders to ensure more people have access to ‘blue spaces’ such as sea, lakes and rivers, because of the reported uplift to physical and mental wellbeing. He said: “This kind of research into blue health is vital to convincing governments to protect, create and encourage the use of coastal spaces. We need to help policy makers understand how to maximise the wellbeing benefits of ‘blue’ spaces in towns and cities and ensure that access is fair and inclusive for everyone, while not damaging our fragile coastal environments.”

This latest survey adds to a body of evidence collated by Blue Health that points to the benefits of blue spaces to physical activity, emotional wellbeing and mental health.

Swimming has buoyant benefits for mental health, says study

Regular trips to the pool can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, according to research.
(pic credit: scusi)

A major study into swimming and mental health has revealed that regular trips to the pool can make life feel more manageable – and can help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.

The YouGov research, on behalf of Swim England, shows that 1.4million people have reported improved mental wellbeing thanks to swimming. These improvements for nearly half a million people include fewer visits to their GP for mental health reasons, and a reduction in (or no further need for) their mental health medication.

Of the 3.3million UK adults with mental health problems who swim at least once every couple of weeks, when questioned how swimming impacts their everyday life, responded:

  • 43% say swimming makes them happier.
  • 26% are more motivated to complete daily tasks.
  • 15% believe life feels more manageable.

Ian Cumming, chair of the Swimming and Health Commission, said: “Physical activity in any form can have a positive impact on a person’s mental health, but swimming is unique because the buoyancy of water ensures everyone is able to take part at a pace that suits them. Research shows that simply being in water can be restorative, particularly swimming outside.”

The benefits of any exercise whatsoever have been shown to benefit mental health. Swimming is said to offer versatility, whether you want a leisurely lane swim or to set yourself time and distance targets. All the while being supported by the water.

Hayley Jarvis, head of physical activity at the Mind mental health charity, added: “We all know that doing physical activities like swimming is good for our bodies. But our physical health and mental health are closely linked and being physically active can also be very beneficial for our mental health too. If you’re more active there’s good evidence to suggest that, at most ages, there’s a trend towards lower rates of depression. One study has found that by increasing your activity levels from doing nothing, to exercising at least three times a week, you can reduce your risk of depression by up to 30%.”

Perhaps worth digging out your costume and heading to the local pool.

How adult colouring-in can support your mental health

Daily colouring-in can help reduce anxiety and depression. (pic copyright: neydt )

Adult colouring books have been all the rage in the field of mental health for the last few years, said to decrease stress and increase mindful living by encouraging the person colouring-in to slow down and enjoy the moments of life. As well as being a pleasurable activity, new research has shown that daily colouring is becoming a creative way of helping to reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression.

In a new study called Sharpen Your Pencils by the University of Otago in New Zealand, published in the Creativity Research Journal, the researchers set out to prove whether adult colouring books really were ‘living up to the hype’ of promised therapeutic value.

To carry out the research, they randomly assigned 115 women participants with either a booklet containing 10 pictures to colour in (including abstract shapes, nature images and mandalas) or a booklet of puzzles, including logic problems, Sudoku and word searches. They all filled out an inventory of their perceived levels of depression, anxiety, stress, resilience and mindfulness. They filled in this survey again a week later, after doing puzzles or colouring-in for 10 minutes a day.

The results showed that while both groups had become more mindful, there was a difference in mood for the group who did the colouring-in. The participants showed reported a reduction in their depressive and anxious symptoms, suggesting that the activity of colouring-in has more mental-health benefits than had previously been believed.

Study joint author Dr Tamlin Conner said: “Our findings bode well for the potential psychological benefits of colouring-in. In this way, colouring-in could be considered an act of everyday ‘little ‘c’’ creativity, in much the same way as gardening or gourmet cooking. With its low risk and accessibility, we feel comfortable adding colouring-in to the growing list of creative activities for improving mental health outcomes.”

How free will is linked to a positive sense of self

Authenticity can come from having a sense of agency over our lives. (pic copyright: delcreations)

The extent to which we believe in free will can determine our sense of self – how we feel about ourselves, the world, and our place in it. Diminishing our free will can trigger depression, anxiety and lower self-esteem. That’s according to a study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science.

Researchers at Texas A&M University worked with two groups of 300 participants, giving them tests to examine the relationship between free will and sense of self, and between free will and authenticity. They discovered that people with low free will showed “greater feelings of self-alienation and lower self-awareness” as well as lower authenticity compared with the group who had higher free will.

“Our findings suggest that part of being who you are is experiencing a sense of agency and feeling like you are in control over the actions and outcomes in your life,” says lead author Elizabeth Seto from the Department of Psychology at Texas A&M University. “If people are able to experience these feelings, they can become closer to their true or core self.”

My experience of working with clients in therapy bears out these findings. People can feel depressed, depleted and hopeless when they feel they have no choice over aspects of their lives. This can put them in a victim position from which they feel unable to escape. Things get ‘done’ to them, and they have little sense of any agency over their own lives. The process of being in therapy can help identify options, and instil a belief that they are in charge of their own lives. Sometimes that can start with a very small step, and gradually they can make more decisions in alignment with who they truly are – instead of looking to external factors for encouragement or validation.

I will leave the final word on this to Carl Jung: “Freedom of will is the ability to do gladly that which I must do.”

Can seeing green boost your happiness?

davanti counselling green grass heart

Seek out scenes of green to soothe your stress. (pic courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/Master isolated images)

“When the green woods laugh with the voice of joy,

And the dimpling stream runs laughing by;

When the air does laugh with our merry wit,

And the green hill laughs with the noise of it.”

William Blake

The poet William Blake had a strong sense of the power of green for joy and happiness. The colour green is often associated with peace, harmony, growth and balance, and symbolises the colour of the heart. Walking in nature, and enjoying the greenery, is often cited as a natural and effective remedy for alleviating stress and depression.

Yet new research suggests that it’s not just BEING in nature that can help with mood. Even LOOKING at green scenes can help people recover from stress and feel happier.

A study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health showed the results of research that recorded participants’ stress responses during a series of tasks that asked them to view green and built scenes before and after doing some challenging mental arithmetic.

The researchers concluded: “The findings provide support for greater recovery in participants who viewed green scenes as compared to participants who viewed built scenes. Viewing green scenes may thus be particularly effective in supporting relaxation and recovery after experiencing a stressful period, and thereby could serve as an opportunity for micro-restorative experiences and a promising tool in preventing chronic stress and stress-related diseases.”

So, seek out green if you’ve had a stressful period and would like some respite and recovery.

Daughters may inherit depression from their mothers

davanti counselling mother daughter

Research says the brain structure governing emotion can be passed down from mother to daughter (pic courtesy of nenetus/freedigitalphotos.net)

The structure in the brain that governs emotion – including susceptibility and resistance to depression – is more likely to be passed from mother to daughter than from mother to son, or from fathers to their children, according to new research carried out at the University of California–San Francisco (UCSF).

The study examined MRI scans of the corticolimbic system in the brain, which regulates and processes emotion, and has a part to play in mood disorders such as depression, to examine the relationship between generations. The researchers looked at these brain structures within 35 families, and say that the findings suggest the first evidence that depression can be passed on from mothers to daughters.

Women are statistically more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety than men. However, this new study does not say that mothers will automatically pass depression onto their daughters. Lead author Fumiko Hoeft, a UCSF associate professor of psychiatry, said: “The finding does not mean that mothers are necessarily responsible for their daughters’ depression. Many factors play a role in depression: genes that are not inherited from the mother, social environment, and life experiences, to name only three. Mother-daughter transmission is just one piece of it.”