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 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.”

Why too many Instagram selfies can ruin your relationships

davanti selfie

Limit the number of selfies you post on Instagram if this causes conflict with your partner (image courtesy of stockimages/freedigitalphotos.net)

Post too many selfies on Instagram and it can have a negative effect on your relationships. The more selfies you post showing how happy you are with your body, the worse those effects will be. That’s according to recent research into the ‘dark side’ of Instagram use by Florida State University.

To investigate the consequences on relationships of posting selfies on Instagram, the researchers carried out an online survey of 420 people aged 18 to 62. One of the findings was that people with higher body image satisfaction (the mental image they have of their physical selves) were more likely to post Instagram selfies. While the selfie-lovers may be happy with how they look, there was a correlation between frequent posting and conflict in their relationships. This conflict manifested as jealousy and arguments – and, in worst cases, break-up, separation and divorce.

These negative relationship outcomes can arise from jealous partners becoming hyper-vigilant about Instagram use. The researchers explain: “We speculate that Instagram-related conflict might arise when users begin to monitor their partner’s Instagram selfie posting behaviours. Excessive online monitoring may then result in verbal disputes between romantic partners [who] may experience jealousy given the amount of likes and comments a selfie has accumulated on Instagram. It is also possible that Instagram selfie posts may capture other users’ attention, resulting in the development of online relationships with other Instagram users.” This can ultimately lead to relationship breakdown.

The researchers recommend limiting the number of selfies you post if it’s causing conflict with your partner. They also suggest exploring Instagram and social media use in couples counselling, especially where trust and betrayal are key issues.

The full research is ‘Instagram Unfiltered: Exploring Associations of Body Image Satisfaction, Instagram #Selfie Posting, and Negative Romantic Relationship Outcomes.’

Redundancy can create long-lasting trust issues

Losing your job can make it difficult for you to trust people again. (photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/pakorn)

Losing your job can make it difficult for you to trust people again. (photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/pakorn)

Losing your job can create such deep scars in your self-esteem that it can take you 10 years to be able to trust people again. Not even a new job can heal the wound or help you regain a sense of self, according to a study of 7,000 British adults by the University of Manchester.

Social scientist Dr James Laurence found that being laid off can create “a decade of distrust” – and the cynicism doesn’t go away even when the person made redundant returns to employment. He said: “People’s willingness to trust others tends to remain largely stable over their lifetime. However, this work shows that trauma like redundancy can shift people’s outlook of the world and this change persists long after the experience occurred.”

Losing your job can feel traumatic, especially if your identity and self-esteem are wrapped up in the work you do. Redundancy can bring up all kinds of feelings of failure and shame, and the study shows that the impact can be long lasting. When the sense of self is punctured, it can take a long time for the trauma to be processed and for the person to feel whole again.

If you’re suffering the effects of redundancy and would like to regain trust in others and faith in yourself, email or call Karen on 07956 823501 to book a confidential counselling appointment.

Stress: is kindness more effective than confidence?

Press forgiveness rather than punishing yourself. (pic courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/stuartmiles)

Press forgiveness rather than punishing yourself. (pic courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/stuartmiles)

Ever found yourself finding reasons to beat yourself up, believing yourself to be at fault, and wishing you could be a better person? If that’s a familiar (or daily) situation, then research is increasingly seeking to prove that being kind to yourself is far more effective than finding mantras for your self-esteem.

Being kinder to yourself, and finding more compassion for your faults and those of others, could help you deal more effectively with the daily stressors of life. That’s the main finding of research from Brandeis University on self-compassion.

The long-standing view has been that self-esteem is the cure-all, but the new view is that self-compassion could be far more effective in helping us cope with the stresses that bear down on us all.

Self-compassion is the ability to forgive yourself for stuff you’ve done, not blaming yourself or taking more responsibility than you should, and letting it go rather than dwelling on it. In other words, it’s the ability to cut yourself some slack.

The researchers asked people to rank their agreement to statements such as, “I try to be understanding and patient toward aspects of my personality I do not like” and “I’m disapproving and judgmental about my own flaws and inadequacies”. Resulting stress tests were recorded.

Tests showed that people with low self-compassion carried their stress from the day before into today, which made them more vulnerable to the effects of stress.

The researchers said: “It is easy for stress to build over time, and a seemingly small daily stressor, such as traffic, can impact a person’s health if they don’t have the right strategies to deal with it.”

My take on this? Forgive yourself for stuff outside your control – where possible. Beating yourself up in areas that have nothing to do with you, or have a detrimental effect, are to be avoided. This way of being can have its roots in childhood, and how you had to take care of a parent as a child.

For support and to work on forgiveness, call 07956 823501 or email davanticounselling.com

Can you ‘do an Oprah’ and let go of claustrophobic clutter?

davanti clutter“Knowing what you need is more than knowing what you want,” says Oprah Winfrey in an article about clearing her clutter. Big words, big aim – but not making anyone immune to the anxiety that goes with clearing out the clutter of our lives that can keep us stuck.

Even Oprah admits to feeling some anxiety – and wanting to buy back some of her stuff – when dealing with the emotional impact of saying goodbye to some of her most prized possessions. Ultimately, her instincts were that “instead of feeling walled in by stuff, [she] want[ed] to feel surrounded by calm”.

Having a vision for a cleared space is admirable. Many of us want to feel less ‘walled in’ by our clutter, but there can be so much invested in the objects we hold dear – especially if those objects belonged to someone who is no longer in our lives.

Oprah’s point is that our stuff doesn’t have to own us, but it can be so hard to let go. Who’s to say when it’s time to let go of a particular object?

Experience of letting go shows that you more you’re able to release to the world, the more the world is able to release to you. Hold onto the objects that you’ve paid a fortune for, but you have no further need of, and work out what you will get in return. Release objects to people who really need them, instead of hoarding them yourself, surely has to be the opportunity we’ve been given: to bestow on others the gifts that we have been given ourselves.

In Oprah’s words – assuming we’re not wanting for our basic needs – then “less actually is so much more”.

Bickering parents affect their kids’ mental health

Unresolved arguments between parents can create insecurity in their kids. (pic courtesy of David Castillo Dominic/freedigitalphotos.net)

Unresolved arguments between parents can create insecurity in their kids. (pic courtesy of David Castillo Dominic/freedigitalphotos.net)

Parents who bicker in front of the kids, and fail to resolve their arguments, could affect their children’s mental and physical health, according to a report by relationship charity OnePlusOne.

The study looked at ‘destructive’ and ‘constructive’ conflicts and how they affected children. In destructive conflict, parents sulk, slam doors or make their kids the focus of the row. Constructive conflict is where parents resolve their differences during the argument.

Destructive conflict can have social, emotional and behavioural effect on kids. They might start to suffer psychosomatic pains such as stomachache and headache. The insecurity they feel can also affect their growth. Kids growing up in this way can be more likely to perpetuate these conflict behaviours when they become parents themselves. 

Report co-author Dr Catherine Houlston says: “If a child sees his or her parents in conflict then work things out, they understand it’s possible for difficult situations to be resolved, and they feel more secure.”