Published on 19th May, 2021 by Shar Gupta
The past weeks have been stressful for all of us in Singapore. The recent restrictions and the uncertainty of what will come next has been hard to handle for many of us.
You may be feeling scared, for the numbers to be rising, for memories of Circuit Breaker last year, for the way in which things can escalate and change so quickly. It may feel like a huge mountain that we have to collectively climb. Not just us here in Singapore, but we have friends and family all over the world who have been experiencing this pandemic in their own timelines and in their own intense ways.
You may be feeling grief. For many months there has been relative calm, with vaccination efforts and positive news stories and some sense of normalcy and hope for the end in sight. Some started making travel plans and hoped to see family and friends that they have not seen for nearly two years now. Many of those plans are now left in limbo, and the optimism felt by making plans has come crashing down and the future of travel feels more uncertain than ever.
You may be feeling resentment as we see progress being made globally, with places where people are now freely able to travel. You may feel sadness and fear when you know of the places where things are much worse and have loved ones struggling with coping over there.
Many of us are feeling stressed and anxious as a result of what’s happening. The stress response in our body exists to address an imminent threat, and can cause:
When the stress is chronic or long-term - and for many of us it has been over a year of stress about COVID-19 - our bodies stay in high-gear. The cortisol levels in our body stay elevated, which can cause negative long-term effects. Long-term stress has also been identified in studies as a contributing factor to heart disease and many types of cancers.
Let’s talk about some ways in which we can cope through these uncertain times and lessen the stress and anxiety we may be holding.
Although we can rationally understand why the recent restrictions are in place, this doesn’t mean that we aren’t allowed to grieve the continued loss of freedom and sense of peace. In fact, avoiding normal reactions like anger and sadness will simply make them simmer and then explode out of us without any control. This ends up being a much worse place to be.
Often, our emotions can feel messy, overpowering, draining, and they get in the way of us living the way we want to live. They can make it harder to focus on school or work, have compassion for others, and to fall asleep at night. This can make us want to avoid feeling them, and to push them away so that they’re not taking up so much space. But avoiding them doesn’t make them go away, it leaves them unresolved and likely to result in worse feelings and outcomes.
Take time to process the emotions you’re holding right now. You can do this effectively in many ways, including:
Emotions don’t get resolved until they’re allowed to be expressed and taken seriously. Try telling yourself (and others around you who are experiencing similar things): - “It makes sense that I feel this way” - “I am allowed to feel this way” - “It’s ok that I’m feeling this right now” - “I can feel this big thing and still be okay”
This act of giving yourself permission to feel the emotions and then the acceptance of them can bring so much relief and understanding, and practicing this compassion towards yourself and towards others can alleviate the negative experience in significant ways.
While it is normal to experience worry in these difficult times, we want to be able to build the skill of stopping these thoughts from spiralling us into anxious states. Thought-stopping is a CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) technique that I teach many of my clients who struggle with anxiety. I like to describe this as a muscle: just as you need to continually do strength training work to keep your biceps strong, you need to strengthen your thought-stopping muscle in order for it to be effective.
Thought-stopping is a temporary protective measure to keep that harmful thought from spiralling into anxiety. It’s good practice to develop more awareness of your thought patterns and to feel more in control of your thoughts.
The basic idea is to bring more awareness to those moments when you have a worried thought like “I think I have COVID-19!” or “What if XYZ dies from COVID-19?!”, and quickly perform a stopping exercise. This can be simply saying “Stop!” to yourself, or even a physical action like snapping a rubber band on your wrist. If you can interrupt the thought before it continues to spiral, your brain can approach the situation in a calmer way. The goal is to develop awareness of the thought patterns, and to stop the tendency of letting harmful thoughts spiral into anxiety.
Things are changing rapidly, and we simply don’t know what the next weeks will look like. You are already coping with the difficult emotions of right now, let’s try to not add on the worry for an unknown future. You can worry about the future in the future.
This can be done in conjunction with the previous tip of thought-stopping. When you have an anxious thought pop up, and you’re not in a space where you can really address the underlying thoughts and process your emotions, practice telling yourself “I’ll come back to you later.”
Even better, give yourself a specific time that you’ll come back to it. You’re telling that anxious thought - “I see you. I understand why you’re here. But I’m going to wait until tomorrow to deal with you.” Just the act of noticing and intentionally delaying the worry or anxiety you’re feeling can bring down the physical activation in your body, which can reduce the general overwhelm that anxiety can cause on your body and mind.
This pandemic has been a marathon, not a sprint. Every bump of it has been stressful in different ways, and so far you have made it through all of the bumps. This current period of stress is yet another bump. You will get through this one too.
If you notice yourself getting overwhelmed by the stress, take a deep breath and think instead about the bigger picture - overall, we are in a much more knowledgeable place than last year. Vaccines are rolling out, the general population is more informed and aware of how to practice health and safety, and the government and institutions have a lot more systems and protocols in place. Things will get better, and we have to keep ourselves safe and mentally well in order to get through these difficult bumps.
There’s a lot going on in our world right now, and a lot of it is out of your control. It’s normal and understandable to feel overwhelmed, scared, angry, and anxious. I hope that you can use some of these tips to allow yourself to grieve, reduce some of the anxiety, and practice making smaller mindset shifts in your everyday life that ultimately can give you a greater sense of control in how to navigate difficult times ahead.
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