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Covid-19: Why we are so stressed and ways to overcome it

Our concern for our loved ones is exacerbating stress and anxiety at this time. Picture: Marco Bianchetti on Unsplash

The Meander Chronicle has written before about the stress around the Covid-19 pandemic: not just the anxiety about potentially becoming ill, but concern for our friends and loved ones plus the fallout and continuing socioeconomic consequences of the virus and national lockdown.

We asked Pietermaritzburg Clinical Psychologist Clive Willows for his insights on what’s behind our stress and anxiety at this time; and mechanisms and thoughts to help you cope.

Willows said: “Stress is experienced when an individual considers there to be a discrepancy between their perceived view of what has to be achieved and their perception of their capacity to realise that achievement. The unexpected Covid-19 threat and the consequent enforced life changes have created challenges that few have instinctively felt confident to manage.

The unexpected Covid-19 threat and consequent enforced life changes have created challenges that few have instinctively felt confident to manage. Picture: Matheus Ferrero on Unsplash

“In some ways, this situation parallels a life crisis where an individual realises that the coping strategies that may have been effective at a previous developmental stage are no longer appropriate to meet new challenges. The difference in this analogy is that we can usually anticipate and prepare for a developmental life crisis but Covid took us unaware.”

Path is unclear

He said the current uncertain times are stressful not only because of the lack of preparation but also because the evolving future path is unclear in terms of what may still be coming and knowing when an end to the crisis may be reached.

The evolving future path is unclear in terms of what may still be coming and knowing when an end to the crisis may be reached. Picture: Morning Brew on Unsplash

“Depression is often the result of prolonged stress. Typical features of depression include a sense of helplessness and an attitude of hopelessness. Feeling passive, with little control over circumstances and having no certainty of a more familiar future at a specific time are experiences shared by many at this time, making more people vulnerable for depression.”

Now read: Tough enough for lockdown… actually not

Willows said the current stress was, to some degree at least, justified: “We cannot draw on previous similar experiences to develop an adequate and guaranteed effective response and there are numerous factors outside of our direct control. We need to be cautious, however, of exaggerating our stress by catastrophising worst case scenarios and/or minimising confidence in our ability to adjust and adapt.”

Positive steps to take in this crisis

Willows advised: “To combat depression we need to reclaim as much ‘personal power’ as these limitations allow. We need to take control of what we can and confirm for ourselves our proven ability to make decisions in our lives. This may involve experimenting with new ideas and having confidence in doing things we have not done before.

“Whilst our recent reality has taken much away from us, what many have been given is more time in each day. How we choose to use that time should be a matter under our personal control, and taking that control can help in combating the feeling of helplessness.”

Every cloud a silver lining? While our recent reality has taken much away from us, what many have been given is more time in each day. Picture: Jason Leung on Unsplash

Willows noted that the enforced regulations have highlighted the huge gap between those who have sufficient reserves to survive a period of restrictions and those who live a pattern of day-to-day existence. It feels insensitive to make suggestions that could ease the stress for those more comfortable, while others are facing the real panic of survival.

“Choosing to alleviate the sufferings of others and offering skills, time and resources to those more needy can be the choice that provides us with the sense of mastery, that alleviates stress and depression and confirms our humanity.”

Stress is also the experience of being conflicted over values and priorities. Picture: Luiza Braun on unsplash

Willows said stress is not just about being too busy or too anxious. It is also the experience of being conflicted over values and priorities.

“This explains why a life crisis is a crisis – because holding on to the values and priorities that have assisted us thus far in life no longer work for us and we find ourselves in situations where we are living at odds with our values.”

A time for reflection and discovery

“A time of crisis requires a need for reflection and the courage to let go and to make changes. It is a time to reflect on what is really important for us and where we need to direct our energy. It is a time to consider our reasons for gratitude. It may become a time to rediscover what it means to be human. To reconnect with our own humanity and to recognise that same humanity in others.”

**Clive and Jill Willows are clinical psychologists, who practise in Pietermaritzburg. Phone: 033 345 1185

Now read: Survey: Covid-19 flattens personal finances

Rhys Johnstone is a Mindfulness researcher and trainer based in Johannesburg who focuses on Mindfulness in the Workplace, and has been teaching Mindfulness and yoga online since the Covid-19 outbreak began. You can join his classes at www.intuitiveocean.com

Rhys Johnstone.

Johnstone suggests the “Three Minute Breathing Space”, developed by Mark Williams, John Teasdale and Zindel Segal, as a quick way to “re-set” when you are experiencing anxiety during lockdown. This simple but effective practice has three steps, and the idea is that you spend about a minute on each step.

*The first step invites attending broadly to one’s experience, noting it, but without the need to change what is being observed. It’s almost like “checking the weather” inside.

*The second step narrows the field of attention to a single point: focus on the breath in the body.

*The third step widens attention again to include the body as a whole and any sensations that are present.

In many cases, he says, following these three simple steps creates a calm space from which you can move out into your day and whatever challenges face you.

Read the full article here: How Mindfulness can help you get through lockdown

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