Even the most upbeat and optimistic people must surely be feeling tested with this pandemic and the extended lockdown. So maybe it’s not a surprise that mental health is becoming one of the most talked-about subjects. And if you consider it affects one in four of us, that’s obviously a good thing.
The thing with poor mental health is, it’s not always easy to recognise. And people aren’t always willing to put their hand up and admit they’re struggling. Which is a shame, because with the right tools and help, all mental health issues are recoverable – and most won’t even need professional help.
Coping in times of crisis
To discover more, I recently attended an event led by international location safety expert, Josh Levene. A Surrey man, Josh got his sense of adventure from being part of the 1st Claygate Scout Group. He then went on to lead a fascinating life as a humanitarian aid worker, working on every continent for the likes of the British Government, UN and Oxfam. So he’s had to cope with many stressful and threatening situations from being in war zones, dealing with the aftermath of environmental disasters, and the effects of pandemics.
Josh admits that he was given little training before he started out, and almost no mental health advice. So he didn’t cope well with the pressure of what he was doing. He tried to develop his own coping mechanisms (some not altogether healthy) but not addressing his problems early, eventually led to burn-out, and him ultimately being treated for complex post-traumatic stress disorder. He’s now an advocate for good mental health and trains people before they head off to work in similar hostile environments.
What’s happening in your head?
To help understand why we sometimes find it hard to cope, Josh uses the analogy of a ‘stress bucket’ to demonstrate our resilience to different situations. Stress flows into our bucket constantly. If we have good coping mechanisms, we can open a tap at the bottom of the bucket and let some stress flow out. But if we haven’t developed that, the tap stays closed and our buckets overflow – and that’s when we reach a point of crisis. So the key is finding a way to develop those good coping mechanisms and keep the tap firmly turned on.
8 coping mechanisms we can all adopt
1. Breathe deeply – get more oxygen into your brain and it will help you stay calm and be more rational.
2. Don’t stress about the things you can’t control – you can change the way you behave or act, but many other things are out of your control. That’s when you need to ‘let it go’.
3. Be mindful – use mindfulness techniques to help you take some time out and give yourself a break from the stresses of day-to-day life.
4. Look after yourself – put on your oxygen mask first. If you don’t look after yourself, you can’t look after others.
5. Don’t catastrophise – how likely is it that the worst will happen? Be realistic and try not to build up situations to be worse than they actually are.
6. Be open and honest – accept that we’re all vulnerable and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you find you’re struggling to cope.
7. Be compassionate – everyone deals with things in their own way so listen, be sympathetic and notice if someone you know seems to be having a tricky time.
8. And remember H.A.L.T
HUNGRY – eat well and not too much
ANGRY – pay attention to your emotions as they’re the clue to help you understand when your needs aren’t being met.
LONELY – don’t underestimate the power of connecting with people (but do it sparingly if that’s online).
TIRED – get enough sleep and let your batteries recharge ready for the next day.
It’s onwards and upwards
Josh ended the event by reminding us that this pandemic will end – and we’ll all be able to say that we’ve survived our first international crisis! But for now, this is a powerful opportunity for us all to reset and think about how we want to live our lives in the future.
If we can help with that, please feel free to give us a call on 01372 365950. Or if you want to find out more about how to support your own mental health and wellbeing, you’ll find lots of self-help and resources at Healthy Surrey.