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Some words on COVID-19 and feelings of uncertainty, unknowingness, anxiety, fear and being out-of-control at the moment. Because we know many of you are feeling these things.

Some words on COVID-19 and feelings of uncertainty, unknowingness, anxiety, fear and being out-of-control at the moment. Because we know many of you are feeling these things.


Amidst the panic and anxiety surrounding the current COVID-19 situation is the sense of feeling trapped, out-of-control or even helpless.

These are some of the feelings our clients and those getting in touch about accessing therapy are expressing. The urgency and panic created by the media doesn't help with these feelings either and it only really increases our sense of things feeling out of our control.

I think there are 2 things to consider that can help us surf through these waves of uncertainty, anxiety and sense of unknowingness.

1. ACCEPTANCE: The first is acceptance. While it is distressful to do so, accepting that life for the next few months will be different can be really helpful. That's just how it is. There's nothing we can do about the virus because it's already here, however, we can accept it's here, that life will change for a while and that our dedicated scientists, medical staff, retailers, social care workers, governments and all other frontline staff are doing everything they can to minimise disruption and work towards gaining some control over the virus, minimising illness and death and disruption to our economy with the aim of getting life back to 'normal' as quickly as possible. Those are the facts and if we accept the fact that life is going to be a bit tricker than usual for the next few months, we can then move on from that and engage with the second point below.

2. ASSERTING CONTROL IN SMALL WAYS: Once we have accepted that a situation exists that we have no control over (the virus is here and others, e.g. the frontline staff above, are trying to bring this situation under control on our behalf), then we can start gaining back control elsewhere. If having some certainty, control and knowingness is important to us (maybe because it helps us alleviate anxiety or distress), then we can try and secure it in other ways. These might be small ways, but the accummulative effect of controlling lots of smaller things in our lives at the moment can help provide us with a sense of having some control over our lives at the moment, amidst the messy 'outside' world that we are living in at the moment.

How do we do this though? I was speaking to some clients this week for whom having some sense of predictability, control, security, safety, knowingness, certainty etc. is important to them. It will be important to them for various reasons. It may even be essential to their recovery or to maintaining reasonable mental health or to having good wellbeing. For some, it's a life saver and their sense of control keeps them alive. Remember, the virus isn't just a physical, biological problem: it's a psychological, mental, social and emotional one too. The current situation triggers our threat system and for some, soothing themselves via having some control or certainly will be most helpful.

So while, at the moment we have limited control over the virus and the uncertainty of the situation (although others are trying to bring some control over the situation e.g. governments and medics), we can have some control over our lives as we self-isolate, socially distance or quarantine.

Of course, what this involves will vary from person-to-person. There's no right or wrong in this. Some of the things I've heard from clients, supervisees, colleagues, family, strangers on TV and elsewhere are as follows:

* ''I am working from home as of Monday and while it's an anxious time, I am going to try and gain a little control over the current changes in my life by getting up at the usual time and going to bed at the usual time. I am also going to work from 9 am to 3pm (my usual working hours) and take work breaks when I usually take them. I will do my housework on the days I usually do it and I will do my banking every Saturday morning like I have done for years. I am also going to add in some things that will help with my current anxiety: so on top of trying to keep my usual routine as much as I can at the moment, I am going to try and cook some more meals from scratch, if I can, have a relaxing bath in the evening (on top of my usual morning shower) and get back into reading in bed before sleeping at night. I also have some face masks left so I am going to look after my body with food, exercise and self-care as much as possible. So, I'm going to treat my skin to a face mask once a week, for as long as they last and try that fitness DVD I've had at the back of my cupboard for years. These all sound simple, but they will help me to try and gain some control over this situation that's causing me anxiety at the moment. Having some control over some of my activities and decisions, even if I'm stuck at home will really help me create an almost mini-climate of control and routine within the outside, messy out-of-controllness''.

* Others are going to do some of the above and other things individual to them. For example: get into reading again; continue to make weekly phone calls to their mum/sister/dad/uncle/friend; spend more time with their pets; do some work in their garden; learn a new language; host online meetings for work every week to check in with colleagues also working from home; finally paint that spare bedroom; have meals at the same time they would usually do; continue to watch the TV programmes they usually watch each week: surround themselves with familiar, comfortable or soothing things (pets, photos, their childhood toy, a sentimental greetings cards; a favourite book; etc).

We are all feeling anxious, uncertain, scared, out-of-control and probably agitated too, with not knowing quite what to do. This is all normal. It is! Humans are not that great with change to be honest, big or small. However, when it comes to a change in our whole way of living, even when we know it's not forever, we find that hard to accept and reconcile. But that's a normal, healthy reaction. Why? Because it's our threat system kicking in - the 'old brain' that we share with all animals that is there to detect threat, danger and risk. And I'm betting most people's 'old brains' are taking over at the moment and detecting threat, fear and anxiety left, right and centre.

However, soothing ourselves in appropriate ways and asserting at least some control and certainty over what we can at the moment can really help turn down that anxiety dial.

I really didn't mean to write so much, however, I have and that's what I have to say. Your fear and anxiety is normal but you can regain some control and certainty over some things in your life at the moment. Turn down that anxiety and fear dial a little and keep things as normal as you can, where possible. Believe me, your mind and your body will thank you for it.

In the meantime, take care, stay safe, keep well and let's all accept that while we are in this together, we can support each other with compassion, patience, kindness and some love.

All the best,

Alex

Alexandra O'Brien

www.eatingdisorderscotland.co.uk
www.glasgowanxietydepression.co.uk
www.citizen17therapy.co.uk
www.cbtersclub.co.uk
www.glasgowtherapyrooms.co.uk

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