• Katharine Gardner

Do you want to get off the Corona-coaster?

I don’t know about you, but I have been riding the Corona-coaster. I’ve been holding on for dear life, with white knuckles at times. The mix of emotions that I've experienced have been wide and varied. I've felt totally unreasonable, argumentative, upset and totally out of control, then swung back to calm, logical and accepting.

During this uncertain time of the global Corona-virus pandemic, life is most certainly not “normal”! We’ve all had our lives turned upside down. Choices are limited, freedom is restricted, work and family life has been disrupted.

We’re worried, unsure of what the future will look like. We’re anxious about the big things like our health, our families, our finances. We’re anxious about smaller things like “when can I get my hair cut”!

I’ve felt disbelief over how likely we are to catch the virus; shock at how serious the global situation is; fear of the effects if we do catch it; helpless about what can be done; anger at those who aren’t following the guidelines. In the beginning I felt trapped, cut off, isolated. I grieved for the loss of time with my grown-up children, missed family gatherings, felt sad my 7-year-old daughter couldn’t enjoy playing with her friends or go swimming. I’ve also grieved for relatively unimportant things, like being able to leisurely wander around a shop for a gift, or the opportunity to visit the cinema. I’ve been quite sad at the removal of so many things that brought me joy, and experienced confusion at the loss of a daily routine.

So, in those moments of overwhelm - how do we get our rational, thinking brains back online, and take control back?

Well to explain that, you have to understand why it goes offline in the first place.

Within our brain we have essentially two minds. The Intellectual Mind, located in our prefrontal cortex (at the top of your forehead) which makes a proper assessment of what needs to be done, formulates a good plan and adjust things along the way. When we are operating from our intellectual minds we feel calm and confident, in control and able to handle thing effectively.

Brain diagram © CPHT

The other part of the brain is the Primitive Emotional Mind, controlled by the amygdala. This part was there long, long ago, back when we were cave people, having a tough time to stay alive, and danger lurked around every corner. The primitive mind has one core function – to keep us alive. If it detects danger, it will get us out of trouble quickly, keep scanning for danger vigilantly and obsessively, and store that information for the next time something similar occurs.

In our modern lives there are plenty of times you can probably think of when you felt too overloaded with stress, uncertainty, fear, annoyance….. perhaps felt scared of change, worried about the future. We chuck our “stress” in a metaphorical bucket, and little by little we fill it up throughout the day. When it becomes full, something small can tip us over the edge. The effect of our stress bucket overflowing is that we have gone from feeling rational and in control… to losing control.

When this happens, we are in the fight, flight or freeze mode = survival mode. The primitive part of our brains disables the logical, rational thinking part of brains. It prioritises survival over the need to eat, procreate or think logically, as thinking time is too slow. So when you feel angry, upset or fearful, or feel overwhelmed and unable to cope, you can’t make effective decisions, or seem to find the right words…. because your brain has no spare capacity to think, it is purely in life-saving mode, operating automatically.

When our brains perceive this degree of stress or threat, physiological changes occur in our bodies and brains. Adrenaline and cortisol are pumped into our blood stream. It raises our heartbeat and respiration rate, to pump more oxygen to the muscles and make us more alert to respond to danger. Our blood pressure is elevated, we go sweaty, our stomach churns (ready to eject the contents to make us lighter to run away faster). We have lost intellectual control, and can only respond with anger, anxiety or depression, or a combination.

So we may find ourselves feeling more irritable or irrational than usual, or feeling argumentative over something we’d not normally be bothered about. We may feel more tearful than normal, we may not feel motivated to get up and on with the day, personal care may slide a little. We may have trouble sleeping, procrastinating, or feeling too overwhelmed to even make a start on things. Coping strategies may be deployed such as alcohol, tobacco, drugs or distracting ourselves by binge watching tv or game playing. Anything to try and bring back your equilibrium and sense of control over your life.

Even change for the better can be seen by the primitive brain as a threat! So even if you’ve been furloughed and don’t have immediate money worries, spending more time at home with the family may send you in a tailspin too.

If you’re struggling to sleep, it’s likely anxiety is the cause. Our brains need about 20% of our night’s sleep in the REM stage (rapid eye movement). We need the REM state to process worries, thoughts, all the sensory information our brains have taken in throughout the day. If you don’t get enough sleep and specifically REM, then our emotions are a little haywire, we lose logical thinking and memory is impaired. You could be waking up with residual stress and unprocessed anxiety and therefore your stress bucket is already half full before the day has even begun. So, you can see how the negative cycle of stress, poor sleep and exhaustion just keeps going round and round.

If you identify with any or many of these things then you’re not alone, you’re not weird, and you’re certainly not losing the plot! These are normal responses to threat.

So what’s the solution, how do we re-gain control of our lives? How do we safely get off the Corona-coaster safely?

Well there are a number of fundamentals that we can do to get things back on track. When we’re doing positive, enjoyable and healthy activities, our brains produce lots of serotonin. This is an important chemical that helps us cope well, feel more motivated and feel a bit braver and it helps us to feel happier. If we unknowingly deprive ourselves of things that make us feel good, then our brains lack that chemical, and it can lead to depression and anxiety.

We can boost our feelings of well-being by:

* getting enough sleep (experts recommend 7 – 8 hours per night, dim the lights & eliminate blue light from electronic devices an hour before bed, ensure your bedroom is cool & dark);

* keeping to a regular daily and nightly routine (get up and go to bed at the same time);

* staying hydrated (and keeping caffeine and alcohol consumption low);

* taking regular exercise (experts recommend 30 minutes per day minimum, do something you enjoy, just start by moving a bit more, schedule it in);

* good nutrition (dust off those cookery books or look online for new recipes);

* getting outdoors every day, specifically in nature or green spaces (helps boost vitamin D production);

* taking some time out to have fun (chatting to friends, watching a comedy, singing, reading, crafts, gaming, meditation, quizzes, dancing, learning something new);

* removing or minimising things you don’t enjoy or make you feel stressed (like watching too much news or spending too much time on social media);

* achieving something each day, even if it’s something small (like tidying a drawer or cupboard, it gives you motivation to do more and more);

* each day note down your achievements, successes, things you’re proud of, things that made you smile, things you coped ok with (it reminds you that you are capable & successful, and helps you to remain positive); and

* reaching out for help when you need it (to positive people in your circle of family & friends; or from professionals such as the Samaritans, Shout or MIND – contact details for crisis organisations are at the end).

All these tools in your box will help you to calm down your body’s responses, they can give you a moment of calm, relaxation, positive focus and enjoyment. They can also provide a sense of well-being, motivation and progress. Ultimately, they will give you back some control.

If you do nothing else, getting a good night’s sleep will allow you to start the day feeling stress free, allowing you to have enough capacity for the day ahead. Getting good quality sleep can help regulate your appetite, protect your immunity, lower your risk of coronary disease, lessen the risk of diabetes and dementia, and ultimately prolong your life.

I think I’m at the acceptance stage of the situation now. I’m finding pleasure in a slower pace of life. I have a little more time to breathe, bring my head up and slowly look around. It’s been great to do some gardening, bake, bike and walk together, tackle maths challenges and clean out cupboards! And I’ve learnt I can take control of my thoughts sometimes. I can often recognise when I’m feeling overwhelmed, and try to get it under control. I’m trying to pick my battles. I try not to put too much pressure on myself. So what if I don’t get dressed occasionally til lunchtime! But I haven’t found it easy. And some days the balance is still off.

If those suggestions above aren’t helping and you’re struggling to cope, I can offer one-to-one sessions of hypnotherapy. I offer the first session for free, as it gives you a chance to see how hypnotherapy can help you, with no obligation. All sessions are online via Zoom, it’s really simple to set up.

Straight after the initial consultation, I email my clients a copy of my relaxation audio track, to listen to each bedtime. It gives a boost of positive messages to the subconscious mind whilst you’re relaxed and a little sleepy. It can get you into a good bedtime routine, and prepare you for making the most of your downtime.

In subsequent sessions I work primarily by emptying your stress bucket and helping you to minimise what goes in. I take clients through a series of questions to highlight how they can move forward with their lives, and what they identify as their small steps to success. Taking small steps in the right direction is so important, as the snowball effect builds and builds as time and motivation continue.

Then we have a nice relaxing trance session to finish off, and cement those positive ideas that we’ve just talked about. Hypnosis / trance is a special kind of guided relaxation, where the brain is able to take on new ideas without the barrier in place that your wakeful, conscious mind would put up to protect you from change. Remember the brain sees ALL change as a threat, even if its something positive, and if you’d really like it to happen! Being relaxed and able to visualise your success is a powerful tool to bring about change.

You can call or text me on: 07966 243876 or email: info@kghypnotherapy.co.uk if you’d like to find out more, or book a free first session.

I’d love to be able to help you reduce the contents of your stress bucket, move you back into your intellectual mind, and really unlock your positivity, and your potential to succeed and get off that Corona-coaster safely!

If you are in a crisis and need urgent help or advice:

NHS: Call 111 if it’s not an emergency / Call 999 if emergency

The Samaritans: Call 116123 or email jo@samaritans.org.uk

Shout Crisis Textline: Text “SHOUT” to 85258

MIND Infoline: Call 0300 123 3393 or email info@mind.org.uk

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