Therapist Charlie Rowley shares tips and tricks on how to manage anxiety during lockdown/social distancing.
Given the current situation there is a global need to slow down and readdress the function and purpose of our lives. Many are grappling with ill health, some are facing the deaths of loved ones, and the mere essence of the present crisis provides a penetrating and violating source of anxiety. As a therapist, I see this as a time that truly magnifies that-which-is-already-there. The plethora of distractions and refuges we seek in our society on a daily basis are no longer available to us and many of us are stuck in our homes not knowing what to do or how to cope. This uncertain time is forcing those of us with mental illness to stare the beasts in our mind square in the face. Lockdown or social distancing challenges us to sit with ourselves and come to terms with the ‘stuff’ we have not been facing; the issues we have left unaddressed or pushed aside. So what is it about this crisis and being in lockdown that unearths our anxiety, or makes louder our depression? Why is it suddenly so much more appealing to drink more or incessantly check social media? Simply put, isolation causes disconnection and, crucially, disconnection causes isolation. Sounds confusing? Let me clarify…
Human beings are innately social animals. When you work with youths suffering with mental health issues and addiction problems, the one thing you learn very fast is that all mental health issues and addictions stem from the same problem – disconnection. I often say in my therapy sessions that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety; the opposite of addiction is connection. When our lives feel unmanageable we often turn to the one thing (or several things) that can alleviate our suffering and numb our pain. Seeing as we feel distrusting of others and seek comfort in unhealthy connections or habits, we push those we love further away, start trying to battle life on our own, and isolate from everything and everyone. This causes a spike in our anxiety levels and further reinforces our core belief that we are alone in the world; not good enough; a failure.
“They don’t understand me”. “I’m ashamed of myself”. “Lying is so much easier than being honest”. “It is weak to talk about my problems”. “I don’t have any problems… everyone else is the problem!”. These are things I hear often as a therapist, and they go to show why this lockdown is so problematic for those with a low and vulnerable self-esteem or an anxious mind. We are being forced to re-establish a connection with ourselves, so if we don’t like what we see in the mirror it’s really hard to spend all day inside with nothing but our mental noise to keep us company.
For those who are isolating with others, it can magnify how much the other does wrong, or how irritating they are to be around 24/7; “give me some space!”. For those cooped up with their parent(s) the underlying unaddressed problems within the family system suddenly all surface and we find that we want to disconnect more than we already have been. After all, forced connection can often magnify inherent disconnections between people. Of course, I am only painting the darker side of the canvas. There are obvious and plentiful wonders being brought to light during this global crisis: increased spirituality, flourishing community spirit, and remarkable self-sacrifice. But for the many who are suffering, this article is aimed at you and/or those around you who may be concerned.
Having highlighted some of the issues, let’s discuss some coping strategies and things you can do to ensure a healthy and productive isolation period.
Remember you can’t think your way into new action, but you can always act your way into new thinking. Stay safe. Connect. You are worth it. Enjoy a healthy isolation.
If you have any questions and/or need help, we are here for you. Please contact Yes We Can Youth Clinics +31 (0)85 02 01 222.