In light of all that has happened over the past week, I decided to focus on a more prevalent topic in our current situation – protecting our mental health. Focussing on goals right now is a near impossibility for many people as they try to desperately pick up the pieces. 

We should not underestimate the psychological fallout of the events of the past week. This, combined with the ongoing pandemic and trying to survive another lockdown, is taking its toll on many people. Now more than ever, taking care of our mental health is a priority as stress, anxiety, trauma and feelings of insecurity and extreme vulnerability sweep over so many.

Talking to my patients, people I have come in contact with and members of different communities, I am hearing symptoms of trauma. Initial reactions to trauma can include: 

Emotional & psychological symptoms:

  • Shock, denial, or disbelief
  • Confusion, difficulty concentrating
  • Anger, irritability, mood swings
  • Anxiety and fear
  • Guilt, shame, self-blame
  • Withdrawing from others
  • Feeling sad or hopeless
  • Feeling disconnected or numb

Physical symptoms:

  • Insomnia or nightmares
  • Fatigue
  • Being startled easily
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Edginess and agitation
  • Aches and pains
  • Muscle tension

Most responses are typical in that they affect most survivors and are socially acceptable, psychologically effective, and self-limited. In such troubled and stressful times, our mental health can become fragile. It is unrealistic to expect yourself to be functioning at total capacity. You are only making matters worse if you put yourself under pressure to be at the top of your game. As Dr Alicia Porter so rightly pointed out, ‘it’s ok not to be ok.

Below are specific steps that we can all take to help us get through this period:

  • Try to get some exercise each day, even if it is going for a walk.
  • Stay away from social media and the news as this contributes to our feelings of stress and anxiety. Limit yourself to perhaps 15 minutes of news each day.
  • Play with your pets
  • Reach out to others – connection is essential in times like this. Avoid isolating.
  • Help others where you can. This contributes significantly to a sense of belonging and community.
  • Meditate, even if it is only for a few minutes a day.
  • Dance, smile and laugh as much as you possibly can.
  • Set aside sometime each day to journal. It is really beneficial to externalise some of what you are feeling and thinking about. Afterwards, tear it up and move on to something that brings you joy and pleasure.
  • Keep to your daily routine as much as possible. 
  • Practice gratitude. Focus on everything you do have and not on what you don’t have.
  • Practice mindful breathing. My suggestion is the 4-7-8 method. Inhale deeply through the nose for the count of 4, hold the breath for the count of 7, exhale loudly for the count of 8. Do this four times. Do this every hour on the hour and when you feel stressed or overwhelmed, and just before you go to sleep.
  • Focus on your strengths and what you have already survived in your lifetime. I can guarantee you are so much stronger than you think. 

The only way to get through this is one day at a time. Take control of those things that you can and let go of the rest. Suppose you are still struggling emotionally and psychologically. In that case, you must reach out for help, either to your psychiatrist, doctor, counsellor or psychologist.

quotes on strength
michael theron

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