For those being forced back into unsafe workplaces, the advice from Kidney Care UK may be of use.
This piece has been written and donated by a Clinical Psychologist who is also clinically extremely vulnerable. We present this information in the hope that it is helpful. However, if you are depressed or feel suicidal, this is not a substitute for medical advice and you should seek professional help. The Wren Project also provides listening support for people with autoimmune conditions.
Shielding and being CEV is hard. There is nothing about it that you don’t already know.
Our mood can fluctuate; we can be hopeful at one moment and experience crashing lows at another. Stress, mood, anxiety, pain, fatigue, health problems, financial worries… these can all interact and at times feel overwhelming.
However, there are small things that we can do. In fact, it’s probably the small things that have got you through so far.
Write a list or draw a diagram of everything that you are having to manage at the moment. In psychology this is known as ‘externalising’. Putting the stressors on paper, outside your head is not just to allow you to see how much you really are doing or facing. It also allows you to reduce the cognitive effort of trying to hold everything in your working memory at the same time.
Three things – the Post-It game. I have found this particularly helpful when the level of being busy becomes overwhelming and inescapable, especially as my normal ways of breaking up the day are not available to me because I can’t go where other people are. I write the three most important things of the day (or hour) on to three separate notes and clear everything else to one side. Suddenly that’s my focus for the hour. The other tasks are still there – I just don’t need to try to do them all at once.
Anything repetitive, absorbing or enjoyable can be very helpful in managing stress, low mood or pain. This is no accident. The repetitive nature of work involving creative skills can produce a similar effect to mindfulness or meditation. It allows us to disengage slightly with the content of our anxious thoughts and provides a level of distraction. Distraction provides a competing stimulus to the unpleasant stimuli – the effectiveness of distraction is well established in pain management and in mood where techniques involved in ‘behavioural activation’ are often helpful.
You might be a long-standing fan, a die-hard sceptic or perhaps curious. There are mindfulness and meditative practices to suit everyone. Mindsprings combines gentle movement with mindfulness thinking and explains the physiology of the process if that appeals to you. Alastair Appleton is both a TV presenter and a very experienced psychotherapist and mindfulness practitioner with a down to earth approach:
Other resources recommended by psychologists and their clients/patients include:
It can be harder to allow ourselves time to switch off and indulge in apparently trivial treats when so much that is difficult is happening in our health and social worlds. We need to look after ourselves and our stress levels even more at the moment, and have a separation where possible between work and home life. This is harder when we may not be leaving our homes much, so we probably need to pay it more attention than we would when not in Covid times. This is not me just admitting a fondness for Netflix and chocolate, but paying attention to the fact that psychologically the more we can train ourselves to relax the lower our autonomic stress responses become and the more slowly they become activated.
This is a concept that is very useful in physical health psychology. When we have health problems that involve complex medical treatment and reliance on multiple clinical teams it’s easy to feel that we do not have many choices or control over many areas in our lives. That’s enhanced during this pandemic where we by necessity have our choices restricted for us. However, we do have choices, even if they are small or feel inconsequential. Have a think about all the choices you make in a day and consider whether there are any others you would like to identify. Making a cup of tea or speaking to a friend on the phone are all choices.
Maintaining social contact is so important – and also hard at the moment at times. We may be exhausted trying to stand more than 2 metres away and shouting pleasantries at people on the pavement – I know I am – but human contact is really important in managing mood and mitigating loneliness. Despite my disappointment in people not understanding my shielding situation this pandemic period has also brought some extraordinary surprises: new contacts, new colleagues, new friends – all over the country and the world. It’s a good time to reach out in new ways. I know one person who took up calligraphy to help with pain management (distraction technique) and has ended up joining an international calligraphy exchange group. Beautifully decorated envelopes containing exquisitely penned personal message arrive most weeks from around the world.
It feels superfluous to suggest remaining hopeful when that’s what you’ve been doing since March 2020. However, we don’t know what is out there. A year ago we didn’t know about Evusheld, and two years before that there were no vaccines. We can’t know what the pharmaceutical companies are working on – they have to protect their formulae until the time comes to take them to trials. We don’t know what the next government might bring – and look at what this group has achieved already. From zero members to a thousand in a week is pretty amazing – and there are others in important and influential positions in the medical and political world who of necessity need to remain anonymous, but are no less involved and determined that something will change and help will be available. In the meantime, we have each other. That’s a real gift.
The most important thing is to ask for help if you need it. Everyone’s different – some people just need someone to hear them, others need more specialist support. Speak to: