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One of our Associates, Sheila van Tol, is an experienced psychotherapist and has written a piece for Mental Health week with advice about keeping well online.  Sheila has been working with clients online throughout the pandemic and is highly skilled in therapy and counselling.  Below, she explores some of the reasons for feeling "out of sync" and looks at issues around social media.  She gives some practical tips to help keep well during these times of isolation and quarantine, but also as we return to a new way of living and working.

Why Do We feel so out of Sync?

There are many reasons for this, which include:

  • loss of personal space, separation from loved ones and loss of security
  • frustration over not feeling free
  • our normal routine is on hold
  • we are worried about money and health
  • we are supporting others at a distance
  • we are managing the heightened emotions of friends and family
  • our lives have shifted to being digital and virtual and we can feel vulnerable in this new arena

 
The Downside of Social Media Platforms

There is a danger that we accept the ‘new normal’ as being superficial contact. Some forms of social media are designed to distract and entertain, as opposed to encouraging us to feel a deeper sense of meaning.

Social media platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, are designed to draw us in, with our importance in the wider world being felt through the number of likes and comments other people make on our posts.  It is easy to be seduced by this, even though we know this is not the real world, where we live and work on a daily basis.

 

How Do we know when we are mentally unhealthy online?

There can be several warning signs to look out for.  These can include:

  • we experience a numbness
  • we access a narrower range of emotions
  • our functioning in daily life goes downhill
  • we stop washing, eating balanced meals, taking medication, exercising and sleeping, at the expense of being online


So, what is the first step to mental health online?

Most of us feel the need to cope, to be seen as keeping going and being strong.  It is vital that we be willing to admit to ourselves when we are struggling. The next step is to engage with trusted others and work out a plan of action. Some of the following points are helpful to take into account.

 

  1. Schedule regular breaks and time out

Leave longer between video calls to move, stretch, and relax. Consider how much you would normally move your body and think about how you can move more naturally throughout the day.

For some, this means scheduling in exercise before mealtimes and for others, first thing in the morning is best. Get to know your own rhythm and routine and stick to what works for you, even if it is the opposite to your housemates.

  1. Be clear about your boundaries and when you do and don’t want to be available to others

 If you are working from home have a set time to turn off your devices and move into a different space.  Exercise without your phone to reduce interruption and be clear about anxious friends and relatives you may be supporting about when you are free to chat.

  1. Find Satisfying ways to Connect and Socialise in Engaging or Grounding Ways

Engaging Connection:  Zoom Quizzes, virtual pubs, book groups, and watching films together online are all ways of raising your social energy, feeling entertained and excited, and satisfying your need to be part of a group.

Grounding Connection: Sometimes we want to engage with others without speaking, have downtime and feel our bodies move freely.  For this, live yoga, Pilates, or meditation classes are a great way to maintain contact with your classmates, without feeling the need to listen or chat.

  1. Deciding to Limit your Screen Time

We know that we become listless, apathetic and numb when we spend too much time in front of a screen.  If this is the only way of reaching out to others, we can feel abandoned and alone when we switch off.

  1. Reducing your Work Screen time

Consider buying a portable Wi-Fi device, so you can participate in Webinars with the audio or video turned off and continue to exercise both indoors and out.  Do you have to go to all the meetings at work?  Perhaps if you limit them you can be more effective. Perhaps some meetings can be carried out by phone, while you are walking around. This will keep you more alert and encourage more creativity, efficiency, and engagement.

  1. Reducing your Non-Work screen time

Decide how much time you want to spend daily on social media and download an app to limit your screen time on each. This helps you to get more out of the time you have, keep track of reality and engage with people more offline.  Since limiting my social media time, I now spend more time talking on the phone to friends and also being with my feelings instead of denying my reality. Often this is uncomfortable, but it is also a much richer way to live.

  1. Regularly Tuning into your Feelings

Consider, at the start of the day, instead of reaching for your mobile, taking 10 minutes to acknowledge and tune into your feelings.  You can write them down to help you to understand them.

Take time to breathe and pause.  You do not need to react immediately to your feelings.  Consider tools and techniques such as exercise, meditation, cooking, and crafting to take you out of yourself and put some distance between you and your thoughts.  Just because you think or feel something, does not mean it is true. 

  1. Limit your Intake of Information 

Let go of the need to check the news all the time.  We all feel uncertain and have a need to know what we do next and how we are going to manage. The answer to that is not going to be found in attention-grabbing, sensational news headlines.

You can keep abreast of current events without continually traumatising yourself.  Even with the real life-and-death threats of a pandemic, your fight or flight response will only exhaust you if you keep it activated all the time. All we can do is to keep ourselves and those we come in contact with as physically and psychosocially safe as possible, following the current rules, and ensuring that we are fulfilling the needs of the vulnerable and the elderly.

Article written by Sheila van Tol, Associate Practitioner at the Craigie Partnership.

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