Covid-19: How to cope with upheaval
Having our routine upended by the pandemic is stressful, but acknowledging your feelings in response is important, says Elisabeth Rimmer
In just a few short weeks our personal and professional lives have changed irrevocably. Most of us are now working from home. Things we once took for granted – coffee with a friend, a lunch grabbed en route to a meeting, a quick word with our boss on the way to drinks with the team – seem a million miles away.
Periods of sudden upheaval and change are a shock to the system. What we’re all individually and collectively dealing with now is grief. The pandemic has evoked emotions usually felt during some kind of ending such as a bereavement, a divorce or a redundancy; and it’s important to acknowledge and accept these feelings rather than try to carry on as normal.
Humans are creatures of habit and routine. Having that upended can be stressful and cause feelings of unease, worry and fear. You might not realise you’re struggling to cope – sometimes it’s difficult to separate our feelings and thoughts with reality.
Check in with your body: are you taking shallow breaths? Are your shoulders tense? Are you clenching your jaw? If so, you’re probably feeling anxious. Anxiety incorporates both the emotional and the physical sensations you might experience when you’re worried or nervous. Other symptoms of anxiety include not sleeping, nausea, dizziness, heart palpitations, a dry mouth, feeling jittery and unable to sit still, cold, numb or sweaty hands or feet and overeating.
At LawCare, at the time of writing over one in three contacts to our support service are about Covid-10 and we expect this number to rise over the coming weeks. People have contacted us about issues including struggles with working from home, house moves put on hold, enforced isolation exacerbating existing mental health condition, marital problems, dealing with clients who want resolutions to matters now on hold, and worries about the future.
We’re listening to and signposting everyone who contacts us. And many have said just acknowledging their feelings and opening up to someone has helped them process what’s going on.
Top tips for coping
1. Be mindful – Focus on what’s actually happening in this moment. Try not to think of worst-case scenarios or wonder too much about the future. Remember that this situation is temporary and constantly changing. This too will pass.
2. Lean on your support network – Keep in regular contact with colleagues, friends and family using video calls rather than just sending email and texts. It’s important to stay connected.
3. Limit your exposure to the news – Consider disabling notifications and don’t be tempted to check news updates or WhatsApp every few minutes. You might need to mute certain people on WhatsApp or social media (reading too much negative information will trigger worry).
4. Distract yourself – Read a book, exercise, watch a film, take a bath, sort a cupboard, take a walk outside.
5. Breathe deeply – If you can feel yourself getting anxious, try taking ten deep breaths; inhaling for 5 seconds and exhaling for 10 seconds. It really calms you down.
6. Prioritise self-care – It’s easy to let healthy habits slip when we’re at home but we should eat well, get to bed at a reasonable time and find time to do some exercise. You might not be able to go to the gym but you can go for a run, do some gardening or do an online exercise video.
7. Take breaks – Even if you are working at home it’s still important to take regular breaks and a lunch break, just as you would in the office.
8. Change your mind-set – You can’t change the nature of the pandemic itself but you can change the way you think about it. Try to focus on the positive, happy things and try not to catastrophise. In this moment, you are safe in your home. You have food to eat and everything you need. Appreciate small thing: the weather, more time with your children, a chance to get all those jobs done at home, connecting with people you’ve not had contact with in a while.
9. Stick to a routine – As tempting as it is to stay in your pyjamas all day or sit at your laptop at 10pm, it’s important to get dressed and try to maintain a regular routine and your usual working pattern, where possible. This will help you stay focused and keep work separate from home life.
10. Seek help – If you’re finding it hard to cope, just talking to someone – a friend, LawCare or another helpline – can help you feel less worried. Many GPs are still offering online appointments. If you have an existing mental health condition you should continue with any treatment plan as far as possible.
Elisabeth Rimmer is Chief Executive at LawCare which provides emotional support to all legal professionals, support staff and their families. You can call its confidential helpline on 0800 279 6888, email them at firstname.lastname@example.org or access webchat and other resources at www.lawcare.org.uk