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Things we can all do for our mental health

In this step we think about what all of us can do to manage our psychological health during COVID-19
Hello everyone, welcome back to week two. I’m Chris. One of the course  educators. Super excited to have you back learning with us. We hope you found week one helpful and we’re really excited to work with you on week two think about how we translate some of that knowledge into managing the impact and improving  on mental health and well being during COVID-19. So one of the key principles that I want to introduce that we will refer back to you throughout this week is around noticing and building awareness. So this is a sense that. You might be familiar with from mindfulness, or from yoga or other practices, meditation and even from a one to one therapeutic setting.
But really, the sense is around how do we notice what is going on around us? Take a step back from being caught up in the moment in the activity that is going on on the situation we’re in? And really try and build some awareness about what is going on and that’s a super important step in bridging that aspect of how do we understand what’s going on? The knowledge around around the impact. And what the reality is for people and translating that through to, and what do we actually do about this? So how to understand what positive actions to take? How to have a sense of control back over our situation we’re experiencing or another side of things?
Accepting the things that we can’t control? So this is super important frame across multiple different ways of working that is really important of translating knowledge into practice and what we do. And also it applies across multiple levels so it may seem clear how it applies on an individual level. I notice what’s happening for me and I build awareness, But it also applies to groups and communities and teams. So how do, as a group, we understand what is happening for us? What the reality is? How do we try and address that? And similarly at an organisational or system or society level, what is going on for everyone? How do we take a step back?
Notice that and then really understand how to act in an informed way to try and improve things. So alongside that principle, that will relate back to. There are also some basics that we mentioned in week one with Professor Wesley that would like to recap and these are some of the core principles that impact our health and our well being that we know a kind of key factors through decades of research and evidence. So social networks is a massive one of those and the idea of relationships and connectedness is something there’s a theme that runs throughout the course.
There are also some other course steps around sleep, diet and physical activity, so these are things that we know a have an impact on our mental health and well being, but also can be impacted by our mental health and wellbeing or challenges we face. So in times like this there might be some challenges that we face there, that we can step back, notice what’s going on and trying and trying to take forward more positive steps. And also the idea of meaningful or purposeful activities.
So things that give us positive engagement, sense of accomplishment, a sense of learning and development or or giving back a really important activities for us to try and think about how we, weave, those into our lives at a time like this especially. So with that I’d like to encourage you guys to take a moment now to think with that principle of noticing and building awareness, what’s going on for me at the moment around some of those key aspects of well being and health and how would that inform me or guide me as to what I can do in terms of taking action?

Chris has reiterated the core factors that keep us feeling psychologically well. He also spoke about the importance of cultivating a particular type of awareness. Let’s explore this idea in more detail.

Taking a step back and noticing

It may feel like a small thing, but observing, noticing, and gaining some psychological distance from impulses, urges, and decisions forms a central part of most psychological therapies.

Psychodynamic therapy uses the term participant-observer for the role of a therapist who has to become half swept up in what’s happening, while half observing from a more neutral backdrop. One foot at sea, the other on solid ground.

From Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) we learn that we experience the phenomena of thoughts that don’t always reflect reality.

In mindfulness approaches we learn that we can take a step back from and observe not only thoughts, but also urges, feelings, and sensations as they come and go.

You’ll commonly hear therapists talk in a slightly odd way:

  • I felt I was being pulled into…
  • I had the feeling that…
  • I was mindful of…

What you’re hearing here is a gap between an impression, mood, or idea filling up someone’s mind, and another part of their mind that is attempting to observe this from a more neutral position.

As you heard in Week 1, during times of threat, our attentional focus is narrowed, and we are pulled to act. We are more likely to get swept up in urges and impulses without noticing our emotions or state of mind. Our capacity to reflect and think is one of the first things to go when emotions are heightened.

In the past few weeks I wonder whether you have noticed the following:

  • “I need to send this email now or it’s the end of the world.”
  • “We simply must meet this deadline or else…”
  • If I do not go for a run today I have failed.

It’s as if the idea of later or tomorrow disappears, and urgency seeps into everything. You may have also noticed thoughts like:

  • “That team really aren’t pulling their weight.”
  • “I can’t stand them right now”
  • “I’m really not up to scratch compared to them.”

Judgements about other people, ourselves, and groups can become heightened, as competition increases inexplicably, and there needs to be a “bad guy” somewhere – someone who is not doing what they’re supposed to. When we feel calm, such thoughts may be absent.

As many of you commented in Week 1, we can also get lost for some time scrolling through newsfeeds that take our minds in an unintended direction. In mindfulness practice, this is called being on auto-pilot.

Many learners in the first week helpfully reflected on how they have been thinking purposefully about how and when they consume media. Unfortunately, our minds can spiral down an internal newsfeed without the need for a phone! This is also important to notice.

This week, you’ll be hearing expert speakers talk about developing new routines, dynamics at work, and useful concepts when thinking about groups and systems. To translate this learning to your place of work or home, noticing and observing will be key. It will involve regularly pausing, taking a step back, and asking, “What is passing through my mind and my body at the moment?”

  • Am I more irritable than normal?
  • Is my heart beating faster than usual?
  • Is there an urgency that isn’t normally there?
  • Has my partner noticed a change in me?
  • What am I or my team being swept up in right now?

These are signs that we might be getting swept up in some way by the understandable anxiety that this pandemic and the ensuing vulnerability can create. Our task this week is to encourage reflection and awareness as we think of ways to adjust and adapt.

Attempting to bring a curious attention to the processes we observe, and noticing when we and those around us become swept into action, judgement, or impulsive decisions, will be key when applying this learning outside of the course.
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COVID-19: Psychological Impact, Wellbeing and Mental Health

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