Categories
Well-Being

Guide to living alone

‘6 tips for Home Alone 5 – pandemic boogaloo’

Living alone can be the best and the worst thing. You’ve got time and freedom like never before, but living alone in a pandemic? That’s a whole new ballgame.

I’ve lived alone before but living alone during the pandemic was a real challenge. It was during this time I picked up some tips and tricks, or rather, realisations that have helped me enjoy my time alone.

Talking to yourself – it’s normal! – Many people associate talking to yourself with mental illness or the infamous ‘hearing voices’. However, in many cases talking to oneself is actually a healthy habit to get into.

One benefit of talking with yourself is that it can slow down your thinking, engaging linguistic brain areas and forcing yourself to process your thoughts differently. Hearing them aloud offers new possibilities in interpreting them and can prove useful for problem solving.

Not to mention, it can be nice just to have a little running monologue as things happen. Learning to make a joke out of something and learning to laugh with yourself are two skills that can really help during times of solitude. Common Cognitive Psychological approaches view our cognitions (our thoughts) as integral to the development of mental health conditions. With negative cognitions and interpretations forcing the individual onto a dark path.

So, try chatting with yourself, learn to enjoy the conversation.

Nobody wants to hear it but – eat well. – I know if you’re anything like me you have been bombarded with healthy eating slogans and marketing from primary school all through to adulthood. It’s tiring and can make us feel guilty for eating anything other than raw salads and purified water!

Just try to provide your body with the right nutrients. Try and get some leafy greens, low fat sources of protein, Vitamin C rich foods such as peppers and vitamin D rich foods such as mushrooms into your diet. Add a touch of spice and once bland vegetables become all the more exciting. If mental health is a concern try looking up the Mediterranean Diet – studies suggest this diet can reduce symptoms of low mood, and depression. It’s well worth a try!

Most of us struggle with what to make, bored of the 5 meals you know how to cook, it’s dinner time again. If this sounds familiar, try looking up vegan or vegetarian recipes. By necessity, these recipes have to be inventive to add flavours and textures you lose when removing the meat, and as such they offer a new world of possibilities for you to try. And there’s no reason you can’t add meat to it if that’s what you fancy!

Even better, dark chocolate and red wine have been shown to reduce chances of blood clots, something we’re more and more at risk of the longer we sit at home unmoving. So, crack open a bottle and enjoy, knowing you’re treating your body to what it deserves.

The kitchen is the heart of the home and food is a universal comfort blanket, so don’t forget to take a moment to purposefully enjoy what you’re eating.

Stay connected! – Abuse of Zoom is peak lockdown one behaviour, with people joining group calls to speak to people they wouldn’t normally have seen either way, even without a lockdown.

That aside, it’s still important to keep in contact with others if you’re living alone. Social contact and support offer numerous mental and physical benefits. Even if there’s nothing left to say, a chat here and there can go a long way in the isolation.

Another option open to you is hotlines. Now you may have your reservations about contacting a hotline, but ones such as the ‘SHOUT’ text line I volunteer for is open to everyone. 

Avoid doom scrolling. – It’s easily done, you go onto your platform of choice – Twitter, Facebook, TikTok etc. – you read one post, then another and another! The next thing you know it’s 3am and you’re sat in the dark in your room shaking with terror at the sh*t show that is the world currently.

Sitting for hours looking at all the bad things in the world does nothing for the world, does nothing for you and doesn’t help you get through this tough time we’re all facing.

Find your muse. – Hobbies, particularly creative ones, give us the chance to stretch our creative minds and exercise our skills. Finding what’s right for you is down to you. Regardless of what you choose, hobbies provide psychological benefits that shouldn’t be ignored.

Additionally, the act of carrying out a hobby or interest alone like this teaches us how to be alone in a way unlike anything else. There’s no deadline, there’s no specific rules or demands that must be met. Many people, myself included, find cooking to be very therapeutic. Try not to see it as a chore but as an opportunity, a challenge, or a moment just for yourself to enjoy. Switch off your laptop and turn on some music, pour a glass of wine and get cooking. See it as a moment for creativity and experimentation, learning to appreciate the process can set you up to enjoying food more and feeling the sense of accomplishment when you create a culinary masterpiece.

Whatever you choose to do, enjoy your moment alone with your paintbrush, pencils, spatula, or saxophone!

Mindfulness. – You’ve probably heard a lot about mindfulness lately. Along with certain meditation and sleep apps there has been a real uptake in interest in such approaches to finding your zen space. There’s plenty to choose from and I’m not going to recommend any specific ones here, that is up to you! However, I do recommend looking into incorporating mindfulness principles into your daily life. Even better add meditation into your daily routine.

It’s worth a try and can really give you some peace of mind if you struggle with anxiety or low mood/depression.

So there you go, my tips and tricks for living alone. None alone are ground-breaking and none of them will suddenly alter your life, but each represent an opportunity to focus your time and energy on the positives in what can be a very drab and dull existence.

Good luck out there,

Joel x

Categories
Well-Being

Dissociation – Support options part two

We’ve discussed the treatment options available to us through your GP or therapy, but what else is there to choose from?

There are some options remaining that you can look into from the comfort of your own home, though, I will state for the record. It is important to discuss any treatments you want to try with your GP. There are less regulations around these treatments so it’s important to look into their legitimacy, reviews and any potential risks.

Without further ado lets get into it

Herbal home remedies

Anxiety and depression can trigger dissociation, so it may be worth looking into some herbal or home remedies if pharmaceuticals aren’t your thing.

St Johns Wart, lavender roll-ons, aroma therapy are all options to help you destress and reduce the chances of being overwhelmed. Be sure to check in with a doctor if you are on any other medications and you should first discuss it with them before you start self medicating.

Another topical treatment is CBD. I won’t get into the details but CBD is being viewed as a very helpful drug with little to no risk. CBD is made from marijuana extract but without the chemical THC. This chemical THC is what makes you feel high, its psychedelic properties are what you often associated with weed. CBD however, will not get you high and is totally legal. What’s more, research from King’s College LDN has even shown it have preventative properties when it comes to psychosis and has been shown to aid depression, anxiety and insomnia. All of which can help reduce dissociation.

When shopping around be sure to check reviews and ensure you know what dosage you’re getting. Start small and build up. Also, ensure you check for any side effects with any medications you’re on. I’m currently of an antidepressant that interacts with CBD so that it becomes metabolized by the body in excess, resulting in an increase in my medication dosage. Which could risk overdose. So be sure to look into this if you’re on any meds!

Third wave therapies

Meditations, hypnosis and mindfulness can all help with anxiety symptoms and reduce your levels of stress. In particular, mindfulness has been touted as a particularly effective treatment for dissociation.

I’ve been told, dissociation is characterised by a disconnection with everything around you, while mindfulness is characterized by a deliberate awareness of everything around you. This cognitive opposition may explain why mindfulness is seen as an effective treatment for dissociation.

However, it is suggested to be most effective when added to your daily routine. The emphasis is on learning mindfulness and integrating this mindset into your everyday life. It is not a magic solution and cannot stop dissociation when it occurs but generally can limit the severity and length of dissociative episodes if adopted into your routine.

Hypnosis sessions can be useful if you suffer with insomnia. From personal experience I find myself more anxious and more likely to dissociate if I’m tired. So hypnosis for sleep can help reduce this!

Grounding ideas – for when it’s too late

Once you’re feeling dissociated, many of these techniques may not be much use to you. That is, other than mindfulness. Techniques such as mindfulness ground you in the present, in the environment and pull you out of the dissociative blur.

The best way to do this is to incorporate your senses. What can you see? Touch? Smell? Can you name 5 things you see?

Some particularly useful methods may include heat. A cold shower, splashing cold water over your face, or holding ice in your palms have been praised for their effectiveness.

Additionally, familiar smells may help. This may be sad to admit but I had a particular room spray in a period of my life I look back on fondly. The smell itself relaxes me. The same may be true for you!

Anything that gets you invested in the present can help you in your fight against dissociation.

Resources

There are an abundance of online resources for you to choose from. So please, take a look. These resources have helped me in my understanding and appreciation for my dissociative experiences.

Carolyn Spring’s blog: https://www.carolynspring.com/blog/

Grounding tools: https://www.psychologytools.com/resource/trauma-dissociation-and-grounding/

Youtube: Multiplicity&Me, DissociaDID

Mind resources: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/dissociation-and-dissociative-disorders/self-care/

Categories
Well-Being

Going back to normal – tips for social anxiety

For many of us the return to normality is an exciting prospect, but it also conjures up a mix of emotions. For many of us, lockdown has felt like an unending slog – nothing to do nothing to say.

The opportunity to go back to the pub, to wine and dine with our friends is an exciting prospect. But for many of us, while lockdown has been isolating and depressing, it has also offered us the opportunity to indulge the avoidance side of our anxiety.

Photo by Chris F on Pexels.com

For those with social anxiety there is a constant nagging desire to avoid situations that provoke our anxieties. Whether it be showing up to lectures, public speaking or something entirely different we always want to avoid the things that stress us out. Lockdown posed a unique situation in which we suddenly had all our triggers removed.

For a year now we’ve lived without the worries of our day to day life intruding as it used to. Yet now, with the UK opening back up many of us are facing a sudden and potentially uncomfortable reintroduction to life as it was before.

If you share this preoccupation with the anxiety of returning to life as we know it here are a few tips for if your anxieties makes an appearance.

1. Breathe

I always hate to see this ‘tip’, as it always seems like the most obvious thing. Mental health staff and resources love to say ‘take long deep breaths’ when you feel anxious. This may help. But what’s better is to focus on maintaining a full and relaxed cycle of breathing to reduce chances of anxiety taking hold.

2. Grounding techniques

If you feel your anxiety building up, try and engage in grounding techniques. Grounding refers to techniques you can use to distract yourself from your anxieties and prevent the cycle from reaching a full blown panic attack.

The details on grounding techniques can be found here. You can try apps for grounding or even name things you can see in the room. The point of these exercises are to show you that you can choose to divorce yourself from the wave of anxiety and focus on something else. Repeated use of these techniques can help ‘prove’ this to yourself and thus improve its effectiveness.

3. Tell a friend

If you’re going out with friends, talk to them about how you feel. If something in particular is worrying you about your plans, tell them if you can.

When I was anxious I would feel incredibly nauseous and developed a phobia of being sick in public. Naturally whenever I went somewhere it was the only thing on my mind, making the symptoms even worse.

Speaking to a friend made me relax, knowing they knew what was going on and that they understood if I needed to step outside or leave helped relieve my anxieties.

Which leads me onto the fourth tip.

4. Plan your escape route

It may sound dramatic, but often just knowing how to escape a stressful situation can make it more barrable.

When I felt anxious in lectures, I often got caught up in worries about how to leave without people noticing. This obsession of course led me straight to feeling anxious.

However, if you have a way of getting out of the situation that you have rationalised and know is safe, it can act as a comfort. I tried letting my lecturers know I may need to step out on occasions.

This can act as a comfort blanket, resulting in a reduction in overall anxiety.

5. Don’t go into situations expectant

In my experience, I often felt anxious when I went into a situation with high expectations and a high desire to control things.

In my head things ‘had’ to go to plan, i.e., I shouldn’t feel anxious and if I did that was the worst thing ever.

What’s more, I would go into situations telling myself I ‘had’ to be the most confident or sociable I could be, and if I didn’t live up to this I had failed.

The desire for control set me up to fail each time. Wanting to control everything and live up to my own standards made me hyper aware of how I wasn’t living up to these standards. Making me anxious about being anxious.

It’s better to be realistic. Socializing is not life or death. You can leave if you feel anxious, you do not need to live up to any standards – socializing is meant to be fun.

Paradoxical as it may sound, try to go into situations acceptant that things may not go to plan and they may go even better than if you try to make everything go perfectly to your pre-imagined idea of how it ‘should’ go.

Take it easy

Most importantly, try to enjoy this new freedom. Try not to be tough on yourself.

Rather than focusing on what you ‘should’ or ‘must’ do, try to think in terms of what you would like or prefer.

For more tips, look no further!

Categories
Well-Being

Pandemic Fatigue

Nothing to do, nothing to say – advice for maintaining relationships online

If you’re anything like me, you’re still in shock that you’re living amidst a pandemic. This is the sort of thing you might watch a movie about, probably not a great movie but one you could throw on when you have friends over. But to live it each day, it’s a lot more…meh…than I would have imagined.

Don’t get me wrong multiple parts of the pandemic are truly awful, and it’s been a rough ride for many of us, particularly for those who have lost loved ones or faced eviction from their homes. To all of which I offer my sincere sympathies. Yet, a certain aspect of the pandemic that is perhaps more trivial has really caught my eye.

The beginning of the pandemic saw a huge uptake in video calls. Of course, we all were aware of Facetime and Skype and for those of us in my school year I’m sure you remember such classics as MSN video chat. Yet suddenly, about a week into lockdown everyone and their dog were on group zoom calls making efforts to get in contact with everyone they knew amidst the panic of the first lockdown and the solitude it would impose on so many of us. But that was then, now it seems we’ve moved into another phase of the pandemic. No more zoom quizzes and family get togethers posted all over people’s stories, no, in this phase we have entered a form of social etiquette seen between an infant and caregiver.

Photo by KoolShooters from Pexels

Mutual reciprocity – late-stage pandemic etiquette

Has anyone else noticed they’ve gone from contacting their friends and family frequently to now barely speaking. Maybe you have some empty chit chat throughout the day with a close friend but generally, its an empty void. Nothing to do, nothing to say. Conversations are repetitive and dry. One rule has emerged, conversations about the pandemic are off limits. I’m terming this ‘pandemic fatigue’. After a year since the first UK lockdown, it seems nobody wants to talk about it anymore. But how do you know when is safe to discuss it and when are your nearest and dearest not in the mood?

This new relationship between one and their social circle has become oddly similar to that of ‘mutual reciprocity’. Renowned researcher in developmental Psychology John Bowlby put forward the case for this reciprocity as a core mutual interaction that occurs between infants and mothers. What this concept suggests is that a mother – or more appropriately – a caregiver enter into states of reciprocity with their child. This can be initiated by either infant or caregiver and during these stages learning and bonding occurs via facial expressions and mimicry of one another. Surely, we’ve all seen it, a baby smiles at you and you smile back and suddenly you’ve been fawning over this baby for 15 minutes. The key link to socializing in month 12 of the pandemic is the momentary and fleeting nature of these interactions and there almost spontaneous occurrence. For those of us experiencing a complete lack of social skills, spotting when is the right and wrong moment to try and discuss the P-word can prove tricky.

Dealing with ‘pandemic reciprocity’ – tips for going it alone

During moments of ‘pandemic reciprocity’ your stars align, and you and your co-conversationalist find yourselves in the mood to talk about the dreaded pandemic. These times occur when one or more of you give the indication that you’d like to discuss it. After an undecided amount of time the conversation is signalled to be over by the presentation of the statement, ‘it’s fine, it’ll be alright eventually…’. At which point the reciprocal state is ended and conversation reverts back to the safe small talk and slow replies.

Now, these moments can be rewarding and fun but fundamentally they’re the exception and not the rule. The rest of the time, we can find ourselves either wanting more from our friends or our friends want more from us than we have the energy for. Below are some tips for coping, managing your expectations and enjoying these fleeting moments.

  1. Stay mindful – remember that you and your friends and family are likely on different schedules, with different needs weighing on them. You can’t always get the level of attention you crave at any time like you could pre-pandemic. It might suck but it’s an unfortunate fact of life. Try and remember this next time you don’t get the response you hoped for.
  • The same is true for yourself, don’t be hard on yourself when your friends want more than you can give. You’re allowed to be busy, you’re allowed to not be in the mood. You’re entitled to your own privacy and your own space.
  • Bring something to the table – It may feel somewhat false or rehearsed to plan ahead for a conversation with a friend but having something in mind can be helpful when living the same day over and over. Particularly, reminiscing on the ‘good times’ can have psychological benefits for the both of you. Try and focus on the good times you’ve had without being drawn toward the negative fact that you cannot meet up any longer.
  • Only good may enter – Try not to want too much from others. That may be hard, harder now than ever, but doing so can worsen your mood and day-to-day experiences. Reaching out to a friend can provide a warm nostalgic feeling, a comfort blanket of sorts. Yet, if they’re feeling particularly pandemic-fatigued or not in the mood, this feeling of dashed hopes for discussion or catch up can leave you feeling down. Do your best to reach out to your loved ones with a pinch of salt. If they’re not in the mood, don’t let it phase you. Treat it like water off a duck’s back. Prepare yourself for enjoyment with negative feelings of dejection or being let down wash away.
  • Be your own boss – This tip involves taking the place of the social bonds you’re missing. Many of us are missing the social contact we once took for granted, with many realising this contact tied into our very self-image and is integral to how we view ourselves. With this gone many are feeling at a loss, struggling to define themselves now they’re in almost complete isolation. If this sounds familiar, try to tackle this by taking the place that this social interaction once took. Ask yourself, what you think about certain things, and in time you’ll realise you still have all the opinions and feelings you always had. You do not need others to teach you who you are, you need only consult with yourself.
  • Manage expectations – A tricky one but this tip offers great benefits. Consider what it is you hope to gain from interactions with others. Is it realistic? Is it helpful? The pandemic has shaken things up, so perhaps take it as an opportunity to rethink your relationships with others. If you’re seeking approval from others, ask yourself why? You have the ability to be as independent and self-fulfilling as anyone else. Once you see you may be hoping for too much from others it may be time to look inside and consider what it is, you’re missing and what you can do to achieve this.
  • Journal or diary – Yes, I know you’re tired of being asked to start a diary. Wherever you look on the internet there’s always some tired blogger running on coffee alone telling the world they *need* to start a diary. Sadly, I am one of them – though I’m more of a green tea fan myself. A journal or diary can really help you keep track of what’s going on around you, it’s easy to feel cut off or almost floating in a void of nothing. A journal allows you to look back and look ahead, grounding you in reality. Think of it as an exercise in testing out these tips, record how they work out for you and see if you think they’d benefit you in the long term. Just give it a try!
Photo by Bich Tran from Pexels

Give these tips a try and see if they help you get more out of the limited interaction available this far into the pandemic.

Good luck out there!