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We would like to thank all of our clients for their continued support and we wish you all good health, success, and enhanced emotional well-being as we start this new chapter of “unlock”.
Pam Golding Properties, Pietermaritzburg & KZN Midlands
We are very probably in this for the long haul. The exponential behaviour of this virus is clear and until we have herd immunity (usually about 2/3 of the population, which means about 19 million people in South Africa) or a vaccine is developed (optimistically 12 months), people will continue to get infected.
Here are a few points about the management of Asthma during the COVID-19 pandemic:
- Wear a mask in public or around those that are infected
- Social distance for your own sake and your family’s, and out of respect for those vulnerable to the virus
- If you think you have COVID-19 infection please contact your doctor or local casualty department.
They become exciting to us because they offer the promise of hope,
the anticipation of change in our lives,
and the prospect that our dreams will indeed come true!”
I have begun to hear a number of things being said by friends and family, in response to my “how are you coping?” question, that are of concern to me. And what I am hearing more and more of, are comments such as the following:
- I am feeling a lack of motivation at the moment
- I have lost interest in….
- I am comfort eating a lot at the moment
- I am not sleeping so well
- I don’t seem to have as much energy as I used to
- I am really finding it hard to focus on anything,
- I can’t seem to make even the most simple of decisions
- I am just feeling irritable
So, what could be going on? Well, it is possible that some of my friends and family are beginning to show definite signs of chronic emotional stress while others may, in fact, be showing the first signs of having dropped into what is termed a “depressive episode”.
And none of this is a big surprise to me. That’s because the last month-and-a-half has been (very) stressful for most people. The high levels of uncertainty, in particular, have resulted in elevated levels of anxiety. And in many families the 24/7 nature of the household relationships, over the past six weeks, is resulting in growing levels of frustration (if not open warfare).
And both anxiety and frustration will trigger the stress response in most of us. This becomes very unhealthy when it occurs day in and day out for an extended period of time as has been the case since the lockdown began. Prolonged periods of emotional stress result in chronic, systemic inflammation of the brain and body which, for those of us with either a genetic predisposition and/or a psychological vulnerability for clinical depression, will invariably lead us into a depressive episode.
Somewhat fortunately, the term “depressive episode” is used because of the fact that it is generally time-bound in nature, and is usually not expected to continue ad infinitum. It is still very unpleasant, however, and is associated with a number of common problems (or symptoms).
If any of the comments that I listed at the beginning of this newsletter resonate with you to some degree and/or with someone close to you, it is worthwhile noting that everyone who suffers a depressive episode will be subjected to a set of problems that is somewhat unique. The intensity of the problems and the particular combination of problems are rarely the same for any two people.
This is largely because your brain is unique in structure because of the unique set of genes and life experiences that you have. As a result, your brain will (mis)function slightly differently from the brain of any other person struggling with depression.
The problems associated with a depressive episode involve compromised functioning in the emotional, physical, and mental (cognitive) areas of one’s being. And for it to be formally diagnosed the majority of the following problems/symptoms must be present most of the day nearly every day (for a period of at least two weeks):
1. Emotional problems/symptoms
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Excessive or inappropriate guilt
- Depressed mood (e.g., feeling sad or empty) or appearing tearful to others
- Loss of interest or pleasure in most activities, including hobbies
2. Physical problems/symptoms
- Change in appetite or a significant weight loss or gain
- Change in sleep patterns, e.g insomnia
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- Psychomotor agitation and/or retardation
3. Thinking-related problems/symptoms
- Diminished ability to think or concentrate,
- Diminished short-term memory
- Negative thinking
- Heightened levels of Irritability
- Recurrent thoughts of death or of committing suicide
Common behavioural problems include anger attacks/aggression, alcohol or drug abuse, and risk-taking behaviour.
Keep an eye open for my next newsletter delivered to your inbox next week.
With warm regards,
Alistair Mork-Chadwick (Psychologist)
So it seems that now is a good time to give attention to how we can strengthen our relationships to help ensure that emotional support is available when we most need it (which, for many of us, is right now).
First of all, and perhaps somewhat surprisingly, research shows that the quality of your relationships has an influence on every aspect of your health and that people with strong social connections have better health and longer lives.
So, how can your relationship with someone affect your physical and mental health?
Firstly, our social connections influence our actions and, often, how we feel about ourselves. Socialising with someone who eats really well can inspire you to do the same while socialising with someone who always criticises and/or complains is very likely to have a negative impact on your sense of self.
Studies show that the ability to feel connected to others is neurobiological. Our brains are also wired in a way that causes us all to want connection and be part of a group (e.g. a family or “tribe”). So embrace that instinct by continually working on your relationships with friends that elevate you, the people who make you your best self.
During stressful times like these, when you might be feeling that you are not coping with life, or are failing to deal with what life has thrown you, it is very easy to feel some level of shame.
And it can be difficult, if not impossible, to admit any of this to those in your social network. In other words, it can be very difficult to allow ourselves to be vulnerable with, and accept love and support freely from, those we know well (and those we know less well).
Still, in order for you to feel connected to another person, you have to allow your self-perceived weaknesses to be seen and/or known. You have to be vulnerable.
And yet many of us numb, avoid, or disconnect from, vulnerability. However, you cannot selectively numb or avoid difficult feelings such as vulnerability, disappointment, grief, fear or shame without numbing the other emotions.
So when we numb those, we numb joy, gratitude, and happiness. And then we feel miserable, and we look for purpose and meaning. And then we feel vulnerable, so we have a couple of beers (if we can get hold of them) and/or a whole bar of chocolate.
The other way to live your life, especially during these difficult and uncertain times, is, as the vulnerability expert Brene Brown says, to let yourself be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen; to practice gratitude and joy in those moments of fear and uncertainty. Just to be able to stop and, instead of catastrophising what might happen, to say, "I'm just so grateful because to feel this vulnerable means I'm alive."
And, we need to believe that we are enough. Because when we work from a place that says, "I'm enough," then we are kinder and gentler to ourselves, and we are kinder and gentler to the people around us. And our relationships become stronger and we feel more supported, and we are able to cope better with the curve balls that life throws us.
Prior to the lockdown, I decided to give time and energy to creating a range of courses that would help individuals achieve excellent mental health, a sharp and vibrant mind, and a brain that functions optimally. The competition that is mentioned in the title of this newsletter requires you to put your thinking cap on and come up with a catchy name for my new psychology-related training “school” / services. The best name wins its creator free access to my online courses, including my 8-week “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction” course and/or my 3-week “Dealing with Depression without Drugs” course.
And keep an eye open for my next newsletter delivered to your inbox next week.
With warm regards,
Alistair Mork-Chadwick (Psychologist)
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