The changes to lifestyle brought about Covid-19 seem to have many people on a bit of a rollercoaster of thoughts.
As human beings we all need some certainty to feel a level of safety without which, it is difficult to relax (the level varies from person to person and the areas of life in which we need certainty varies too). And we may experience fear.
Currently there is a lot of uncertainty around us and much less certainty than most of us are used to. We may be adapting but many people seem to be experiencing days of coping and days of coping less well.
With this lack of certainty comes, for many, an increased level of anxiety. It may not be specific anxiety about one thing (though it could be), but more a feeling of low-level anxiety about many things which cumulatively may cause a sometimes-unrecognised high level of general anxiety. This anxiety may then be passed around as we speak to each other, watch reports and read news articles reinforcing our anxiety.
In ‘normal times’ we would probably have many distractions from our thoughts; busy jobs, errands to do, our children’s schedules and demand to meet, meeting friends, etc., but currently, many people have less distractions and more time spent with their own thoughts, many of which may have an element of anxiety and/or fear.
In addition, ‘normally’ we have things we do that ease stress and anxiety like going to the gym, to events, following our hobbies, going to the cinema etc.- all of which are currently not possible to do and as a result, anxiety may be rising.
Many people are experiencing disturbed sleep and more vivid, sometimes disturbing dreams which is possibly the consequence of our lack of certainty and the anxiety the uncertainty may be causing, even if we are not fully aware of how much it is doing so.
So, what can we do to break a pattern of disturbed sleep and rising anxiety?
Firstly, put some certainty in your life. You can do this by making a daily, weekly and monthly plan and then following it. You then create certainty of how your days will be which can be calming for our subconscious.
Schedule in to your days/weeks things such as work, exercise, food, learning, things you enjoy watching, phone calls, DIY and anything else you want to put into your days and weeks -and then stick to your schedule as much as possible.
Next, write down all the things you feel anxious about and write down the evidence you have that the anxiety is valid. If you do not have actual evidence that it is valid, remove it from your ‘anxious list’.
Stop giving time to your anxious thoughts and start giving time to think about all the ways you are safe. Write as many as you can, condense them onto a ‘post it’ size note and put copies in prominent places such as near the kettle, the loo, the fridge … anywhere you will read it often during the day. This will help to retrain your mind to ‘think safe’ rather than ‘think anxiety’.
Next, tell yourself you are going to sleep well… most people’s thoughts can become habitual without us being aware. We may feel anxious about something and then we look or notice every bit of information about it and can completely miss other information because we have stopped looking for it. We can change our thoughts with a little bit of effort, but we need to train our mind to think about and notice things differently.
We are also particularly good at acting in a way we tell ourselves we will act. If we think we are going to feel nervous about something we will be.
Many years ago now, I went on an ‘explore mind patterns’ weekend, and on the first day we were told we needed to be back the next morning by 8am (the venue was an hour from my house) and we couldn’t set an alarm to wake us up but, instead, we had to visualise setting the alarm and then tell ourselves what time we would wake up. I was sceptical but did it and woke up at 6.15am as I had visualised on my alarm and told myself I would wake up.
I mention this because some people may be telling themselves that they are going to have disturbed dreams and a poor night’s sleep and therefore that is what happens.
If instead, we tell ourselves, as often as possible and determinedly, during the day and before going to bed, that we are going to have a good, calm and deep sleep we will then start doing it. I know this may just sound too easy, but it does work…. but not if we are saying ‘I’m going to get a great sleep tonight …. but I bet I won’t.’
We have much more control over our thoughts than we realise sometimes, and we have choices about how we talk to ourselves and what we tell ourselves. Decide what you want yourself to believe and think and tell yourself those beliefs… and keep reinforcing them so that those become your habitual thoughts replacing the negative ones that were not serving you well.
Wishing you a good night’s sleep, sweet dreams and calm thought days x