Managing Post Lockdown Feelings. March 2021

We have been though so much in the past 12 months. In March 2020 we had to redefine how we live our lives practically overnight. Navigating a global pandemic has certainly taken a lot out of us but has also and taught us a lot about human resilience too. People have navigated working from home, home-schooling and other variables including job security, financial pressures and huge changes to the way that we interact with others. Frontline workers including NHS staff, teachers, supermarket and delivery workers have been tirelessly supporting us. For many ‘Covid fatigue’ has set in. We are innately social beings and the psychological impact of social isolation and lockdown restrictions have been profound. Some have experienced ongoing anxiety, lowered mood, sleep difficulties and frustration at the ongoing situation.

Many people are hopeful for the coming of June and beyond when we may be able to begin to socialise as we used to. I love the idea of midsummer night as a possible benchmark for a glimpse of pre pandemic life again. However, it is important to consider that not everyone may feel that this is a turning point for them. For some, the thought of returning to “life again” is a source of uncertainly and anxiety. Afterall, it took a lot of work for us to adapt to lockdown life and the restrictions imposed. It takes time for the human brain to learn new behaviours, and this is not something we can simply ‘undo’. After many months of adapting and adhering to a new way of living, it is not realistic to expect to just snap back in to a pre pandemic way of living. You are not alone if you are feeling unsure or even anxious about how life may look again. This may stem for fears about socialising again or the continued threat from the virus, it is understandable that we may be anxious going forward. Not everyone may want to ‘run along the beach’ to freedom as we have seen on TV. Autonomy is key at this stage. While there is a government framework to exit lockdown, we can utilise our autonomy in how and when move forward. It can be easy to get caught up in what other people may be feeling and how they are behaving as a result. It is important to try not to get caught up in comparisons and navigate your own way forward. Also, being mindful of how others may feel about socialising and engaging in the community again, even if family and friends and of course social media seem to be presenting different views to ourselves. We also may be concerned with how to manage interacting with people again in a safe way while not causing offense.

We have had to part with much of our own autonomy over the past year and it is important that we feel able to utilise our autonomy going forward within the frameworks and rules for risk management. There will certainly be continued things along the way that we need to navigate many people and children remain unvaccinated and although many have, they can still spread the virus. Therefore, social distancing and mask wearing remain of importance.

It may be helpful to consider how each stage of the ‘exit’ plan looks for you rather than over focusing on the long term right now. Many have revaluated how we live our lives over the past year and may want to redefine elements going forward. This may include our social circle, working from home vs in the office and the pace at which we live our lives. We may want to be more assertive over what we want and don’t want. For example, feeling able to say ‘no’ if we don’t want to socialise in a particular way. It is also important to have a healthy balance between autonomy and possible isolation. There is a difference between anxiety dominating the way we re-emerge into life again and being guided by our values in respect to how we want to live our lives. We need to be kind to ourselves and allow time to adapt to a new way of living again. We must avoid the trap of ‘catching up’ with life again at the expense of our own emotional wellbeing. Its ok to manage our own risk concerns. A combination of autonomy, risk management, altruism and hope are a good way forward. The more we all navigate this together the sooner we can move forward with our lives in line with what we value.

Dr Tara Quinn-Cirillo- Horsham Psychology

“Conversation Starter” Project November 2020

The ‘talking benches concept’ was started by Alison Owen-Jones in 2019. Introduced the concept of the happy to chat bench which was then expanded around the world. Chat benches have appeared in Australia, Canada and the Ukraine.

Loneliness and mental health issues have been prevalent throughout the coronavirus pandemic. Restrictions have been placed on how and when we socialise which has exacerbated loneliness for many and increased mental ill health. The elderly are particularly vulnerable and also men, who have been shown to struggle more with reaching out and talking about mental health.

Talking has been evidenced to exert a positive impact on mental wellbeing. Many may feel that reaching out to a stranger to talk may be may awkward or judged negatively by society and we need to address this.

Only this week Sir Tom Moore’s daughter Hannah made a video encouraging people to walk and talk during lockdown. We can never underestimate the positive impact of connecting with others on our emotional wellbeing.

This time of year can be difficult for many historically. Darker evenings, lowered light levels and the run up to the festive season can be difficult times for many. The Coronavirus Pandemic this year and the lockdown restrictions in place are creating extra psychological pressure on people and their wellbeing.

As part of my community focus and ongoing Compassionate Horsham Campaign, I want to introduce ‘talking benches” and “walk and talk” locations locally to help mange loneliness and connect people in the hope of supporting mental health in our community as we continue to navigate the pandemic. I want the overall project to be called “Conversation Starter: Connecting People, Connecting Communities and Enhancing Wellbeing”. A recognisable project supported by those in our community including focal points, café’s, shops, community centres and local organisations to get involved in supporting either talking benches (when allowed with current restrictions) or walk and talk points where people can meet and talk while walking together. Kaya café in Horsham Park is one venue that has agreed to be involved and we are hoping others will follow suit. It is ideally located for people to walk and start a conversation together round the park this winter.

I am urging local and wider communities to engage with this project and act as host for signs to either ‘walk and talk’ or ‘talking benches’. Interested parties can contact me to get involved via the ‘Compassionate Horsham’ Facebook Group or email at drqc@icloud.com.

Cultivating Compassion as we Emerge from Lockdown- Blog for the Emotional Health Toolkit.

Lockdown commenced in the UK on the 23rd March 2020, in response to the Coronavirus pandemic. Since this time we have been through a multitude of changes to the way we live our lives. When faced with adversity and threat, such as a global pandemic, the human brain goes in to ‘protect’ mode which often results in a decreased ability to be receptive to processing new information efficiently. We may notice that our thinking may be unclear or muddled or that we tend to pay attention to negative over positive information. It takes time for the human brain to get used to an adverse situation such as the lockdown imposed on us, but after a while our brains begin to open up to the prospect of productivity again. It is important to note that the body’s response to threat and adversity is a normal process and not one to be pathologized. Examples include the anxiety we may have felt at times, which for some may have been overwhelming in terms of the thoughts, emotions and physiological sensations we have experienced. Many of us will have made self judgements in respect to how we thought we would cope, but may have been surprised at the resilience of human beings in the face of adversity and how we have coped with what has been sent our way over the past few months.

I am sure we have all dealt with a lot during lockdown including lack of social contact, working from home, home schooling children and coping with trying to salvage businesses, careers and perhaps finances. As natural social beings, being restricted from socialisation has been difficult for many and this may have impacted upon our emotional wellbeing. After months of managing multiple roles and separation from family and friends we find ourselves moving out of lockdown phase by phase. Undoubtedly, this brings with it some uncertainty, anxiety and fear. There is research indicating that the initial elation at lockdown being eased may be accompanied by melancholy as we are faced with the reality that life is not the same. We are having to make room for loss and grief in respect to the new version of the world we are now faced with. Coronavirus has impacted not only on people’s health but the way that we live and will continue to live our lives. “ Towards the new normal and beyond” is a phrase being used by the British Psychological Society to describe the way we are all moving forward with this new way of life. I think that this captures the essence of the fact that life will be redefined for many as a result of Coronavirus.

It is natural that people will have different opinions on how to re emerge from lockdown. There will be natural dissonance amongst sections of society as we navigate forward. Even within an individual, cognitive dissonance can occur when we may find ourselves behaving in a way that goes against a belief or value that we hold. For example, many of us may be finding that we have contradictory beliefs around emerging from lockdown, such as our beliefs about social distancing being at odds with our natural urges to socialise and be with others. The impact of reduced social contact on our emotional wellbeing can lead people to attempt to reduce this observed ‘dissonance’ in more creative ways such as online socialising through video calls and events such as video bingo or quizzes.

We have coped with much adversity since lockdown and the majority of us have worked hard to adhere to guidance and and have been instrumental in containing the spread of the disease. There is much research that indicates that during times of crisis, individuals may connect with strangers in a way that they have not before. Coronavirus and the threat that it imposes has brought many communities together. Isolation support groups and the many volunteers doing food delivery are wonderful examples in many communities. It would be wonderful if we are able to continue to build on this new found cohesiveness and we are able to cultivate increased compassion towards others as we navigate the next steps in emerging from lockdown. As human beings our empathy can unfortunately have limits. We are all fatigued after months of lockdown and the restrictions that we have had imposed on us. The feelings that accompany this can lead us to be tempted to speak out or behave in more hurtful ways towards others, such as criticising behaviour or views on how we emerge from lockdown. The effect of ongoing dissonance in respect to how we emerge from lockdown and the behaviour that results, can significantly impact on people’s emotional wellbeing and mental health.

I am keen to keep the emotional wellbeing and mental health of our communities on the forefront of peoples minds by highlighting the need for increase compassion at this time. Compassion is genuine sympathy or awareness of the suffering or experiences of others. We may not be able to immediately see what someone may be experiencing. We need to harness our ability to ‘observe’ what we are feeling, experiencing and noticing in the world around us. If we are able to take a small pause and observe and think about how our behaviour may affect others and their wellbeing, it can make a big difference. Our emotions can overpower us at times. Fear and anxiety can reduce our ability to think clearly and may ahead to people behaving in way as that are consistent with our values. We are all facing the changes in respect to lockdown easing. It is a difficult time to navigate and it is important that we are supportive and compassionate towards everyone navigating the ‘new normal’. For some it may be emerging steadily, for others more slowly and for others not at all for now. It is important that we are able to support each their whatever way we emerge. For some people with pre existing mental health conditions it can be an anxious time in particular. For many, we may have become comfortable at home and it may be a source of anxiety to entertain the new changes and reintegrate back in to the community. Rather than diving in with responses in respect to how people should behave (which may even be unkind or divisive) we need to learn to try and take a short pause. Asking questions to ourselves such what is that teacher, business owner, delivery driver or shop worker, parent going through or been through? How could my behaviour or words affect them right now? It can be helpful to think how would you treat a friend in this situation, what would they want to hear right now? What tone would you use? How can you show compassion towards them? It is also important to take a moment to consider how your own feelings might be getting in the way of you showing compassion to others such as anxiety, fear or anger. We can often act as a result of our own emotions and such reactions can be less considered as a result. A normal but nevertheless sometimes unhelpful phenomenon.

Increasing our compassion towards both ourselves and others is a small step towards helping us navigate the coming months. Self compassion can directly impact on emotional wellbeing and help with the emotional toll that lockdown may have exerted upon us. Increased compassion towards others can reduce the likelihood of negative and unhelpful behaviour towards others too. Small things can create big change and I think we need that right now.

©️Dr Tara Quinn-Cirillo-Horsham Psychology. July 2020.

Navigating Anxiety and Fear: The New Face Mask Rules July 2020.

On Friday 24th July, new rules were introduced in England which state that face coverings must be worn in enclosed spaces including shops, supermarkets, takeaways, banks & building societies and post offices. Understandably, for many these new rules are a source of anxiety. Already there is a swathe of public opinion circulating on social media on this issue and this has resulted in additional pressures on individuals who may feel anxiety about wearing a mask.

It is important to consider that we have navigated such a lot during the coronavirus pandemic so far and we have done pretty well! There have been a number of times when we have been faced with new rules to adhere to. Every time we are faced with a change to how we are expected to behave, this can bring with it anxiety or fear. This is a natural response to adversity and change. We may notice our minds and bodies reacting such as worrying thoughts, body sensations such as increased heart rate or changes in our breathing. We may also engage in behaviours in response to these observed symptoms. Common behavioural responses may include avoiding going out or perhaps directing our anxiety or fear towards others. When experiencing anxiety or fear, may also feel that we have a lack of control and this can cause more anxiety in itself. It is important to consider that although we may feel a lack of control over how our body reacts, there is much that we can control at the current time.

It is important that we try to cultivate compassion towards both ourselves and other people at this time. Anxiety and fear can lead to unhelpful comments towards others. This only serves to create hostility, division and ultimately more anxiety. It is also important to remember that we are in control of many things including when and how we decide to visit establishments where a face covering is required. We don’t have to rush out today if we do not feel we are ready. There are many people who have anxiety around wearing a face covering. This may be due to concerns around the feel of the covering against the face or worries about being able to breathe easily. These are very real concerns for many individuals. Some things to consider that any help you navigate the new face covering rules may include:

  1. Choosing a mask that feels most comfortable for you. Many have spoken of the benefits of a cloth mask for this purpose.
  2. Practice wearing your mask in the comfort of your own home, where you do not feel rushed or have other expectations on you. Try wearing it for short periods in the day. You can increase the frequency and duration as you feel more comfortable.
  3. Practice breathing in your mask using a technique where you breathe in through your nose. The idea is to observe inflation around your belly button area as you breathe in, rather than observing your chest and shoulders rising.
  4. It may be helpful to practice by looking in a mirror and observing your breathing style, while also getting used to how you look and feel in your face covering.
  5. Try and focus on something you can see around you. Try and observe one or two things that draw your attention. It could be something that is a nice colour, shape or pattern.
  6. You may notice some worrying thoughts when you are wearing your face covering. Try and ‘observe’ them but not engage with them. It can helpful to say your thought out aloud e.g. I am having the thought that it feels hot in my mask’. Remember that thoughts are just automatic occurrences in your mind. They will come and go.
  7. It can also help to remind yourself why we are all doing this. We are all trying our best to get through this pandemic and keep each other safe. We have coped with a lot, we can do this!
  8. You could begin to practice wearing your mask out of the house in small achievable steps. For example, wearing it on a short walk, wearing it in a shop at a quiet time of day or visiting just one isle you know well in a shop to make the experience more manageable to begin with. You could confide in a family member or friend and organise to go to a shop with them until you feel more comfortable on your own.
  9. Remember…. Masks may be mandatory, but it is important that you feel in control of when and how you access the community where a face covering is required.
  10. Remember to always follow the rules of mask hygiene and dispose of any masks responsibly too.

©️Dr Tara Quinn-Cirillo-July 2020.

Dr Tara Quinn-Cirillo
Horsham Psychology
July 2020.

Cultivating Compassion as we Emerge from Lockdown.

Lockdown commenced in the UK on the 23rd March 2020, in response to the Coronavirus pandemic. Since this time we have been through a multitude of changes to the way we live our lives. When faced with adversity and threat, such as a global pandemic, the human brain goes in to ‘protect’ mode which often results in a decreased ability to be receptive to processing new information efficiently. We may notice that our thinking may be unclear or muddled or that we tend to pay attention to negative over positive information. It takes time for the human brain to get used to an adverse situation such as the lockdown imposed on us, but after a while our brains begin to open up to the prospect of productivity again. It is important to note that the body’s response to threat and adversity is a normal process and not one to be pathologized. Examples include the anxiety we may have felt at times, which for some may have been overwhelming in terms of the thoughts, emotions and physiological sensations we have experienced. Many of us will have made self judgements in respect to how we thought we would cope, but may have been surprised at the resilience of human beings in the face of adversity and how we have coped with what has been sent our way over the past few months.

I am sure we have all dealt with a lot during lockdown including lack of social contact, working from home, home schooling children and coping with trying to salvage businesses, careers and perhaps finances. As natural social beings, being restricted from socialisation has been difficult for many and this may have impacted upon our emotional wellbeing. After months of managing multiple roles and separation from family and friends we find ourselves moving out of lockdown phase by phase. Undoubtedly, this brings with it some uncertainty, anxiety and fear. There is research indicating that the initial elation at lockdown being eased may be accompanied by melancholy as we are faced with the reality that life is not the same. We are having to make room for loss and grief in respect to the new version of the world we are now faced with. Coronavirus has impacted not only on people’s health but the way that we live and will continue to live our lives. “ Towards the new normal and beyond” is a phrase being used by the British Psychological Society to describe the way we are all moving forward with this new way of life. I think that this captures the essence of the fact that life will be redefined for many as a result of Coronavirus.

It is natural that people will have different opinions on how to re emerge from lockdown. There will be natural dissonance amongst sections of society as we navigate forward. Even within an individual, cognitive dissonance can occur when we may find ourselves behaving in a way that goes against a belief or value that we hold. For example, many of us may be finding that we have contradictory beliefs around emerging from lockdown, such as our beliefs about social distancing being at odds with our natural urges to socialise and be with others. The impact of reduced social contact on our emotional wellbeing can lead people to attempt to reduce this observed ‘dissonance’ in more creative ways such as online socialising through video calls and events such as video bingo or quizzes.

We have coped with much adversity since lockdown and the majority of us have worked hard to adhere to guidance and and have been instrumental in containing the spread of the disease. There is much research that indicates that during times of crisis, individuals may connect with strangers in a way that they have not before. Coronavirus and the threat that it imposes has brought many communities together. Isolation support groups and the many volunteers doing food delivery are wonderful examples in many communities. I am hoping to establish a campaign continue to build upon this cohesiveness and to cultivate compassion towards others as we navigate this next step in emerging from lockdown. As human beings our empathy can unfortunately have limits. We are all fatigued after months of lockdown and the restrictions that we have had imposed on us. The feelings that accompany this can lead us to be tempted to speak out or behave in more hurtful ways towards others, such as criticising behaviour or views on how we emerge from lockdown. The effect of ongoing dissonance in respect to how we emerge from lockdown and the behaviour that results, can significantly impact on people’s emotional wellbeing and mental health.

I am keen to keep the emotional wellbeing and mental health of our communities on the forefront of peoples minds by highlighting the need for increase compassion at this time. Compassion is genuine sympathy or awareness of the suffering or experiences of others. We may not be able to immediately see what someone may be experiencing. We need to harness our ability to ‘observe’ what we are feeling, experiencing and noticing in the world around us. If we are able to take a small pause and observe and think about how our behaviour may affect others and their wellbeing, it can make a big difference. Our emotions can overpower us at times. Fear and anxiety can reduce our ability to think clearly and may ahead to people behaving in way as that are consistent with our values. We are all facing the changes in respect to lockdown easing. It is a difficult time to navigate and it is important that we are supportive and compassionate towards everyone navigating the ‘new normal’. For some it may be emerging steadily, for others more slowly and for others not at all for now. It is important that we are able to support each their whatever way we emerge. For some people with pre existing mental health conditions it can be an anxious time in particular. For many, we may have become comfortable at home and it may be a source of anxiety to entertain the new changes and reintegrate back in to the community. Rather than diving in with responses in respect to how people should behave (which may even be unkind or divisive) we need to learn to try and take a short pause. Asking questions to ourselves such what is that teacher, business owner, delivery driver or shop worker, parent going through or been through? How could my behaviour or words affect them right now? It can be helpful to think how would you treat a friend in this situation, what would they want to hear right now? What tone would you use? How can you show compassion towards them? It is also important to take a moment to consider how your own feelings might be getting in the way of you showing compassion to others such as anxiety, fear or anger. We can often act as a result of our own emotions and such reactions can be less considered as a result. A normal but nevertheless sometimes unhelpful phenomenon.

I am launching a campaign to increase ‘compassion’ in my local community using the hashtag #compassionatehorsham. Getting Horsham back to the Horsham we know and value, a community that respects each other. Small things can create big change and I think we need that right now. I am hoping that other communities may follow suit. Sharing examples of local acts of compassion with the aim of reducing unhelpful behaviour and cultivating increased compassion within our communities and increasing mental wellbeing as a result.

©️Dr Tara Quinn-Cirillo-July 2020.