The maintenance of mental health is an important aspect of life that many people around the world deal with on a daily basis. 2020 has seen people experience life like never before at the hands of the coronavirus pandemic.
Whether its loneliness, boredom, health concerns, financial stress or fear of the unknown, many people may find themselves confused, anxious and depressed about the way life is at the moment.
Over the next four weeks EastLondonLines will be discussing a different aspect of mental health under lockdown that might be causing people a problem, alongside a therapist from either Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Lewisham or Croydon.
In week four, they will all be talking about what people might be able to expect from the post lockdown world and how that may impact them mentally.
Tim Williamson, 48, has been working as a counsellor in Hackney and East Finchley for the past four years. He uses a humanistic approach to his therapy – he says he seeks to create a secure environment in which people who have had deficiencies in their relationships, may find reparation.
Williamson is also interested in psychodynamic theory which he says is about how human beings are motivated to form relationships with each other and is often explained by early childhood experiences. He also specialises in bereavement and says he provides therapy about grounding and managing anxiety. “It’s about understanding that very complex puzzle that helps alleviate it,” he said. Williamson spoke with ELL about anxiety and social isolation in the first edition of our new series, We Need To Talk.
“The first thing I noticed was that anyone with pre-existing anxiety who had been living with it for some time has seemed to be taking all the uncertainty in the world in their stride, more so than people who maybe hadn’t engaged with their anxiety before. Many have said ‘this is how I live everyday’” said Williamson of his initial observations on how the pandemic has affected his existing clients.
Williamson acknowledges that every person is an individual and that it’s difficult to pinpoint how social isolation may be triggering each individual’s anxieties and fears as lockdown is a new experience for everyone.
“[Some] people are suddenly experiencing anxiety where they never had it before, or they don’t know what it is. The first thing I always do is teach them and talk to them about grounding techniques, breathing, mindfulness apps are always really good, music, distractions. It’s not always easy to maintain, start or motivate but it’s about trying to find your grounding point really. Everyone is an individual, we’re individuals but members of a society and this is a new experience for us. What’s going through people’s minds depends on that individual person. Everyone’s life situation is different,” he said.
Everyone’s life situation is different, as are everyone’s coping methods. Some people have been baking, writing, or painting, while others feel paralysed by expectations to be making or doing something. However, Williamson said that people should do whatever is going to make them happy at the moment, providing it is safe and they should not be influenced by social media on how best to cope with boredom.
“I’ve been saying to my clients to do what you want to do that makes you feel comfortable in this and relax. Even if it’s playing Xbox all day, obviously not to a massive degree but it’s about surviving this I think. It’s such a surreal and new experience for every human being on this planet that it’s about getting through it in whatever way you can” he said, further explaining that we still have to stay safe when deciding what to do and not become destructive through activities such as drinking alcohol.
For some people such as nurses and shopkeepers, their daily responsibilities have not lessened and so freedom to do whatever they want may not apply. However, Williamson says for those who are overwhelmed with free time, the decisions on how they occupy themselves is entirely down to preference. But there are some things that should be limited he said. The influence of the media and social media is a problem that Williamson says exists in many people’s lives on an average day, but under the current conditions he said that it can be particularly damaging and could potentially exacerbate problems for anyone who may be lonely, or suffering from pre-existing mental health problems.
“I’ve been advising clients and saying to other people to limit it as much as you can. The news is overwhelming in standard media and social media as well, but I think it has really amplified the corrosive side of mental health that was already there. What I’m seeing is a false narrative that the media and social media gives people’s lives and how they project themselves online. There’s this whole air at the moment of ‘we’re knuckling down and doing things differently’ and the reality is of course that’s not always the case,” he said.
Williamson said that some people may be creating false narratives of their lives online which could have a negative impact. “[Some people are] putting up false realities of their lives in order to project some kind of image of themselves to get over their own stresses. That may come back and haunt people,” he said.
Some people may be isolated and lonely whereas some may find being isolated indoors with their families or partners overwhelming. However, being aware of that issue is a start. “If you are a couple who are in a one bedroom flat, and say that normally 70 percent of the week the two of you are out at work and now 100 percent of the week you’re at home and you’ve got all this stuff swimming around in your head, relationships [may] be really affected.”
This feeling that some may be having is what marriage and family therapist Kathy McCoy recently called “Couples Claustrophobia” in an article written for Psychology Today. She recommended that rediscovering hobbies and not expecting partners to meet each other’s needs is a good way to tackle this problem that some may now be experiencing for the first time.
Anxiety induced by social isolation does not have to take over though. There are several things that Williamson recommends that may help anyone if they’re experiencing anxiety and depression for the first time, or whether it has been a figment of your life for a while. One of the key steps though is recognising what anxiety is.
“One of the things I’ve noticed about working with anxiety is clients recognising what anxiety is. The number of people I know who wound up in A&E because they thought they were having a heart attack but were actually having a panic attack is phenomenal,” Williamson said.
He recommends using a website called Get Self Help as it’s a useful resource for therapists and those suffering with anxiety to gain a better understanding of it.
Therapy is another option, but the costs can be out of reach for some people. However, there are low cost therapeutic practices out there for anyone who wants to speak with a counsellor. Williamson recommends the mental health charity Mind, whom he says also have a useful website to further enhance someone’s understanding of what is going on for them. He also said that they provide therapy at a price based on what you earn which may prove invaluable to many people.
Below is a list of resources that may be of use.