Tag Archives: worry

How to Manage Anxiety During Lockdown

As we enter the second lockdown of the year many of us find ourselves stuck at home (again). While some are embracing the change, some of us are feeling a little frazzled and may be struggling with our mental health.

Here are six simple changes we can make to help us improve our mental health during lockdown.

1. Manage your news sources carefully. Recognise that there is a difference between being immersed and being informed. You don’t have to be plugged into your Twitter, Instagram or Facebook feed 24/7. Give yourself permission to take breaks and aim for a balanced media diet. Don’t just focus on the really bad news, gravitate towards the good news also.

2. Don’t underestimate the power of routine. The pandemic has left many people feeling adrift. Our daily routines, that were essential to us before the COVID-19 crisis have disappeared and been replaced by uncertainty and a lack of structure that can contribute to stress, anxiety and feelings of depression. Sticking to a routine helps to:

  • Create structure – A daily routine often begins with the alarm clock ringing to start our day, and the routines follow from there with showering, brushing our teeth, dressing and grabbing coffee on the school run or on the way to the (home) office.
  • Give us a sense of accomplishment – Routines typically have a beginning and an end, and we plan our day and time around being able to prioritise them and accomplish the most important tasks of the day for ourselves and our families
  • Let us know how we are doing – Even small routines like showering, brushing our teeth, and dressing are important parts of our day. Since the pandemic, many of us have taken a more liberal approach to those daily routines, such as working from home in ‘comfy clothes’ that were once reserved for weekends. Although this change is subtle, it can have a big impact, making you feel sluggish or lazy.
  • Let people around us know how we are doing – Routines also are indications to people around us of how we are doing. Before the pandemic, if you didn’t show up for work people would worry, or if you didn’t come out of your house for weeks friends would look in on you or be concerned about your well-being. With no routine, there are a lot of unknowns that can cause concern or anxiety.

3. Build activities that give you a sense of pleasure, achievement and/or comfort into your daily routine. This could be a new hobby or an activity that helps you to relax. Or maybe watching a great film, reading a book, gaming or a bit of pampering, learning a new skill, doing something creative or getting your chores done.  Personally, I like a spot of baking – it not only gives me a focus but helps me feel calmer. Bear in mind that, while it can be tempting to use ‘pleasurable quick fixes’ – such as overuse of alcohol, drugs or gambling – to cope with pain, stress, anxiety and depression, these are not viable long-term choices for maintaining good mental health.

4. Try not to worry about things that are outside of your control. When things are beyond our control, its essential to focus on what we can control no matter how small that may be – or as my clients will have heard me say many many times … control your controllables! One of the things that causes an increase in anxiety is when we worry about things that are out of our control. For example, worrying whether or not others are obeying Covid-19 restrictions. Don’t get caught up with what others are doing. Instead, try to focus on what is best for you and how you can keep yourself and your loved ones safe.

5. Stay connected. Lack of physical contact with friends and colleagues has a tendency to leave people feeling very isolated, which can increase feelings of anxiety. Consider different ways to stay in touch – a phone call, video call, text message, the ‘old fashioned’ letter. Hearing a friendly, familiar voice or reading a message from people we care about helps us to feel connected. This is so important for our mental health and especially for people living alone who may be feeling lonely, isolated and afraid about the current situation.

6. Finally, exercise! Engaging in regular exercise can help curb feelings of anxiety and depression. When you exercise your brain releases serotonin, which positively impacts your mood and helps you to feel better. It can also help to improve your appetite and sleep cycle. If you’re not self-isolating, try to get outside at least once a day. Go for a walk and get some fresh air. If you are self-isolating, walk around your garden, up and down your driveway or onto your balcony and embrace fresh air.

You don’t have to suffer in silence if you’re struggling with your mental health, reach out to a professional or contact one of the groups listed below:

CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) A male suicide prevention charity offering help, advice and information. Tel: 0808 802 5858 (17.00 – 00.00. 365 days a year)Web: www.thecalmzone.net

Childline Childline is on hand to help anyone under 19 in the UK. Call 0800 1111 or contact them online. It’s free to use and completely confidential. Tel: 0800 1111 Web: www.childline.org.uk

MIND Provides advice and support to anyone experiencing a mental health problem. Tel: 0300 123 3393 (09.00 to 18.00. Monday to Friday, except bank holidays) Web: www.mind.org.uk

PAPYRUS (Prevention of Young Suicide) Provides information for parents of suicidal children and supports those bereaved by suicide. Tel: 0870 170 4000 (helpline available Monday to Friday 09.00 to 22.00, Weekends 14.00 to 22.00, Bank Holidays 14.00 to 22.00) Web: www.papyrus-uk.org

Samaritans Providing 24-hour phone support, Samaritans is a national charity aiming to reduce emotional distress. Tel: 116 123 (24 hours, 365 days a year) Web: www.samaritans.org

Stay safe!

Siobhan Graham – Accredited Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist – www.SiobhanGraham.com

How to look after your mental health when working from home

This week, the government announced that due to coronavirus cases spiking across the UK, anyone who could work from home, should do so. The latest guidelines suggest that these new coronavirus restrictions for England could last for up to six months.

With this in mind, it is important to note that working from home for long periods of time can negatively affect our mental health. Working at home during a pandemic is slightly different to working from home pre-pandemic. I find myself in a situation where both myself and my husband are working from home at the same time. Practically this means that space and quiet is often hard to come by, stress levels increase and heated ‘negotiations’ often take place!

While working from home certainly has its benefits, you may also be experiencing some of the following feelings

  • Feeling isolated, lonely, or disconnected from other people – socially and professionally
  • Feeling stressed and overwhelmed
  • Being unable to ‘switch off from work’
  • Having difficulty staying motivated
  • Having difficulty prioritising your workload
  • Feeling uncertain about your progress, and whether you’re performing ok
  • Insomnia and sleep problems

So, how you can protect your mental health while working from home?

Set up routine and structure for your workday — create boundaries between ‘work time’ and ‘home time’

We are creatures of habit so establishing a routine and sticking to it when you are working from home is a good way to keep your motivation and productivity on track.

Define your work hours – if you find yourself staying up late or waking up early to meet deadlines, professional and personal boundaries will become blurred. Try to get up at the same time during the work week as you would if you were going to an office. Stick to predetermined break times and block out time to get up from your desk to stretch and move about.

Change out of your pyjama’s and into different clothes for working in. When the routine of getting changed into new clothes for working at home is practiced enough, psychologically you become conditioned to associate the changing of clothes with a change of mindset, preparing you for the working day ahead.

Stay consistent and ‘leave work’ when your working hours are over. It’s very tempting to ‘just answer one more email’ when you don’t have to leave to catch a train or avoid the rush hour.

This will help you switch off from work at the end of the day and minimise the possibility of work intruding into your family time.

Set up a specific ‘work’ place in your home (avoid your bedroom)

It is important (where possible) to create a designated work space that (pardon the pun) ‘works’! Try to ensure you have access to a desk, a comfortable chair and plenty of natural light.

Creating a specific work place will help you follow a disciplined work schedule when you’re at home – when you sit or stand there, you’re working and when you leave that place, you’ve left work. Because of this, it is suggested that you have “your own” work area at home (and in an ideal world in a separate room.) This may prove a little challenging if you have limited space, more than one person home working and/or a big family.

If you don’t have a specific room to work from set up a separate space (for example, in your living room), somewhere that is quiet, with good light, that allows you to focus, where you can have a comfortable table and chair to work from.

It has been well documented that working from home can interfere with sleep, especially for those who find it difficult to switch off from work. Avoid working from your bedroom if possible so that it does not become associated with being alert, awake and switched on.

Get a good night’s sleep

It may be tempting to do ditch your sleep routine while you’re working from home. Maybe you fancy grabbing a lie-in instead of your morning commute, or maybe you don’t see the need to go to bed as early. This is counterproductive if you want to continue getting consistent, high-quality sleep. Disruption to routine can cause the circadian rhythm (the sleep-wake cycle) to overcompensate, which can lead to you to being sleepy during the day, and alert when you go to bed. Try and keep the same sleeping and waking hours you did before the pandemic. It may not feel like it first thing in the morning, but it will definitely be worth it in the long run.

Maybe you’re finding it difficult to sleep due to increased feelings of worry? We’re living through anxiety provoking times where it is often difficult to detach from the very real fear we are faced with – even when you’re trying to relax. While worry can be a very natural response, it is also an unhelpful one. Try to be proactive about addressing your anxieties. For example, set aside a time before bedtime (preferably not too late in the evening) where you write down the things that are worrying you so that they’re out of your head for the night and allow you get a good night’s sleep.

Set boundaries

Treat your ‘at home office’ as you would if you were in an ‘office office’. During working hours, be clear that you are unavailable for anything outside of your job duties. If you live with other people, let them know that although you might be ‘physically at home’, you are not mentally there – you are working and not available to do chores or have random conversations at any time, (and if you live in my house, not answering the front door to take in a parcel when the postman is pressed up against the window looking at you – this really irritates my husband when he’s ordered something for delivery and I don’t answer the door!)

Think about creating an action plan to deal with distractions and help you stay organised when working from home. Consider establishing cues for other family members. Maybe a closed door means ‘do not disturb’ or if you’re wearing your headphones or sitting at your desk, it means that you’re not available to speak or answer any question, unless it is an emergency (the same type of emergency for which they would call for when you’re at the office). Whatever your plan is, communicate it to others to minimise distractions. Lastly, don’t panic if the dog barks or a child wanders into view when you are on a call – these are strange times and most people will understand the juggle act that takes place when working from home!

Stay connected

For many of us, most of our daily routine, our forms of self-care, and our general sense of safety and stability have been impacted by the pandemic.

Make a conscious effort not to become distanced from your work colleagues while working from home. Not being in the office means that spontaneous meet ups and conversations with colleagues don’t happen. Be proactive in organising meetings and social networking. Maintaining emotional connections, having clear work-life boundaries, and increasing self-care strategies are key to helping reduce stress levels, reducing feelings of isolation and staying productive.

Reduce screen time

While technology makes it easier to stay connected 24/7, the downside is that it can make it difficult to switch off, and separate work and home life. In addition, with so many people using video conferencing apps, many of us are feeling drained while working from home. So much so, the term ‘Zoom fatigue’ is being used to describe this particular feeling of exhaustion. Try to avoid back to back video calls and take regular breaks to reduce the time you spend in front of a screen. Switch off notifications for work emails at the end of your working day and give your brain a rest from ‘work time’.

Try a digital detox to help you switch off from work, and spend quality time with your family, or engage in activities that give you a sense of pleasure and/or achievement.

Take regular exercise

Engaging in regular exercise can help curb feelings of anxiety and depression. When you exercise your brain releases serotonin, which positively impacts your mood and helps you to feel better. It can also help to improve your appetite and sleep cycle. Set aside time to stay active during ‘work hours’ and break up your day with regular screen breaks. If you’re not self-isolating, try to get outside at least once a day. Go for a walk and get some fresh air. If you are self-isolating, walk around your garden, up and down your driveway or onto your balcony and embrace fresh air.

Focus on the ‘positives’

Working from home can have many benefits. It can improve productivity, reduce distractions, reduce stress, improve work satisfaction, lower the time (and cost) you spend commuting, give you greater sense of control over your workday, and can even help to avoid challenging colleagues!

In addition to the tips listed above, don’t forget to maintain positive mental health through

  • Exercising, getting a good night’s sleep and eating well
  • Engaging in activities that give you a sense of pleasure and/or achievement
  • Staying connected and seeking out support
  • Managing stress through problem solving, relaxation and/or meditation
  • Reframe your thinking to look for the positives in a situation



Why your 8-12 year old isn’t sleeping

SLEEP getty_rf_photo_of_girl_fast_asleep_at_eight_oclock

Over the past couple of months I have been party to a number of ‘playground conversations’ with parents concerned about various sleep struggles their children are experiencing and the knock on effect it can have not only on their day to day functioning but also family life.

So, what can you do to help your child fall asleep easier and stay asleep throughout the night?

Firstly, it is important to acknowledge that (a) some children just have a harder time relaxing and falling asleep than other children and (b) that it is really common for 8 to 12 year olds to start struggling with sleep! Often we, as parents, find children in this age range take longer to get to bed. Maybe they are taking longer to fall asleep or showing increasing levels of fear and/or anxiety about going to bed alone.

At this age it is important for children to have adequate sleep as they are growing and becoming increasingly active both in school and at after-school activities. They need well rested minds and bodies to strengthen cognitive ability, memory, alertness and overall mood and behaviour for school and learning. It is recommended that children at this age need 10 – 11 hours of sleep per night. However, it is not uncommon for them to sleep far less.

At this point it is worth noting that while ‘Sleep Guidelines’ provide us with an idea of what is considered ‘normal’, the best guide to your child’s sleep requirements are how they feel and how they function. In general, your child is probably not getting enough sleep if:

• They are sleepy at the wrong time of day (for example, after waking in the morning)

• They have trouble paying attention during the day

• They tend to fall asleep very quickly (within a few minutes) when given the chance

• They are “wired” at the wrong time of day (for example, just before bedtime)

• They are easily frustrated and quickly irritated

• They have trouble keeping their impulses in check

So why might my child be sleeping less than they need?

Biological Changes:

The average age of puberty for girls is between 10 and 12 years of age and for boys between 12 to 16 years of age. It’s during this age group that there is a shift in their natural sleep rhythms. Melatonin (our sleep hormone) is secreted later at night. It is this hormone that signals to the body that it is time to go to sleep. While this may not happen as early as 8 years of age, when the shift does occur, it can be biologically impossible for tweens and teens to fall asleep at an earlier bedtime even if we want them to!

Poor Sleep Environment and/or a Changeable Routine:

This is the age when activities, sports and homework increase. Bedtimes become later and over-scheduling leaves children over tired and exhausted making it more difficult for them to fall asleep. In addition, technology is ever present and often finds its way into children’s bedrooms. Sleep is being traded for staying up to date on social media sites or catching up on TV shows or YouTube.

The Wrong Bedtime:

Recent research has suggested that many parents are sending their children to bed too early and long before they are ready to fall asleep. If their bodies haven’t yet produced enough melatonin (a sleep inducing hormone). Children who are put to bed too early become understandably bored, and, as they lie awake with nothing to do, may find their minds dwelling on anxieties and fears.

Anxiety and Bedtime Fears:

At this age it is common for children to have fears and anxieties about school work, social environments and family difficulties or worries about illness and death. This can keep our children’s brains very busy, making it very difficult for them to ‘switch off’ and fall asleep.

This can be problematic as when we become over-tired, we keep ourselves going by releasing stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenalin into our bloodstream. When a child is over-tired, (s)he may be swamped by those bio-chemicals, (which stay in the bloodstream for more than 24 hours), thus making it harder to fall asleep the following night.

What can I do to help my child fall asleep easier?

The first step towards healthier sleep for anyone (regardless of age) is to promote healthy sleep hygiene:

  • Practice consistent sleep patterns. Aim for a bedtime between 20.30 and 21.30 and have a consistent wake up time in the morning (even at the weekend)
  • Ensure the run up to bedtime is calm with no electronic devices at least an hour before bedtime. The light from devices such as televisions, iPads, computers and mobile phones keeps the body from making melatonin. Use this time to decrease any stimulation, connect with your child and prepare them for sleep (see below). Try to avoid exercise 1 to 2 hours before bedtime (although you might be tempted to wear your child down with exercise, research suggests that exercise keeps people alert for at least two hours after it’s over).
  • Be mindful of what they eat before bedtime and avoid anything with caffeine (which stays in the body for 8 to 14 hours). Have a drink of warm milk and eat a carbohydrate rich snack beforehand to improve the efficacy of the milk’s tryptophan. Abanana (carbohydrate) is a good source of both potassium and magnesium which are natural muscle relaxants and has been known to help release serotonin, which can be sleep inducing.
  • Ensure your child’s sleep environment is conducive to sleep:

o   The room is dark, signalling to your child’s brain that it’s time to release melatonin
o   The room is not too cold or too hot
o   Remove all technology from the bedroom

Address childhood anxieties and fears before bedtime through communication and relaxation techniques. Be mindful to remove the pressure of sleep off both of you – it can become a stressful cycle. Your child will stress before bedtime because (s)he knows (s)he’ll have a hard time falling asleep, you and (s)he may argue about it which will stress you both out so no one will fall asleep any time soon! Children often feel the pressure when just being told to go to bed. Remain calm and explain why it is important to sleep, supported by various techniques that can help him/her get there!

  • Think about swapping bedtime stories for colouring. With the increase of adult colouring the calming benefits of this activity is being proven. Colouring with your child is not only relaxing but also provides the opportunity to ask open-ended questions that may help you to find out more about their day and what may be causing some of their anxieties.
  • Think about suggesting your child creates a journal which (s)he is happy to share with you. Use the journal as a safe place where your child can write down any worries or concerns that they want you to know about (with the understanding that you will read it). Sometimes it is difficult for children of this age to admit their fears out loud even when they want to share them with us, the journal can act as a bridge for communication between you.
  • Think about listening to a ’talking book’ (but be mindful of the content)
  • Teach your child to relax before bedtime through mindfulness, yoga and breathing techniques. These strategies will help relax their body and quiet their mind making it easier for them to fall asleep.
  • Ensure that you both have a clear understanding of the bedtime routine so that your child is clear on the expectations at bedtime and throughout the night.

Finally, avoid ‘band aid’ solutions such as medication. The first and most effective route to take before any sleep aid supplements should be modifications to the child’s behaviour and emotional state. Good Luck!

Siobhan Graham Psychotherapy – www.siobhangraham.com – 07863 546421