For the past few years ‘Keep Calm And Carry On” has been reprised. The old 2nd World War slogan has had a second life in our techno-hectic zeitgeist. The slogan is on mugs, socks, cards, towels, t-shirts, exhorting us to calm down everywhere we are.
However, the place it really needs to be is in our brains. The current pandemic is pushing the psychological and emotional buttons of millions of people right now. We are used to our freedoms, our ability to have agency over our lives, and to go and do what we wish.
Yet, all of a sudden we are locked in. And we don’t know when it is all going to end. This presses the panic button big time. If you are already a person with anxieties and phobias, addictions and depression, this can seem like you are being mentally fried.
So the challenge is on. How to ‘Keep Calm And Carry On’ when we have no idea for how long, to what end and what the personal result might be? For those with salaried incomes and wealth, the cushion is obviously cosier although restrictive. But for those in the zero-hour economy and self-employed, it is a more perilous, bumpy ride.
However, the one thing we have control over is ourselves. We can control our brains. We can learn to take a breath. Then another. To calm ourselves down. We need to change our thinking. We need to not catastrophise – to make the situation worse than it already is by seeing a movie-style epic disaster at every turn.
Ironically, some anxious people are actually feeling more secure in the lockdown. Decisions have been eliminated; choices simplified and social contact reduced. This can actually be a source of comfort to some as the limits create a kind of safety.
Many introverts are enjoying the sound of the birds, the reduction of traffic, with time to read or declutter, or think with less continuous noise. Getting to those tasks that have been on a list for years is also good.
Extroverts can feel more caged tiger than introverts. However, doing an online exercise class, finally making that channel or laying those tracks, can be a healthy outlet.
However, we are all challenged to be able to deal with our emotional swings enduring imposed limits. We need to tell ourselves it will end – of course it will – and that it is not forever. We also need to mourn those events and opportunities we are missing, and vow not to waste time once we are released.
Making time to improve your mental health daily is highly important at this time. And nipping any catastrophising in the bud is the place to start.
Make daily lists of what you have actually achieved, no matter how small. Take baby steps to do those things you always wanted to do. Get creative with what is in your home to amuse yourself. Reach out to friends, colleagues and neighbours virtually – spend time with people who count.
Most importantly, try to be in the now. Learn to meditate. Even for five minutes. This is the most crucial step to staying sane. If you feel sad, cry. If you feel angry, pummel a cushion or shout into a pillow. If you have a garden, cut down shrubs, cut the lawn, pull up weeds to vent your anger. Do those repairs. Decorate. Dance in your house and get a daily walk or run, jump with a rope or hop if you can.
Be good to yourself and ‘Keep Calm and Don’t Catastrophise’ to help yourself not only to survive, but to thrive.
Writer, Broadcaster, Psychologist, Psychotherapist and author of:
The Anxiety Journal: Exercises to Soothe Stress and Eliminate Anxiety Wherever You Are (Pan MacMillan)
The Mindfulness Journal: Exercises to Help You Find Peace and Calm Wherever You Are (Pan MacMillan)
Change Your Life with CBT: How Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Can Transform Your Life (Pearsons)