The new 'pandemic' normal
I recently read an article passed on to me by my supervisor entitled
What the Pandemic Is Doing to Our Brains - The Atlantic by Ellen Cushing.
Staying at home and has brought to the forefront a lot of things for me - from the dishwasher constantly being loaded and unloaded, the washing machine constantly on. I seem to be constantly being preoccupied day in and day out from tending to the same household chores that leaves me wondering how on earth did I use to fit in everything else in. There always seems to be something to do!! Anyone else feeling like that?
Lockdowns, social distancing, hand sanitising, face coverings, video calls, staying at home, working from home, travel restrictions and an absence of being able to see family and friends has all become the new normal as a result of COVID-19. Mentioned in the article was a difficulty in remembering and knowing what our own normality was and how it experienced by us before the pandemic and the restrictions that ensued.
What has resonated with me was the analogy of living our lives like characters in the 'The Sims", stuck in a prolonged loop of restricted 'same' routines that feels like its never going to be any different. The author, Ellen Cushing draws on research around what is bad for the brain is 'chronic and perpetual stress' - highlighting the experience of living through a pandemic has a tendency to expose us to unpredictable elements of stress most of the time without us necessarily being aware of experiencing it. She cites a researcher, Franklin whose research has shown brain regions linked to executive functioning, learning and memory can change as a result of stress that doesn't necessarily needs to be as a result of extreme experiencing of anxiety and stress associated with panic attacks or leading to difficulty sleeping but can be linked to prolonged boredom and often feeling like a nothingness.
I really related to the articles describing feelings of heaviness, wading through tar with a difficulty to see when things will ever change from being restricted to the same routines day in day out. I have personally experienced this a lot through the periods of lockdowns and when out of them during the pandemic where life has not been completely free from restricted life. Furthermore, it can be difficult navigating living and working together with the people we live with. 24/7.
Being able to get some fresh air, exercise and engaging in activities that are enriching and stimulating our brain has been shown to help with such feeling and improve well-being and cognitive functioning. The author draws on research by Diamond in the 1960s highlighting improved performance within enriching environments. I have been fortunate to have some beautiful areas to walk that is local to where I live and keeping myself busy with projects that I have been able to do at home. However, I also appreciate it can be difficult to feel motivated when feeling in a low mood, feeling like you are treading through tar, feeling anxious and stressed. Whether this is as a result of the pandemic or from other personal circumstances that can often feel overwhelming and scary.
The pandemic has impacted on people's mental health so much, whether directly relating to the pandemic or the circumstances exacerbating existing issues and difficulties in life that people may have been previously unaware of or maybe slightly aware they were struggling with before. The pandemic has really brought to the forefront the importance of taking account of people's mental health and the need for making this more accessible with more funding in providing this. However, whilst a lot of focus continues to be on increasing mental health awareness, there is still much stigma felt for people in being open and honest with their thoughts and feelings with those around them in how they are experiencing themselves.
Counselling can offer a safe, confidential space for people who are struggling with what is going on for them right now to have the freedom to explore thoughts and feelings unconditionally, without judgement and within a honest, genuine therapeutic relationship.