Many pregnant women may be anxious at the moment, as they have been told to isolate/practise extreme social distancing, even though there is no evidence as yet on whether they are vulnerable or not…Being isolated when you are feeling anxious or depressed is not helpful and added to that these women will of course be more worried than usual about their unborn baby.. So even though it is a long time since I was pregnant, I do know about anxiety as a professional, so here goes with some tips that might help if you are feeling anxious :
- Follow the advice of your GP / obstetrician / midwife and only look at reputable sources of information online.
- Continue with antenatal appointments, even if they have to be done remotely?
- Ask for support whenever you need it – don’t forget pregnant women are not super women…
- Indulge in creativity when the nesting instinct happens – more fun than housework!
- Use worry time i.e. restrict yourself on how much news you watch etc and find a time in the day (e.g. 3pm?) when you can worry as much as you like for 15 minutes and then stop!
- If worrying thoughts enter your mind at other times of the day, use mindfulness to just note them and let them go; either by using an app like Headspace or just grounding yourself in the present moment with 3 / 5 of your physical senses.
- Remember thoughts / opinions do not equal facts…
- Continue to get fresh air and exercise.
- Learn deep rhythmic breathing (4 seconds to breathe in and 6 seconds to breathe out); if you find this difficult there may well be instructions on Youtube…
- Stick to a regular routine with sleep and meal times etc. and if you nap in the afternoon don’t nap for too long…
- Focus not on how bad the situation is at the moment, but on how lucky you are to be bringing a new life into the world – it gives you a purpose…
- Use this time to get engrossed in music / good books / dramas on TV/ films via Netflix etc – as you won’t be able to do this when the baby comes!
- When the baby does come make sure you breastfeed, as that will help with the baby’s immunity and you may still be able to contact breastfeeding counsellors over the phone if you need help – persevere with it if you haven’t had a previous child – don’t expect it to be easy, but it is worth it…
- And for the first two weeks at least you won’t be able to have visitors to the house – not even the grandparents! But people will probably still send cards and gifts…
- If the baby blues become something worse like postnatal depression – contact your GP straight away…
- Talk to your partner and if they are not good listeners find someone else who is!
- Many private therapists are still working, albeit mainly by Skype/Zoom, so there is still help out there for your anxiety even if it’s not readily available on the NHS…
This year no smoking day (11th March) didn’t get mentioned in the media, as the media have been too busy whipping up hysteria about coronavirus. And yet nobody seems to have stated the obvious: i.e. if you want to improve your immune system and therefore reduce any impact the virus may have on your respiratory system, then STOP SMOKING NOW! (And if you’re struggling ask a friendly health psychologist to help…)
I spoke about change at a talk in cafe church last Sunday and obviously that was mainly about spiritual changes, but it is also a good topic for this blog….Changes that are thrust upon us, such as job loss, bereavement and house moves are often the most difficult ones to cope with. Yet changes we choose can be tricky too, such as giving up smoking, losing weight and improving our mental health; a CBT therapist can help with the latter and a health psychologist with the former…However CBT is often like learning a new language – it takes time and practise for our brains to learn new ways of thinking, so no magic wand is available!
Physical health changes are difficult too; not all health psychologists are in the correct BMI range…During my training I learnt about many different theories and models of behaviour change, which I have lectured on for two hours when I was working at UWE…And one of the main predictors of future behaviour is past behaviour! One of my favourites was “implementation intentions” which is about putting specific action plans in place to achieve a goal once the intention is decided upon; a bit like SMART goals…However when I was working at the University of Bath we found that targeting people who are undergoing a life transition ( in this case leaving school) were ripe for behaviour change, as past behavior had less of a hold on them and new habits could be formed – ideally healthy ones; and the people in our study lost an inch off their waist in 2-3 months just by increasing their exercise and making one realistic change to their diet.
Personally I don’t plan to retire anytime soon, as I enjoy my work, I am in good health and I still have spare time to do other things I enjoy too…However at some point in the future I will have to….The funny thing is Google is only interested in telling you how to make financial plans for retirement, whereas plans for your wellbeing are just as important, if not more so. Hence the reason why The Psychologist has a leaflet about retirement in their magazine this month – with 10 points – five of which I will summarise here:
- Replace lost roles to enhance a sense of meaning or purpose, such as volunteering.
- Be creative: take part in activities such as painting or singing and engage with culture through museums and the theatre etc. Also if you can, learn a language or a musical instrument to help reduce the risk of getting dementia.
- Don’t stop exercising! Or start if you haven’t done so through your working life – it’s never too late…just walking outside or doing a Pilates class etc to keep cardiovascular health well and to keep muscles strong. Also good for mental health as well as physical.
- Be sociable: travelling and also finding local opportunities to connect with others e.g.through your church…and socialising through technology too.
- It’s a major life transition, so be kind to yourself by responding to difficulties with self-compassion and remembering that many others will be meeting similar challenges….Having psychological flexibility is very important – CBT / ACT therapists can help with this!
I used to be a bit of a head banger when I was an adolescent and apparently I still am! I don’t listen to heavy metal music anymore (except for the occasional Whitesnake track) but I did bang my head as a result of a fall the other day…So I am not talking about a little whack of the head when you hit it against a beam, but a heavy fall against a stone pillar, with – as the paramedics put it – a lot of claret (and I am not talking about falling because of booze!) This resulted in mild concussion which is also called a minor head injury and just because you don’t pass out and/or vomit or seem confused, it doesn’t mean you are not concussed…Often as a result of a minor head injury you can get post-concussion syndrome, which can last from a couple of weeks to 3 months… And as this is quite common, I thought it would be helpful to list some of the symptoms here:
- some mild cognitive impairments such as forgetfulness / slow processing speeds / problems concentrating
- tiredness / drowsiness / problems sleeping
- sensitivity to noise and/or light
- feeling tearful
- mild PTSD
- fear of going out
A psychologist would be able to help you cope with any of these symptoms, even if they are not a neuropsychologist, or you can go to the Headway website where there are helpful leaflets to download and/or a helpline to ring…Headway suggest that in the first few days afterwards you don’t drink alcohol or drive long distances or play contact sport, but if the symptoms get worse and the headaches don’t respond to painkillers, then you should get checked out by your GP or go to A&E.
So a slightly different blog this time about my present work as a psychologist and what it involves – without of course breaking confidentiality…I trained as a health psychologist and I am chartered with the British Psychological Society (also registered with the Health Care Professionals Council); both of which involve responsibilities i.e acting ethically and keeping up my professional development (see below). The reason I am writing about this is because quite often you hear people say to those who are living with difficulties-“why don’t you go and have a little chat with a psychologist?” Warning – never use the word “chat” when referring to talking therapies! One of my old colleagues said those chats can be expensive! Also because I am self-employed it seems to me that some other people – including the people at my church, think I just spend a few hours a week chatting to people and that is all my work entails!!
At present I work as a psychotherapist (not the same as a counsellor when a psychologist is doing it- see my previous blog!) I work with adults, adolescents and children. I mainly use CBT, but also other concepts/ideas/approaches too. And yes I do talk to my clients, but very little of that is chat – some of it is psychoeducation, some of it is Socratic dialogue and the rest is working collaboratively with people in getting them to change/accept their thoughts and behaviour. However the work I do is not just the time I spend with my clients….I have to continue with my professional development and this includes: reading, reflecting, attending workshops/conferences etc. I also see my supervisor once a month… I have to send out invoices, write reports, market myself, read through notes and prepare session content, as well as responding to emails and chasing up clients who don’t contact you when they should…On top of that it is a sedentary job and also one that takes an emotional toll, so I sometimes feel drained and can have impostor syndrome! Therefore I have to look after my own physical and mental health through exercise and finding time to relax etc. Despite all that I do enjoy my work; I don’t earn much, but I love being my own boss and I like working with my clients…