There is no question that the pandemic and, more specifically, lockdown is going to have a long-term impact on mental health.
Research by Mind illustrates the scale of the effects:
- 65% of adults over 25 and 75% of young people (aged 13–24) with an existing mental health problem have reported worsening mental health
- More than 1 in 5 adults with no previous experience of poor mental health now describe their mental health as poor or very poor
Factor in increased anxiety around returning to work – Bupa found that 65% of British workers are worried about this – and the future impact of the end of schemes like furlough and mortgage holidays and it seems likely that the full ongoing psychological impact is yet to be seen.
The Grey Space
Many people are moving further into what I term the ‘Grey Space’ in my research – otherwise known as the edge of burnout or the area in which the boundaries between coaching and therapy blur. These individuals are not yet at the point where they require clinical intervention but they are operating on the edge of burnout, they are distressed but functioning.
When functioning in this area, prevention is required; taking proactive steps can avoid more serious stress-related issues from developing. Using an evidence-based approach grounded in cognitive behavioural coaching, I address mental wellbeing with a focus on psychological flexibility, adaptability and emotional resilience.
Psychological flexibility refers to people’s ability to focus on their current situation and take action towards achieving their goals and values, even in the presence of difficult or unwanted psychological events.
Cognitive behavioural coaching works to build psychological flexibility. In order to focus on your current situation and respond effectively to it, an ‘acceptance and commitment’ approach needs to be adopted. This involves thinking mindfully, observing your thoughts and feelings from a non-judgemental perspective and reflecting on what is happening before altering your behaviour accordingly.
Learning to manage your anxiety, worry and physiological responses to stress will help with avoiding the full impact of burnout, particularly the component known as ‘emotional exhaustion’. This refers to the feeling of being emotionally overextended and depleted of emotional resources.
This state is one that many of us are probably experiencing at the moment and undoubtedly feeds in to the stats I included above. As humans, we don’t deal well with uncertainty and that is a central element of this situation.
There’s uncertainty around our health and physical safety – are we going to catch Covid-19? Do we already have it? Are we going to transmit it to others?
And then there are concerns around financial safety – is my job secure? What happens when furlough ends? Can I afford to cover my bills and mortgage?
We are all experiencing these underlying tensions to some degree, even those of us for whom good health has been constant and who still have jobs have had our emotional resources drained. No one has been left entirely unaffected by this pandemic and emotional fatigue is kicking in thanks to the heightened state of constantly activated stress response. It’s therefore unreasonable to maintain the same expectations of ourselves (and others) in terms of concentration, energy levels and emotional resilience at the moment.
Look to the future
Things can’t just return to the way they were, too much has changed in our world and the situation is still ongoing. What is needed now is a self-compassionate, proactive approach that focuses back in on what centres us – our purpose and values. I’m going to talk more about this in my next post but having something to ground you, a calm space in the eye of the storm, can be very powerful for building psychological flexibility and emotional resilience.
Even if you aren’t in the 20% of adults currently reporting poor mental health for the first time, it’s important to recognise the underlying long-term impact lockdown has had on you and start to proactively consider your mental wellbeing. For more information around psychological flexibility and the benefits of cognitive behavioural coaching, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me on 07837993241 and let’s get the conversation started.