Anxiety and Imagination During the Covid-19 Pandemic

There's little doubt that the current Covid-19 pandemic, and everything that goes with it, has had a detrimental impact on mental health and well-being. I've covered before about the mass of studies and research that demonstrates this impact upon mental health.  

You may have found yourself experiencing symptoms and feelings of anxiety, irrititability, stress and even loneliness from being unable to see family and friends in ways you used to and would ideally wish to. As I write this (during lockdown three), positive tests and deaths are falling and the number of people getting the vaccine is accelerating, so let's all hope that these green shoots continue.

And with it being Time To Talk Day this week, if you are struggling with anxiety or depression, or your mental health has been impacted in some other negative way, then please do talk to someone you trust. It is possible to get through what you are experiencing and there are those around you who want to listen, help and offer support.

Today I'm covering some research about the association between anxiety and your imagination.  

Having a good imagination can be a positive thing; it can help with creativity, working things out, coming up with ideas and planning ahead.  However, your imagination can have a 'dark side' that is linked with higher levels of anxiety, emotional distress, rumination and catastrophising. If you struggle with anxiety then these things may seem all too familiar in the cycle of anxiety, thinking the worst, dread and feeling you can't cope with things.

So what does the research tell us about anxiety and your imagination during the Covid-19 pandemic, and how you can also use your imagination to effectively extinguish your anxiety? 

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Hypnotherapy For Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a functional bowel disorder than can cause symptoms such as stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhoea, abdominal pain and constipation. The uncertainty, unpredictability, pain and discomfort can have a hugely deterimental impact upon your well-being and quality of life.

When I help people with IBS, they often avoid certain places and situations due to the anxiety, stress and worry that their IBS will strike. I've come across clients who have avoided going out, who don't eat all day to avoid the discomfort or who suffer extreme anxiety about finding a toilet or the possibility of being embarrassed in front of others (e.g. from needing the toilet a lot, from not being able to find a toilet in time or from letting people down if the IBS is too bad). The very nature of IBS means it is often one of things people don't like to talk about or tell others about, which can add to the stress and anxiety about how your symptoms might be.

And whist it is usually a lifelong problem with no known 'cure', and with no universally agreed understanding of what causes it, the good news is that hypnotherapy has been shown to be very effective in helping you to alleviate your symptoms. 

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Three Good Things: Positive Psychology To Enhance Your Well-Being And Mental Health

As I write this, we are still in the middle of the third Covid-19 pandemic lockdown. In my last article, I wrote about a couple of research-supported positive psychological interventions that can help promote your well-being and support your resilience to things.

Today, I'm going into more depth about one of these techniques, the three good things, and the benefits of carrying our this straight forward exercise each day.  

Despite its many challenges and its adverse impact on mental health, perhaps one positive of the pandemic has been a sense of appreciation about, and gratitude for, things that we may have taken for granted before. We can all feel grateful for our health, our loved ones, the roof over our heads, the ability to get out and move, the kindness of others, the awesome dedication and effort of NHS staff and other key workers, and a whole host of other things. 

Having the ability to get out and exercise is something I'm certainly appreciating, both because of the possibility it could be taken away, and because of the benefits to my mental health, especially if I incorporate some time in nature too. I value conversations and time with family in an enhanced way, and one of the pluses of working from home is having more interactions with the kids throughout the day, and spending more time in the evening doing things with them (at the moment playing 'keepie uppie' with balloons is a favourite bit of fun!). 

One of the tasks I often set my clients is to spend a few minutes at the end of each day thinking back on three good things, or positive things, from that day. With anxiety, depression, stress, worry or overthinking the tendency is to spend more and more time thinking about negative or bad things or the kind of things that made you feel anxious, low or down in some way. Thinking about three positive things starts to counter that by deliberate and conscious focus on things that are going right. In conjunction with our hypnotherapy sessions, it starts to shift thoughts and feelings more towards how someone wants them to be. 

And it turns out that there is a lot of evidence supporting this psychological technique. Consistently adopting the three good things practice can promote your well-being, increase positive emotions and happiness, lessen negative emotions and support your resilience. As I'll cover here, this gratitude activity really does have positive psychological benefits for you. 

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How To Promote Your Sense of Well-Being During The Covid-19 Pandemic

There's little doubt that the Covid-19 pandemic has had an adverse impact upon mental health, and that is illustrated in data that has shown a rise in anxiety and depression levels for many years.

During the pandemic, restrictions and lockdowns you may have found yourself feeling more anxious, feeing low, stressed or worried, and have experienced a dip in your well-being and mood. I've covered before how things like sleep, alcohol consumption and self-esteem have also been impacted upon. All of the research, data and surveys have provided ample evidence of the current adverse impact upon mental health.

If you are struggling with anxiety, stress or worry, whether pandemic-related or otherwise, I'd strongly suggest looking through some of the articles here on my website for information, advice, strategies and things that you can do to support your own mental health and well-being. There are many steps you can take that can alleviate unwanted feelings and interrupt unwanted thoughts.

During stressful events that change our normal lifestyle and routines, we can find ourselves thinking back fondly on life before the pandemic, with a sense of loss or longing. Alternatively, you may just be focusing on each and every day and getting through it, or maybe savouring the better moments. Or you may find that you tend to look ahead and think about your life after lockdown. 

When I work with clients, elements of thinking back, focusing on the present, and looking forward can all have benefits, if utilised in the right way. You can draw upon things that have gone well, successes, accomplishments and overcoming previous adversities to remind yourself that you are capable right now. It can be useful to focus on what is going right and the positives from each and every day to boost your mood and interrupt any tendency to only focus on issues and problems. And, inside your imagination, you can prime your mind for how you want to be thinking, feeling, acting and reacting in the future.

Thanks to some recent research, we now also know where you should direct your focus, and how, if you want to promote your well-being and feel better during the challenges of a lockdown. So would you benefit most from thinking back on things from before lockdown, paying attention to the present, or by looking forward to life after lockdown? 

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Lessons From Space To Promote Your Well-being and Mental Health

These past few weeks, amongst everything else, have included a whole bunch of tasks and exercises with my daughter during her home schooling. This term has been all about astronauts and space, with research, reading and writing about famous space names such as Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Tim Peake.

We've been learning all about their lives, Apollo 11, the moon landing, the International Space Station and a bunch of other related facts and information (making sure to include some chronological facts, past tenses, relative clauses, technical information and more!).

As part of her work, we watched a live video questions and answer video with Tim Peake, the British astronaut (who seemed like a very friendly, decent chap as he answered questions from young people). He covered a whole range of things, from his childhood and early education, all the way through to his time on the International Space Station and his current work. I certainly didn't expect him to describe the smell of space as being like burnt toast (which I think would just make me feel hungry the whole time!).

One of the areas he touched upon was about how he supports his own mental health and well-being, give that being in space can be a pretty unusual and detached experience. And, if it's good enough for an astronaut, then I think there are a few pointers we can all take, and include in our own approach, towards our mental health and well-being.  

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Mindfulness For Anxiety, Stress and Promoting Mental Health

Mindfulness for anxiety, stress and other mental health issues has grown as a therapeutic approach and self-help technique over recent years. I've incorporated some beneficial aspects of mindfulness into several aspects of my work.

When we talk about mindfulness we are generally talking about being present, or in the present moment. People eat mindfully, exercise mindfully and use purposeful mindfulness strategies to support positive personal goals. Certainly one of the reasons I enjoy learning the guitar so much is because, by its very nature, I have to pay full attention to what I am doing (with variable results but that's besides the point!!).

When you are engaged in the present moment, there is only right now and so worries about the future, or things from the past, are not at the front of your awareness (paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally).

Anxiety levels have been rising in the UK for many years so there is an ongoing need to understand and help people to use effective, scientifically supported, treatments. The latest data from the Office For National Statistics suggests that, at the time I am writing this (during Covid-19 lockdown 3), levels of anxiety are higher than they have been since the start of the pandemic. Over 40% of adults reported high levels of anxiety. 

So let's have a look at some of the recent evidence about mindfulness for anxiety, stress and for your mental health.

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Could Horror Films Make You More Psychologically Resilient To The Covid-19 Pandemic?

Out of all the research into the mental health impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, there comes something a little bit quirkier this time. Could horror films help you to be more psychologically resilient to the pandemic? And before any temptation to treat this as being something perhaps a little frivolous about something serious, do have a read about what the research says and how it links to psychological resilience and being able to deal with the mental health challenges of the pandemic.

Watching horror films is all about be becoming scared or fearful for your own entertainment. Although I have less opportunity to watch them now (due to the kids), over the years I've seen many horror films, some much better than others. I can remember way back as a teenager how me and my friends couldn't wait to watch Nightmare on Elm Street, almost in the hope of being scared witless! And films such as Saw are both horrific, tense, scary and clever in equal measure. Alongside these you can get more comedic films like Shaun of the Dead and the like. 

Watching horror films and those that portray other frightening, threatening or dangerous situations (such as zombie films, apocalyptic or alien invasion movies) involves intentionally exposing yourself to, and engaging in, fearful simulated situations and experiences. So can watching these sorts of films bring you psychological benefits and increased resilience when faced with real world threatening experiences, such as the current Covid-19 pandemic? 

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Covid-19 Anxiety, Stress and Trauma in Healthcare Workers:

There's been a lot in the news and media about the impact of the current wave of Covid-19 on hospitals and the healthcare system. Hospitals are busier than during the first peak, non Covid-19 procedures are being postponed and there are increasing delays with being able to access NHS help. 

It certainly supports the message that we should all be staying at home and reducing contact with others as much as we are able to. It's not just to help reduce the number of people getting ill and dying from Covid-19, it's not just to try and help those who are suffering with other issues that need treatment, it's not even only to support our wonderful NHS. We should all take action to support each and every individual doctor, nurse and healthcare professional who is giving their all right now (the very same people who are there for us and our loved ones when we need them).

When I talk to my clients who are healthcare workers, they all tell me of the harrowing scenes and challenges throughout this pandemic. There was everything we all saw and heard about way back in the first wave, and for many of these doctors, nurses and healthcare staff, there has been no let up in the demands upon them week after week, and month after month, during this pandemic.

All of the research and evidence shows that the mental health of healthcare workers is being impacted upon and that they now not only need mental health resources and support to be made available effectively, they also need the rest of us to do all we can so that they can continue helping people now and into the coming months.

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Why Now Really Is the Time To Quit Smoking

I've been helping people to quit smoking for over a decade. Whilst there can be many motivations and reasons for quitting, health usually features pretty highly. That could be due to an existing health issue that smoking exacerbates, worry over getting ill in the future, or fears, worries and hopes around wanting a longer life for you and to be there for your loved ones. Naturally there can be several other reasons and motivations yet not wanting to risk further damage to your health, or a shorter life than you could have, are pretty powerful reasons to quit smoking.

I mention further on, that research has now strongly suggested that being a smoker can increase the risk that you get Covid-19, and that if you do get the disease, that you will get more severe symptoms (increasing the risk of hospitalisation). If ever there was a time to quit, during the pandemic could therefore well be that time.

As it happens, I'm just about to start reading a novel that involves a lead character having hypnotherapy to stop smoking (Smoking Kills by Antoine Laurain). I'm hoping that hypnotherapy is accurately represented because often all I ever see in films and read in books is a load of mumbo-jumbo that isn't based on anything remotely like reality. According to the blurb on the back of the book the hypnotherapy is successful but overwhelming stress leads to lighting up again (incidentally, one of the reasons I cover in my stop smoking sessions, strategies for handling stress once you've quit). However, he finds that smoking doesn't give any sense of release from the stress like it once did (perhaps because nicotine is a stressor and smoking doesn't help you relax at all). He then stumbles upon some criminal way to recapture that nicotine joy...(although there really is little joy from nicotine and smoking and turning to crime is certainly not recommended!). I'll let you know how I get on with it once I've read it. 

And so back to the research about the association between being a smoker and Covid-19 risk.

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Supporting Your Mental Health During Lockdown Three

The third national lockdown is upon us, and with it comes the potential and risk of increased stress, worry, anxiety and the negative impact upon your mental health and well-being.

There are mental health impacts from the ongoing restrictions and limitations, on employment and jobs, financially and from things like home schooling. And whether you are not working, working from home or still need to work as usual, all of the evidence shows that our mental health has been impacted during the various stages of this pandemic.

I've been working from home (as all therapists should be), and getting a lot done despite all of the distractions that come from being at home (including the kids and home schooling!). On the plus side there is still exercise to enjoy and I'm continuing to make time to learn the guitar. I've written before about how online hypnotherapy is as effective as face to face hypnotherapy, so if you are struggling then do get in touch.    

As this lockdown continues, and the pandemic endures, it's now more important than ever that you take a proactive approach to supporting your mental health. Whether it helps you cope and deal with things completely, simply mitigates any adverse mental health impacts, or allows you to function and get through things so you are in the best place you can be after all of this, you need to do stuff. Below I've covered what I suggest you do to support your mental health during this lockdown three.

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