Mindfulness Blog

Dr David Cameron Inspire Clinical Lead Psychologist and our Lead Mindfulness Practitioner Frank Liddy, as well as contributors from a variety of backgrounds will be sharing their personal experiences and insights - providing inspiration and support on your mindfulness journey.

COVID – 19: Eternal gratitude to our heroic health and care workers

Dr David Cameron Inspire Clinical Lead Psychologist, Thur 9th April 2020

Tragically, as of 9th April there have been a total of 7,097 deaths in the UK and 235 in Ireland officially recorded as attributable to COVID-19 - moreover, in ROI, around a third of all coronavirus cases are among healthcare workers. Sadly included amongst the latest fatalities were nine NHS staff, five doctors, two nurses (both young mothers), two health care assistants and at least one Irish healthcare worker simply, quietly doing what they have done for many years – save lives, comfort and care for the sick and vulnerable. Their unerring professionalism, compassion and dedication on this occasion cost them their lives, prematurely stealing from their loved ones a grandparent, father, mother, son, daughter, spouse, sibling, or colleague and friend.

As our health services rapidly prepare for a surge in coronavirus cases, their colleagues continue selflessly, fearlessly to fight physical and emotional exhaustion-fatigue with a fierce compassion, courageously putting their own lives on the line to care for and comfort our most sick and vulnerable. For this, the nation is rightly applauding, honouring them, super heroes and heroines in the battle against COVID-19. Super heroes have distinctive protective clothing and special powers, hopefully the supplies of appropriate PPE will hold out, but there is certainly no shortage of special powers in their calm resolve, courage and kindness.

Understandably in what are uncertain, unknown times all of us are anxious and fearful for ourselves and our loved ones. None of us are immune and we must continue to follow the official advice to stay at home, observe social distancing and wash our hands to protect ourselves, loved ones vulnerable others and those providing healthcare services.  However, if we can take a deep breath, pause for a moment in the space between panic and concern, COVID-19 can teach us that although some of us will and do suffer more than others, none of us are immune. Connecting with our vulnerability and humility can awaken us to the cruel fact that before and after COVID-19 many in the world are in a daily, never-ending struggle for survival. It is important therefore, to be grateful for and value what we have, be kind to yourself and do what you can to support others amidst this global crisis, celebrating our common humanity by compassionately recognising that we are all in this together.

On that note we must get behind our heroes and heroines not least our very own Inspire team of carers, key and support workers, working tirelessly in the supported housing and residential settings to care for and comfort some of our most vulnerable members of society.

The COVID-19 crisis will inevitably pass, but let’s show our eternal gratitude to these essential and invaluable frontline health and care workers, heroes and heroines to whom we owe so much. In this brave new world everything has changed, yet nothing has changed, they are simply, quietly doing what they have always done caring for and comforting the sick and vulnerable.

However, even super heroes and heroines get tired - a recent survey by the American Psychiatric Association, found frontline health care workers reported symptoms of stress induced depression (50.4%), anxiety (44.6%), insomnia (34%) and overall distress (71.5%)

Below is a link to some useful resources to help instil psychological antibodies to sustain and protect you from emotional exhaustion and battle fatigue.

COVID-19 & Mindfulness Resources for Health & Care Staff:

https://www.themindfulnessinitiative.org/Handlers/Download.ashx?IDMF=d83f9973-dae4-4267-a67f-f11a83502f8d

 

If you’re frontline staff with access to our EAP you can contact Inspire’s 24/7 helpline for support or refer in for structured telephone video e-counselling.

 In NI: 0808 800 0002

In ROI: 1800 817 5362

COVID-19 Cabin Fever: managing your personal space

Dr David Cameron Inspire Clinical Lead Psychologist, Fri 3rd April 2020

At the beginning of life we are unavoidably, totally dependent on our primary caregiver to meet our basic physical and psychological needs. As we develop and with the right support and encouragement we gradually move towards independence. Recognising that we are separate from and independent of others is initially a source of excitement a ‘me, myself, I’ moment - our own agents, with our own unique identity.

Parents will readily recognise that as infants literally find their feet, suddenly they feel, sense that they can singularly conquer the world! However, this newfound independence, freedom is quickly tempered by anxiety which comes with the realisation that those separate from us can equally leave, reject and exclude, which at a young age would threaten our survival. This early and formative developmental phase begins the lifelong spatial challenge of negotiating the dynamic tension between having our own space / identity, while at the same time wanting to be part of and belong to a group, family, relationship etc. but not to the extent that we forego or lose our own personal identity. Simply put, this means that at times we want our own protected space, while take exception to anyone who inadvertently intrudes / invades on it, creating frustration and disagreement! In contrast, at other times we will want to be more relational and to connect, but equally risk being rejected if the other wants their own space, creating frustration and disagreement!

Successfully managing and negotiating our personal space whether for couples, families and groups is complex and challenging at the best of times often leading to tension and misunderstanding. However, under the necessary, unprecedented COVID-19 restrictions on space, people are having to work from home, kids are off school – being home schooled, and mobile two year olds are running amok! This, compounded by being forced to either self-isolate or socially distance means oftentimes when we ideally yearn contact, we are left feeling alone or rejected. Alternatively, at other times by being forced together in a restricted space for prolonged periods when ideally we crave want some time to ourselves we are left feeling intruded upon and resentful.

Below are practical tips on how to manage and negotiate personal space:

- Create a routine structure to the day with clear boundaries agreeing, respecting and giving equal value to everyone’s space.

- If working from home and with young children be prepared for some initial protests and challenges, be consistent and trust that with patience and perseverance everyone will gradually adapt.

- To facilitate the above, where possible negotiate a more flexible working day with your employer, including establishing a clear boundary between home-time and work-time.

- Set aside, agree and protect some me time, make good use of whatever open space is available, try as far as is possible to get outside, breath in some fresh air, go for a walk while respecting social distancing.

- Be mindful of the ever looming underlying dynamic tension between at times wanting to be alone and at times wanting to relate – don’t take it personally if you feel either intruded upon or rejected – talk it through, adult to adult!

- Maintain perspective, the life-saving COVID-19 restrictions will pass, boredom and cabin fever are bearable and non- life-threatening, hold in mind and be grateful for front line medical, health and social care staff and essential keyworkers who must leave their homes to care for the most vulnerable. 

For a three minute breathing space exercise, click here.

C-eeing is Believing

Frank Liddy Inspire Lead Mindfulness Practitioner, Mon 30th March 2020

C-eeing is believing, but because the Coronavirus aka COVID-19 is unseen, unknown and seemingly inescapable, it grips us with a sense of dread, driving unhealthy habitual thought patterns and associations.

When we hear the word COVID - 19, therefore, our attention quickly, automatically jumps to

Catastrophe

Calamity

Crisis

Chaos

Wouldn’t it be cool if we were able to catch our breath, pause and instead direct our attention to

Calm

Considerate

Compassionate

Chilled

Mindfulness practice is a natural way for us to reign in our attention and bring about a sense of calm at this time.

"Tell me more", I hear you ask, "How can I do it?"

The good news is that mindfulness practice boosts our immune system and decreases the oversensitivity of our stress response - preventing false alarms and shifting us into a state of calm awareness.

Here’s a useful three minute Mindfulness practice that I’ve found of great benefit. I call it Franks three minute breather:

- Begin by sitting upright if possible on your seat.

- Notice contact with the floor, left foot on the floor, right foot on the floor.

- Now bring your attention to contact with your seat, notice how the seat supports your body, notice the points of contact between your body and your seat.

- Lower your shoulders, head upright.

- Now as you ease into your body, your body softens, lengthens. Notice contact with your clothing against, your skin.

- Now bring your attention to your breath, notice how you breathe, no right way, no wrong way, let your attention rest on your breath.

- Notice where your 'in breath' begins and track it to where you notice your 'in breath' end

- Then notice where your 'out breath' begins and track it to where your 'out breath' ends.

- The natural sound of the breath is 'Soooooo' as you breathe in and 'Haaaaaaaaa' as you breathe out. Like the sound of the ebb and flow of the waves as they roll up to the shore and return to the ocean.

- Being with your breath is an anchor that allows the stress response to settle naturally and brings us back to the Here and Now.

A courageous, compassionate response to COVID-19: keeping it simple to save lives

Dr David Cameron Inspire Clinical Lead Psychologist, Wed 25th March 2020

When we find ourselves gripped by a fear of the unseen and unknown, in this instance a nasty microbe, COVID-19, this fear-terror drives habitual reactive thought patterns which in turn drive mindless and largely ineffectual patterns of behaviour. Although these behaviours are designed to control our fear, paradoxically they have the opposite effect, simply fuelling and adding to our distress and suffering.

Emotional distancing:

At one extreme we can emotionally distance ourselves from and minimise the seriousness of the threat. For example, we convince ourselves that COVID-19 is nothing more serious, debilitating or life threatening than the common cold or flu. Simultaneously we ignore the fact that for many at risk groups, tragically it is fatal, meaning sound public health advice, “stay at home”, “social distancing” and “regular hand washing” which will save lives, can fall on deaf ears. Remember, these simple, mindful acts of kindness are behaviours which are under everyone’s control and if actioned will ultimately save the lives of our most vulnerable. Be responsible and tap into our common humanity.

Panic - catastrophizing:

At the other extreme we can greatly exaggerate the actual threat, analogous to Corporal Jones of Dad’s Army fame, “Don’t panic, don’t panic reaction”, fuelling irrational fear driven behaviours that drive a mindless reactive cycle that is no less contagious than COVID-19. This explains the seemingly bizarre compulsive behaviour of bulk buying toilet paper, sanitary and medicinal products / masks etc. which give the illusion of being in control, but which are largely futile, ineffectual responses that do little to control and contain the spread of the virus.

It is important to be prepared, take all reasonable precautions and reliable advice such that you can respond and adapt mindfully and not over-react or panic. Think about and be grateful for what you have, share what you have and don’t need with others who need it, use your time purposefully to check in and connect with work colleagues, neighbours, friends and relatives who may have to self-isolate using social distancing mediums.

It’s everybody else’s fault - projection:

The government, Public Health Agencies, NHS, HSE, businesses and financial services etc. undoubtedly could always do more to be better prepared, and everyone including the media are quick to blame these ‘faceless entities’, anyone and everyone for the current situation along with the perceived inadequate and futile response.

Projecting our own vulnerabilities, helplessness and resignation goes some way to contain our fear. However, the real villain is a faceless virus which as viruses do, source a host to invade and multiply. We are where we are, right here right now. It is the right time therefore, to recognise, tap into and trust in our common humanity. This means collectively supporting and getting behind everyone who is keeping the wheels turning, not least those frontline medical, health and social care staff selflessly, tirelessly risking their own lives to care for the most sick and vulnerable.

Avoid getting get caught up in the so-called and nonetheless viral info-demic of sensationalist headlines, inaccurate, and unreliable information, take control of what you can, follow NHS, Public Health Agency / HSE guidelines (see links below) which will take the burden of frontline staff as well as protect you and your loved ones.

Undoubtedly emotional distancing, catastrophizing and projection are natural emotional, psychological defences summonsed to protect us from the fear and uncertainty of the unseen and unknown. In reality, however, these defences are counter-productive and provide no immunity to COVID-19.

A compassionate response

We are in the midst of an unsettling pandemic where tragically many have already lost loved ones, creating understandable anxiety about the uncertainty of the future. However, the human spirit has survived previous pandemics - one as recent as 1918. COVID-19 will inevitably and predictably run its course, and predictably in the future another pandemic awaits. This alerts us mindfully and with humility to the cyclical, predictably unpredictable changing and dynamic nature of human existence – life, joy and despair.

While despair, if personalised can alienate and isolate, compounded in this instance by necessary self-isolation, this adds to suffering. In contrast, by opening our hearts and minds to the fact that everyone suffers, it is what connects, will motivate collective and compassionate action. It is this hard wired drive for belonging which will see us through. Often when faced with life and death scenarios we are forced to re-calibrate, becoming astutely aware of what and who is important, vital to us cultivating compassionate action and behaviours which are invigorating, meaningful life-giving and life-sustaining. Use whatever space and time you have to reach out and connect safely with work colleagues, family, friends and neighbours - these simple small acts of kindness are good for your wellbeing.

Over the coming weeks, our Lead Mindfulness Practitioner will be bringing a mindful awareness to an ever-evolving, fast-changing situation, introducing so-called psychological antibodies - strategies and techniques to protect us from the inevitable emotional impact of COVID-19, by encouraging and enabling everyone to connect and respond with kindness and compassion.

I will end with the words of wisdom of an ancient Eastern contemplative practitioner: “In the West you say panic, panic everything is out of control. In the East we say relax, everything is out of control!”

Control what you can, keep it simple and follow the simple advice which will save lives: keep indoors, keep the recommended social distance, keep washing your hands and as far as is possible keep calm.

Official COVID-19 advice

NHS: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/

PHA: https://www.publichealth.hscni.net/news/covid-19-coronavirus

HSE: https://www2.hse.ie/conditions/coronavirus/coronavirus.html