In 1973 a controversial research project took place, which was to become known as The Rosenhan Experiment.
Dr Rosenhan, a Psychologist, had a simple premise, "It is clear we cannot distinguish the insane from the insane in a psychiatric hospitals".
He questioned the current method of diagnosis, and set about challenging that. So he and some colleagues (three women and five men) attempted to get admitted to twelve Psychiatric Hospitals across five different State in America. They answered the assessments honestly (except who they really were) and the only other fabrication was the inclusion of auditory hallucinations, that they often heard a "Thud".
After being admitted, the pseudo-patients admitted to feeling fine. The test was to see if the experts could identify the sane from the insane, and how long it would take before they were released. The pseudo-patients stay in the institute ranged from - 52 days. This experiment was not without it's flaws and was widely criticised as such. But it highlighted many discrepancies about how we treat and diagnose mental health.
What you may not know about me is that I have spent a fair bit of time in psychiatric hospitals. I have a close family member who was diagnosed with Bi-polar disorder over 15 years ago. When I would go to visit him, and observe the hospital, it was often very difficult to distinguish the patients from the staff. This is not to belittle the reality and severity of mental health, and I agree that if you need help that you should get professional help. I think that we also need to consider not just the individual but the environment too.
In the UK, mental health during quarantine has taken a dent, with access to support services reportedly increasing.
The paper by Dr Rosenhan was entitled "Being Sane in Insane Places", it got me thinking that during the Covid-19 Lockdown 2020 how many of us,
"Are we simply behaving reasonably, to an unreasonable situation?"
But what does this mean for you? Let's take a closer look. The current Covid-19 pandemic is unlike any situation that any of us have faced before. It has devastated us not just on a global level, but on an individual level as well,
This is just a fraction of the ways Covid-19 has hit us on an individual level, and I'm sure you can think of some more. The savage low blow from the the pandemic is that due to the social distancing policies, many of the strategies that we would normally use to support our mental wellbeing have been stolen from us.
We can no longer go out to meet friends for social support. If they gym was our way to exercise and find our solace, that's now gone. Community spaces and places of worship have been closed. In many cases, we can't even bury our loved ones in the way that we would like.
Better Mental Health Tool Kit
Indeed, it's an unreasonable situation we find ourselves in, so don't be surprised if you find yourself struggling, mood swings, sex drive fluctuating, stressed, emotional outbursts, or if ways of behaviour that are not usually inline with your character begin to emerge. Maybe you are just responding reasonably in an unreasonable situation. There are things you can do to support yourself.
1. Get The Help That You Need.
If you do have a diagnosed mental health condition, and find yourself struggling, do get help from a professional, or at least contact a helpline.
Outside of that, ask friends or family members for support, just remember that they may be struggling too, so may not be able to support you in the way that you would like, but who knows, perhaps you'll be able to support each other.
2. Establish Your Personal Space
Lets get honest, the whole situation can be overwhelming at times, and while on the one hand we crave human contact, there are other days when we just want to be left alone, and that's alright.
I know that in my experience, initially all the phone calls, emails and online messaging from people just became too much. Not only was I not getting work done (which added additional stress) but I felt emotionally drained by the end of it. So I set specific times on when I would take calls or answer messages, and reduced my social media.
I also limited who I would contact. I noticed two distinct categories of people, that when I interacted with them, they had different impact on my wellbeing. They were those who I felt drained by, and those who uplifted me. I actively spent more time with those who I felt charged by, and limited my interactions with those who I felt "drained" by.
Also, when living with others (family, partners, flat mates) it not uncommon to feel the need for "you time". I invite you to honour that, and vocalise that need. Now it doesn't have to be dramatic it can be as simple as, " I'm just taking 2 hours me time, so I won't be in contact with anyone, if you need me I'll be free after that" (or however long you need), alternatively schedule a regular slot in your diary.
3. Keep It Moving
Now I don't need to tell you the benefits of exercise, as I'm sure you've probably already heard, but during quarantine, for many it can become a chore, and "Just another thing on the todo list" that you are trying to keep up with when you are already under-pressure.
If that sounds like you, or you have just lost motivation to exercise, then perhaps make a paradigm shift. Switch it up to "movement snacks" and ditch the idea of exercise or workouts.
What do I mean by that?
Forget the Zoom HIIT class. Ditch the online Kettlebell workouts. Hit pause on the high impact aerobics and try this instead...
The recommended government guidelines for physical activity is
Not that complicated. So lets say 150 minutes per week is around 21.4 minutes a day (lets round it off to 22 minutes).
Break that down however you like, say a "12 minute movement snack" and a " 10 minute movement snack". Schedule it for whatever time of the day suits you, maybe one in the morning and one in the late afternoon.
One idea might be to simply put on your favourite tunes and dance for 12 minutes. The next snack might be load up a back pack (with books or something moderately heavy) or two shopping bags and go for a 10 minute brisk walk.
You could do it with whatever you like. Maybe even conventional exercise, 12 mins of a bodyweight type circuit, then later yoga or animal flow for 10 minutes. The possibilities are endless.
4. Eat To Support Your Wellbeing
In times like these, if we have emotional eating behaviors they will no doubt begin to amplify, or creep out from the woodworks. If you need help with emotional eating or relationship to food, then do reach out to a suitable professional that can help you with that.
Other than that, my first bit of advice may fly in the face of convention, but F*ck the food Police! No is not the time to have someone on your back scrutinising everything you put in your mouth or feed your family.
Don't get my wrong, good nutrition advice still applies, eat mainly fresh wholefoods, keep you food nutrient rich and diverse. Get your 5 - 7 portions of vegetables and fruit in each day, stay hydrated, but fear no food.
This is what I mean to support your wellbeing.
There are not "good" or "bad" foods as such. It's just food, that brings you closer or further away from your desired outcome. Now whether that outcome is to stay lean, give you something enjoyable and sensual to please the senses, or fuel you for an activity, or to bond over a social gathering. Do what works for you. But give yourself permission to eat what you want.
Now I know this may sound contradictory to some of you reading this right now. It's a particular approach that I take with all my nutrition coaching clients. We learn not to fear any food, but to make informed decisions about our nutrition and own it.
During this quarantine I've made many a Man Mountain Banana Bread, and a batches of Brownies, but I've also made sure I've eaten plenty of vegetables and fruit and also hit my own personal nutrient goals.
When it comes to eating to support mental wellbeing, there are some definite things that can do to improve that massively. I cover depression and Anxiety in two separate articles.Check them out in the links below,
At anyone time do what's best for you health, do what's best for you.
5. Go On An Information Diet
If there is one diet you should be going on during Lockdown 2020 is an information diet. Not just because of the readily available misinformation, but also the credible information.
"But why is this Cj?" I hear you ask.
Put simply, it's to do with emotional contagion. This is where the phenomenon of having one person's emotions and behaviours directly trigger similar emotions and behaviour in other people. This taps into our evolutionary hard wiring. This phenomenon can work at the individual level, group, organisation and societal levels.
There is no doubt that the information you consume can directly influence your emotional state. If this has you be in a negative state, it can be spread on to another individual, creating an environment that is toxic and leaving you both in an unresourceful state. Now imagine that this is your household. Now imagine you have to inhabit this for an unknown period of time (as we are currently facing with Lockdown 2020).
How did that make you feel?
No doubt you can see the importance of being selective with the information that you take in, how much and from what sources (whether this is the medial, social media, online or whatsapp groups, friend or family).
Now the cool thing about phenomenon of emotional contagion, is that it also works with positive emotions, be they, feelings of joy, love, peacefulness. So you have the opportunity to make a conscious choice what you consume. But remember all your emotions are valid.
One thing is for sure, the world after Covid-19 quarantine will be a very different and strange place for many.
The way that I look at it is, now more than ever, our wellbeing (including physical and mental health), will need to be at the front of our agenda (individually and collectively), if we are to recover fully, not only to undo the damage, but to genuinely thrive.