How to thrive again

How to thrive again

by Bianca Castro |

As we emerge from the coronavirus pandemic, specialists are concerned that we’ll face an unprecedented mental health crisis. Here are some techniques to help us all flourish again

During a long year of lockdowns, our collective wellbeing took a hammering as we adjusted to a strange and scary new world.

While some enjoyed the simplicity of lockdown, for others, worry, stress and anxiety rocketed.

Now leading wellbeing specialist and psychotherapist Owen O’Kane fears we are facing an unprecedented mental health crisis.

Owen has coined the term ‘post-pandemic stress disorder’ (PPSD) to describe those struggling with pandemic-induced anxiety and depression.

Owen explains: ‘There are two types of trauma. “Large T” trauma manifests as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), leading to debilitating flashbacks and nightmares. “Little t” trauma is also distressing, but more likely to impact mood and motivation.’

The pandemic has seen many of us suffer lots of little traumas as we endured restrictive rules, isolation, job losses and illness against a background of general uncertainty.

Owen predicts post-pandemic stress disorder will have serious and far-reaching effects.

He says: ‘The pandemic has undoubtedly had a severe impact on every one of us. To move on, first we must acknowledge the trauma, because if we don’t unpack the last year of our lives, we cannot hope to thrive once again.’

In his new book, Ten Times Happier, Owen explains how we are driven by three systems. The first is threat, which leads to anxiety, fear and guarded behaviour. Then there’s drive, which leads to fast living and high achieving. While, in soothe mode, we take time out and offer ourselves compassion.

During the pandemic, our threat mode went into overdrive, and we were left with little space to soothe ourselves.

Owen says: ‘The pandemic so abruptly upended everything that made us feel safe and secure, it’s little wonder we’re left feeling bruised.

‘During uncertain times, it’s natural to feel that everything is disastrous. There has been a lot to worry about. But remember, you have survived the event and you can survive the aftermath too.’

Here are some techniques to help you.

Start by changing thought patterns from ‘What if?’ to ‘Then what?’

This focuses on resolution. ‘Worries lose power when we take them to their logical conclusion,’ Owen says. ‘If you believe your mind when it tells you everything is terrible, life will feel terrible a lot of the time. The less we engage with unhelpful thoughts, the better it is for our wellbeing.’

Live in the present

Studies have shown that this deactivates the brain’s threat centre, the amygdala, reducing feelings of anxiety. Stress and worry come from living in the past or future, but bringing our attention to the present is a simple yet effective way to calm the mind.

Stop a few times a day to take a breath and bring yourself into the present moment.

Develop strategies for self-soothing

This will differ for everyone, but it’s beneficial to incorporate movement into our lives and take time for rest. If simple pleasures brought joy in lockdown, continue to enjoy them. Eating well nourishes the body and mind and reaching out to friends is mutually beneficial.

Practise gratitude and carry out acts of kindness

These are scientifically proven to increase levels of the feel-good hormones, serotonin and dopamine, leading us away from feelings of hopelessness and depression. Allow for bad days, as life doesn’t always go to plan.

Owen adds: ‘Disengaging from unhelpful thoughts leads to improved motivation, better relationships, improved self-confidence, balanced moods, greater productivity and a calmer mind.’

Edited by Kim Willis

Follow practical steps for nurturing happiness with Ten Times Happier by Owen O’Kane. Available from Amazon, priced £6.99.

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