Being present and maintaining positivity. Carol Keith (counsellor & crisis volunteer for Shout) talks with us about the effect the pandemic is having on mental health

Covid-19 has had far-reaching consequences across every single facet of our lives. It has challenged our health, our society and our economy. Yet whilst the fiscal impact of virus is quantifiable, what is much harder to assess is the extreme effect the virus is having on our mental health.

In June last year Grace Blue were privileged to have Carol Keith, Counsellor and Crisis Volunteer for Shout, talk to us about change and how we individually react and engage with change. Some of us thrive and embrace it, others it fears it, many interpret it like a great loss to be avoided at all costs.

Covid-19 has brought about enormous change, so I talked again to Carol to hear her guidance on looking after our mental health and supporting each other in these strangest of times.

Interestingly, ten months on and in such different circumstances, her overriding message is still the same; the most important thing is to understand our own relationship with change.

In her role as a crisis volunteer for Shout, the free 24/7 text message crisis service, Carol talked about the extreme challenges to mental health. She shared three key common themes:

Firstly, as people are spending more time alone without the connection and camaraderie of work, school and friends, they talk about getting stuck in their own heads. It is like a tape running on loop with critical, negative and unkind thoughts which seem very real and leave people exhausted. The tape needs to be stopped and the voice drowned out. Carol says many people find it helpful to write things down to give them clarity and take the thoughts out of their heads.  She recommends listening to a story, podcast or Ted Talk to take you out of your own life and into another.

Secondly, life is busy, and we have been running fast, holding it together, often avoiding issues.  For many people having more time on their hands is bringing up emotions and highlighting aspects of their lives that need addressing. Dealing with things rather than avoiding them requires patience, courage and huge dollops of kindness to ourselves.  Carol suggests that we can gain a better understanding of ourselves and that there are so many helpful websites, articles, podcasts and Ted Talks to draw on. Many of the meditation apps are free during lockdown.

Thirdly, what is causing distress is the absolute fear of tomorrow and the further changes it will bring.  Staying in the moment and taking control of what we can is important.  There are so many things we can’t control tomorrow but we can control how we live today.

The toolbox that we have all have drawn on from over the years may need updating and reviewing and it all goes back to your awareness of yourself. Acknowledge what is going on for you and ask yourself some questions. Work out what you need most in these difficult uncertain times, what feeds you and gives you positive energy.

Many of Grace Blue’s clients are people-based, creatively orientated businesses where people are encouraged to engage with emotions. Therefore I believe we have a particular duty of care to look after our mental health and others, where we can.  Those who recognise this and address it, whether in themselves or by helping others, will encourage resilience and renewal in these challenging times and hopefully help bring about a future with space for even greater creativity, innovation and empathy.