You aren’t alone.
One of the things I’m hearing time and time again from friends and clients is the ability to make a decision has become nigh on impossible.
And is it any wonder?
For the past year we have been consistently told that we aren’t capable of making our own health decisions or decisions about whether we can safely see friends and family – we need to be told for our own good what we can and can’t do. And it goes further. It’s so unlikely that we can think sensibly for ourselves or be trusted, that we have to have the threat of punishment to keep us in line- fines, criminalisation, even simple shame or tale-telling from our neighbours to enforce compliance.
This isn’t a post about whether the government’s handling of the pandemic was appropriate – you can find lots of those on line.
No, this is a post about the mental health effects of disempowerment (because state control disempowers the individual and local community) and how we can work through disempowerment and back to good mental health, whilst still in a time of huge uncertainty.
- But where do those feelings come from?
- Apart from anxiety about society’s vulnerable, why is it all so bloody triggering?
For many people of my generation (I’m 43), growing up involved quite a lot of being told what to do (‘child-led’ wasn’t part of mainstream parenting or education) and being expected to comply without challenging the authority- parents, teachers, sometimes even the police. Even though our parents grew up through the 1960’s and 70’s, not all of them wore flower power and demonstrated against the Vietnam war. In fact, most people in the UK did nothing of the sort. Life was pretty disempowered. Authority still had, well, authority albeit slightly less than in the 40’s.
- However it’s probably true that at some point in all childhoods there is a feeling of disempowerment. As babies we are born with no power and different parenting styles come into play as that power balance changes over time.
So now almost 40 years later, I find myself being triggered by the societal status quo because it brings back feelings around the disempowerment I felt as a teen. Being told what to do by authorities that I felt didn’t understand me, weren’t representative of my needs and were not listening in 1992. Worse still, back then they called us ‘Thatcher’s children’!
We rebelled by joining the various scenes we felt met those needs, got older and moved on, many of us now parents ourselves, many of us still part of those scenes where life-long friends were made.
Fast forward from the era of the cassette to 2020.
Living for a year under conditions that for many people, stifle their very being, is taking it’s mental toll. It’s triggering the teenager in us, but unlike the 90’s, there are no raves to go to, because they are now also illegal and controlled with fines and criminalisation. We are disempowered and even peacefully protesting against this is set to be outlawed. “How will we have a voice?” “What happened to democracy?” “We are becoming a police state” -are all cries I’ve been hearing for the last weeks.
What will the long-term effects of this disempowerment be on our nation’s mental health?
This from the World Health Organisation’s Statement on empowerment for Mental Health, just 10 years ago in 2010:
“Empowerment” is a core concept of WHO’s vision of health promotion. Its importance in disease prevention and health promotion is well recognized in the Declaration of Alma-Ata and the Ottawa Charter on Health Promotion. One of the six key messages to guide action within the European Strategy for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases is that “people should be empowered to promote their own health, interact effectively with health services and be active partners in managing disease”
Wow. Not too much of that going on right now and sadly, no further access to the European Strategy that promotes empowerment as a powerful tool to support mental health either.
So, what can we do?
All we can do to support our own mental health within these times of oppression is manage the things we can at home. Now, don’t think I’ve gone all Boris on you and am about to preach the stay at home message. Those who know me will know that I’m more about getting out and getting the vitamin D to support our natural immunity (without coughing over other people obvs).
And on that note, here are my top suggestions – by the way, don’t feel pressure to do any of them!! This is about empowerment, finding what you can do in your life to feel slightly more in control, less anxious, more empowered. Guilt about not doing stuff does not come into this, but if its approachable for you…
- Try to lay off the booze* and get some exercise: many people are out of work or working from home and it’s tempting to have a beer or two in the evening as your boss can’t see you in the morning. But, alcohol is a depressant and will only provide a short-term fix as well as unwanted weight gain.
- Exercise on the other hand, creates natural endorphins and we are still allowed to exercise outside, so get that vitamin D at the same time. Which brings me on to…
- Take some vitamins: these may support your natural immunity and recent studies are showing that deficiencies in these nutrients are linked to long-Covid: Vitamin D, Vitamin C, magnesium and zinc. Vitamin D we get from sunlight, so try to go short-sleeved if you can for at least 20 mins a day outside when it’s sunny. The others are easily and cheaply got from food, but I choose to supplement all 4 of those nutrients to maintain therapeutic levels.
- If you choose to vaccinate, supporting your natural immunity will enable the vaccine to be more effective. Still take the vitamins, do not rely on the vaccination alone.
- Take a blended approach to health, try to avoid polarised thinking (its less stressful) and be tolerant to those who feel differently to you (this also reduces stress).
- Eat whole foods, mostly plant based, not too much*. Look at ingredients labels. If you can’t picture what an ingredient looks like that might be because it’s not actually food.
- Don’t smoke*. Obviously.
- Try to rest and relax when you can. Yoga, simple breathing exercises and sleep are all proven to reduce anxiety which can increase empowerment.
- Maybe consider therapy. Either individual or for couples if your relationships are struggling. Be empowered at home.
- Try to focus on what you can change, rather than despairing in what you cannot (I struggle with this one). Even if this is a small thing like clearing out a cupboard at home, weeding the garden, taking a walk it can make you feel a little better
But mostly, my message today is hang in there. Everything is cyclical and this cycle too will eventually end. Cycles of austerity, disease and civil unrest have come and then passed before throughout all history. As will this one. We will be able to move on and be the people we once were again. Until that time, just keep breathing, slow and steady.
Take care of yourselves x
*For support with addiction, anxiety, weight management, being healthy on low budget, immune support, nutrition or lifestyle concerns, please message me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I can also signpost you to recommended therapists in Bristol and London.