Seizing the opportunity the pandemic presents
TALK Expert to discuss how we can build resilience
Our experience of enduring and surviving this Covid-19 pandemic can be harnessed to help build our resilience, according to Dr Claire Hayes a leading mental health specialist.
Back in pre-pandemic days Claire noticed how many of her patients had sailed through life without meeting any significant set-backs, and then when inevitably they did face adversity, say a relationship breakdown or a job setback, they just weren’t equipped to protect themselves. At that stage they came to Claire’s door.
The consultant clinical psychologist suspects the broad sweeping impact of the pandemic, has imbued much of the community with the battle-hardening benefits of dealing with difficulties.
“I think the process of getting through it has, even without us realising it, developed our resilience,” says Dr Hayes, who is also the clinical director of Aware.
This is the message she will be driving home on Thursday April 8 when she gives an online talk ‘Using Covid-19 to help us build resilience’ hosted by Cavan Library Services.
Throughout the interview she was eager to not downplay the dreadful impact of the pandemic, particularly on those who have lost loved ones to the disease.
“Certainly it has been a very, very difficult time for everybody, there’s no doubt about that, and it’s not about trying to put a positive spin and saying, ‘Isn’t it great?’ It is acknowledging that it is difficult but let’s see how we can use it. And I have found people really are developing resilience.”
‘Resilience’ she defines as when we keep going after we have had difficulties.
And it’s not just the Lockdown, that people are finding difficult.
“I have worked with quite a few people who have been fine during lockdown, and they have found the release and returning back into the world incredibly difficult. There has been a sense that they have felt safe at home and the idea of going down town and meeting people, going into shops - all of that has been very very scary. So I think we’ve a lot more of that to come,” she surmises.
This re-entry anxiety is not only the fear of contracting the virus, but more the fear of change or interacting socially again.
“With anxiety, we avoid – we avoid because we feel better, and home is a nice safe place, so getting out there can be really difficult.”
She gives an example with which many of us will be familiar.
“If I jump in the car before I leave home, I think, did I lock the front door? I feel anxious, so to make myself feel better, I get out and check. But then I get back in the car, and think I didn’t lock it properly, I feel anxious, I check. So after twice I’m on the road to obsessive compulsive disorder, but the more I check the more I feel better, so then I just keep checking. So actually the treatment is: you feel worse. That’s the key thing for me with anxiety, helping people really understand it. It’s like the treatment for cancer: chemotherapy doesn’t make people feel better, it makes people feel worse.
“So with people who are experiencing anxiety, I’m encouraging them to go and get out there, to go down to the pub, to go into the shops, or to go wherever, knowing that they’re feeling anxious.”
Claire is an advocate of cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), a proven counselling technique, and it is this she will focus on in her talk. She breaks it down to three steps: What are we thinking? How are we feeling? What are we doing?
She will delve into these issues in greater detail, but she advises that when you catch yourself having a negative thought which makes you feel bad, instead of dwelling on it, give yourself a pat on the back. “We can’t change patterns until we recognise them. So then, rather than saying, ‘Oh God I’ve got that thought again,’ think: ‘Great, I’ve just recognised I’ve that thought again’ – okay it’s only a thought. It’s an unhelpful thought. I can have other thoughts. I can choose to have different thoughts.’
She continues: “And letting go of the blame. The antidote to depression is kindness – and mostly self compassion – kindness for ourselves, just changing the judgement stuff. I have the privilege of working with people of all ages, from four right up to 80s, and it just astounds me, how hard many of us are on ourselves, blaming, and beating ourselves up and comparing – that just is not helpful.”
What may prove more helpful is to then build resilience by learning simple CBT techniques.
“So that’s why I love the resilience theme. When we start to think of that there’s actually an opportunity here, not even a possibility, but an opportunity for each of us to develop resilience, it turns it on its head a little bit.”