One Year On.
As we mark a year since the Prime Minister announced the first national lockdown in the UK, we reflect on the impact Covid-19 has had on our mental health. For many, Covid-19 has had a significant impact on their mental health and within society we are seeing a significant increase in individuals experiencing depression, anxiety, trauma, isolation, and loss. Over the past year Covid-19 has drastically altered our lifestyles and for many has brought un-expected changes.
Anxiety, in particular, can be triggered when we are living through stressful events or changes, especially if we perceive these as having a significant impact on our life. When our bodies experience a stressful, upsetting, or frightening situation our bodies “Fight, Flight or Freeze” response is triggered as our bodies prepare to respond and protect us from a perceived threat or danger. Our sympathetic nervous system is automatically triggered and hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol are released. The release of these hormones can make us feel more alert, increases our heart rate, accelerates our breathing, and sends extra blood to where it is needed most particularly our muscles. The activation of our sympathetic nervous system contributes to the physical symptoms which often characterise anxiety including panic attacks, accelerated heart rate, feeling lightheaded and breathlessness. Once danger or a perceived threat has passed it is the role of our parasympathetic nervous system to work to restore balance and calm. Often, the frightening nature of the physical symptoms of anxiety, initiates further anxiety, which often becomes a difficult cycle to break. Additionally, even once a stressful or frightening situation has passed, to protect us our brain may begin to prepare or alert us to the next potential threat. This may cause us to focus or ruminate on different possibilities and “what if” situations. As these thoughts become more prominent our bodies will respond accordingly by activating the sympathetic nervous system which maintains our physical symptoms of anxiety.
In the above cycle our sympathetic nervous system is dominant and frequently activated, therefore, one way of supporting us in managing our symptoms of anxiety is to use techniques such as a Progressive Muscle Relaxation to activate our parasympathetic nervous system. By activating the parasympathetic nervous system, we can support in lowering our heart rate, slowing down our breathing and as such reducing symptoms of anxiety.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation techniques as first developed by Edmund Jacobson in the 1920’s focus on the use of the breath and the systematic tensing and releasing of isolated muscle groups to help to counteract the “Fight, Flight or Freeze” response.
If you wish to try a Progressive Muscle Relaxation, please click here to be directed to my online recording. During the exercise please be mindful of any injuries you may have, you are encouraged to omit any muscle group if you experience any discomfort. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.
I hope you find the above information useful.