A few months ago, I was approached by a healthcare company interested in offering mindfulness-based support to surgery patients. They were seeking an expert to help patients mentally and emotionally through their post-surgery rehab, as well as ahead of the surgery itself (pre-hab).
It got me thinking about how valuable the concept of pre-hab is for our mental and emotional wellbeing. After all, there is no reason to consider our mental health with less care than our physical health.
When there is an event in our future that we know will be particularly demanding physically, we spend time and effort getting ready. We do this to give ourselves the best chances of success and to prevent the risk of injury or pain.
We don’t prepare for a knee replacement surgery or a marathon the night before they are due to take place. Instead, we follow a carefully planned programme that prepares us for what lies ahead.
Given the unprecedented times that we are facing collectively, it is clear that developing our mental and emotional resilience will be vital to sustain us through the next few weeks and months. What we may have initially thought of as a sprint is more likely to be a marathon.
The Lancet recently published a review of 24 studies documenting the psychological impact of the quarantine. The review shows that many of us are likely to develop a range of mental and emotional health issues including stress, anxiety, and anger. In fact, many of us are already experiencing these emotions on a daily basis, sometimes shifting between hope and despair over the course of a single day.
Whilst we continue to adjust to a new way of life, we are still facing a fuzzy future that we can’t quite make sense of. There is uncertainty around many areas of our life: from our health to our finances, our job security to our children’s education. Consequently, we live with a constant undercurrent of stress and anxiety.
Without proactively managing our mind and nurturing our emotional wellbeing, we are at risk of becoming emotionally exhausted before we reach the end of the race – leaving little resources for us to cope in the long term.
Now is the time to focus on developing our mental & emotional resilience.
I would argue that nothing is more important for any of us at this point. For ourselves, and those around us.
When we are emotionally and mentally resilient, we have more clarity of mind to take the measures and decisions we need to take. It also enables us to role model resilience within our family and wider circle. We have more patience with our children, we aren’t as snappy with our partners, and we feel better able to contribute to our community.
If you would like to take start taking steps towards ‘pre-habing’ your mental and emotional wellbeing, here are a few simple tips you could try :
- Set boundaries around your triggers, where possible. If watching the news causes you to feel anxious, choose your news channels wisely and set a news curfew. If talking about the situation is uncomfortable, let those around you know that you would rather avoid the topic.
- Tend to your needs. Get in the habit of taking a pause and asking yourself: “How am I feeling right now? What do I need to support myself?”. Carve out a few moments for yourself each day to do an activity that resources you. It’s the best gift you can give yourself and those around you.
- Give yourself permission to rest. Despite engaging in less physical activity than usual, you may feel drained at the moment. The emotional rollercoaster that we have been on for the past several weeks is exhausting. If you recognise that you are tired, follow the advice you would give a close friend or your children … and allow yourself to rest.
- Back to the present. We tend to feel overwhelmed when we are in 3 different places at once: the past, the future and the present. Our mind is scattered and our thoughts are relentless. The past and the present don’t exist anywhere but in your mind. So when it all becomes too much, come back to the present. Take a few slow breaths. And remind yourself that all there is to cope with, is just this moment and just this breath. Life becomes more manageable when we only try to deal with one moment at a time.
- Stop looping worry thoughts – when you feel stressed, overwhelmed, angry or anxious, take 5 minutes to get your thoughts out of your head and onto paper. Once they are out of your mind, you can observe them rather than drowning in them. Look at your thought download and notice what you can and cannot control. Deliberately choose to let go of what’s out of your control and explore what actions you may be able to take where you have some control.
And of course, look after your physical health: fuel your body with nutritious food, stay hydrated, make sure you get enough sleep, and get moving.
Like a muscle, resilience can be developed – all it takes is self-commitment. How would you feel if you trusted that you have your own back, no matter what?