An experienced organisational psychologist, here Suzy takes a look at the introspection isolation offers and how to best manage our self-care.

In this strange and unchartered chapter that we all find ourselves in, as well as the squeeze and uncertainty, we also find unique silver linings to mine. Without the everyday rush, the commute, the gatherings, the other happy distractions of life, whether we're isolating alone or with others, we are faced with our thoughts and feelings like never before. While there's no right way to fill this time, if it resonates with you, there's a precious opportunity to get quiet and really listen to what's calling you. This could even be the perfect time to gently take those first steps. Let's look at how we can connect with our purpose and carve some meaning out of this unprecedented collective experience.

If you're on your own and finding the silence deafening, you're not alone.
If you're isolating with children in tow, you might struggle to imagine how silence feels. Either way and for all the variations in between, this is a challenging time.
So many of the ways we habitually manage or distract ourselves from our thoughts
and feelings are unavailable to us now - chats over coffee, trips to the cinema or galleries, pub lunches, gym or yoga sessions, in person retail therapy, the deep delights of a new hairdo or a medicinal session with your acupuncturist... without these things it might be helpful to recognise that it's normal to be feeling confronted
by new emotions, unsettled by the cascading of so many emotions simultaneously or bowled over by their intensity. This presents us with a golden opportunity to develop emotional literacy and emotional agility - the cornerstones of emotional health.

What does it mean to be emotionally healthy?

Let's be clear upfront: we're not aiming for perpetual happiness - that's just not achievable and it actually wouldn't be good for us either. All emotions have their place and purpose, acting as messengers to keep us safe and in harmony with others around us. We feel anger when we are threatened or our values compromised, helping us stand tall and protect ourselves and our beliefs. Sadness and grief beckon to us to take time out and soothe ourselves. Loneliness prompts us to reach out and feel a sense of belonging. Anxiety is there to alert us to potential danger. Guilt reminds us to check in with our moral compass. Seen through this lens, it's clear that we need all these emotions and aiming for only the pleasant ones doesn't help us. What we're aiming for is the ability to feel all our emotions, to identify them (emotional literacy) and to move through them in a healthy way (emotional agility).

Three steps to emotional health

1. We need to give ourselves permission to feel. Allow yourself to have a human response to life as it unfolds and extend towards yourself a huge dose of self-compassion. How anyone else would feel if they were in your shoes? Notice that denying emotions or pushing them down tends to make them leak out in other ways, in our nonverbal communication or in our physicality, like muscular tension, headaches, sleep disturbances or digestive issues.
It's more damaging for our health to avoid or suppress emotion than it is to feel the discomfort of difficult emotions.

2. Use your mindfulness muscles to notice what you're feeling, see if you can identify them and name them. There can be many all at once, dig deeper and see what lies beneath them.

3. Knowing that you have a choice, respond to your emotions. What's the message in the emotion? Is there some kind of action you need to do to keep yourself safe or protect the health of your relationships? Do you need to give voice or express yourself via journaling or art? How can you dissipate the energetic charge of what you're feeling - in conversation, via movement, taking it breath by breath, listening to music or turning to nature's beauty for soothing.

Creating meaning from the chaos

It's not just our emotions that loom large right now, you might be amazed by the cacophony of your thoughts. As a psychologist, yoga teacher and experienced meditator you might be surprised that rather than advocating ‘clearing the mind', I find it far more helpful to give your mind something constructive to anchor on. Here are some prompts that can be a happy distraction from worry or negative thoughts, helping you build some meaning and purpose from this unusual chapter of our lives.

Enjoy letting these percolate!

  • Connect with the ‘why' of your work. Why you have chosen this role,
    this organisation, this team? Are you feeling fulfilled? What are you enjoying or can you identify any gaps?
  • Reflect on your ‘how' of working. How have your work practices changed in the last few months, and of these changes, what would you like to sustain and what would you like to reclaim when that becomes available again?

What changes can you make to boost your productivity, positivity and enjoyment of both work and life in general?

  • Consider your health and wellbeing - what is the scaffolding in life that you need to function well and maximise satisfaction? Does your definition of success also factor in being well-nourished, healthy and happy? Are there any commitments you'd like to make to yourself
    moving forwards?

Suzy's latest book, Self-Care for Tough Times, is out now and you can find out more about Suzy at  Photography by Elizabeth Dalziel