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Covid-19 Series. Q+A with WWTW Mental Health Therapist Ben Amponsah

Ben Amponsah offers his top tips for looking after your mental health


Over the past few weeks, our daily lives and routines have changed; however, Walking with the Wounded continues to find new ways to support those who have served. In our latest series of twitter takeovers, we are giving your direct access to our mental health therapists. They are on hand to answer your questions on topics such as dealing with anxiety and stress during lockdown, top tips to help develop mindfulness practices and advice for parents who are supporting anxious children.

As we all adapt to a new ‘normal’, it is important to remember that we are all in this together.

Q. Would you say that Ex-forces personnel, who suffer with mental health issues, respond better to those who have also served?

A. I certainly think it is a powerful factor & has been cited by many of the vets that I have counselled as a powerfully connective factor in our work together

Q. How can veterans use the skills they’ve learnt in the military to help them cope mentally during lockdown and isolation?'

A. One of the best skills we have is establishing & maintaining a routine-vital in lockdown. Also our adaptability-use them!

Q. I am interested to hear your thoughts about how useful you have found your military background allows you to connect with some of our more complex beneficiaries.

A. This has been incredibly useful mainly at building that connection to veterans who are naturally suspicious of all things civilian. This has proved a really quick in and has been cited by many of my veteran clients as one of the key factors in our work together.

Q. What mental lessons from your military days do you still use?

A. Main mental lessons are to maintain structure and discipline which helps reduce stress generally. You can overdo it of course so I have also learned not to beat myself up if it’s not always just so but maintaining order, structure and discipline in my routine really helps.

Q. What advice do you have for parents to help their children who are anxious?

A. As a parent, one of your main tasks is to act as a backstop for some of these emotions. Help them understand that anxiety is OK. Be calm for them, monitor and limit any anxiety increasing behaviours and be there for them.

Q. How do you encourage someone to seek support if they're struggling but unable/reluctant to reach out?

A. This is always a difficult. The main thing is to be gentle but persistent. Sometimes, we talk about the broken record principle-keep plugging away.

Q. I am nervous about how to socialise again once lockdown ends. Do you have any top tips on how to readjust?

A. Socialising may be difficult for many of us when lockdown is eased. One thing to remember is that lockdown won’t just be lifted, it will be eased so it may be easier for us to socialise in increments rather than all at once. Take it slow.

Q. Do you have any top tips to help people switch off in the evenings? Often I find that my mind is racing during the night. Thank you.

A. Top tips for switching off in the evening includes doing an electronic sundown (30-60 minutes before bed including TV), aromatherapy (or anything to really relax the body), white noise or soothing noises & mindfulness also help.

Q. Being cramped up at home with two children is raising tensions in my household. Everybody is getting at each other. How do I explain lockdown to teenagers better?

A. Being cramped with two kids is certainly challenging. One of best things with them is be honest about what is happening, establish a strong routine & involve them in family meetings etc. Get their buy in.

Q. If someone struggled to go out before the lockdown due to anxiety and are now scared to go out and it is affecting their mental health....what would you suggest they could do whilst indoors, with a view to preparing themselves to leave the house?

A. Anxiety is a hard one especially during these times but things to focus on are easing the physical symptoms with relaxation exercises, deep breathing and talking it through with trusted friend/significant other/loved one and then working on acceptance. It might sound counter intuitive but one of the things that makes anxiety so unmanageable is when we treat it as the enemy within that must be gotten rid of. Embrace it, don't reject it. Mindfulness is very good at training for this!

Q. Do you have any tips for anyone juggling caring responsibilities as well as responsibilities around family/work and extra anxieties at this time?

A. Tips for people juggling would include establish a fierce routine, be easy on yourself (you are not superhuman-it's OK to not be completely on top all the time), take breaks when u can and lean on your loved ones much as you can.

Q. What would do you suggest to people when they are having a low day during lockdown?

A. I would say that one of the most powerful antidotes to low mood is connection, so get on the phone, Zoom, Skype whatever. If that feels like too much, connect with an activity you really like e.g. a walk, a run, a good book etc.

Q. Can you recommend any breathing techniques, which might help with anxiety?

A. Yes circular or square breathing are the best where you alternate in for 3, hold for 3, out for 3 and repeat for at least 3-5 minutes.