Programme: Coping with Corona for healthcare professionals

3. Observe your thoughts from a distance

Reading time: 4 minutes

The situation you are in right now is so demanding that it is impossible to avoid the negative aspects of it; this is our brain’s standard reaction. In these times of long working hours and relentless activity, there is little time to stop and think about what you are going through. When you get home, you may find that the thoughts that you suppressed during your working day are re-surfacing. This can lead to worry and difficulty falling asleep. It can be beneficial to try to observe your thoughts, as if you are looking at them from a distance. This leads you to become more aware of what is going on inside your head - this will give you a clearer idea of how you can handle the situation.

We often feel as though we are bound together with our thoughts; this can lead us to believe that we are our thoughts. “I think, therefore I am…”. But we need to distance ourselves from our thoughts and think of them as simply one of the many processes taking place in our bodies. Only then can we create freedom of choice.

It is not a matter of judging or resisting your thoughts. However, if you are aware of your  thoughts, you can simply acknowledge a thought and make a choice to let go of it. This video looks more closely at what thoughts are and how you can observe them from a distance.  Duration:  4 minutes.

Thought observation is a useful technique for taking the lead yourself, instead of being guided by your thoughts. By observing from a distance, you will feel separated from your thoughts and you will be able to see them for what they really are: simply activity in your brain.  The mountain meditation is an exercise that can help you to adopt a more observational attitude to your thoughts. (duration:  23 min)

'Through it all, the mountain just sits, experiencing change in each moment, constantly changing, yet always just being itself. It remains still as the seasons flow into one another and as the weather changes moment by moment and day by day, calmness abiding all change…'
Jon Kabat-Zinn

Some other exercises

If this exercise does not appeal to you, or if you don’t have time to do it, there are some other short exercises that can help you to observe your thoughts without getting caught up in them:

→ The cinema exercise: Imagine you are sitting and looking at a big, white screen. Wait for some of your thoughts to appear on the screen. Just observe the screen. What thoughts are appearing? And how do the thoughts develop? Take note of how thoughts disappear from the screen and are replaced by other thoughts. The thoughts are transient. When you look at your thoughts in this way, you can also choose which thoughts you want to put your energy into and which ones you can allow to slide away. 

→ Focus on your body or your feelings and let your thoughts be just that - thoughts. Shift your attention to the areas of your body that you are most aware of. Or focus on your feelings: which emotions, or stream of emotions, are released by your thoughts. Ask yourself this question: “How do I feel right now?” Shifting your attention can result in subtle changes in your thoughts.

→ Write your thoughts down in a notebook at the end of your working day. Don’t spend any longer than 15 minutes writing. Once you have finished, put the notebook away in a drawer.

→ Write down one thought. For example: ‘I did not have enough time for my patient.’

Try to imagine you are having a conversation with a close friend. If that friend were to say to you “I did not have enough time for my patient”, how would you respond?

Answer these questions and share your answers with your online psychologist, a colleague or somebody close to you:

  • What thoughts pop into your head at the end of a long working day?
  • Which of these exercises appeals to you and why?
  • Which of these exercises could you plan to do every day?

Thought observation is a useful exercise, but it can also help to focus on all the good things in life. In these challenging and difficult times, there are many good things and things to be grateful for. You might like to think about how all the staff adapted to the situation so quickly at the hospital, how your colleagues are all looking out for each other, or the resilience of your colleagues, patients and loved-ones. Or you could think about that moment when you arrive home after a long day, the feeling of warm sunshine on your face or having a chat with a loved-one or a friend.  

Our brains tend to focus on all the things which are not going well. When our brain feels dominated by negative thoughts, we need to consciously replace those thoughts with positive ones; having a positive mindset is very beneficial.

Reflect & connect

Answer these questions and share your answers with an online psychologist, a colleague and/or someone close to you and always try to remember: positivity is infectious - so make sure you share it with others!

1. What went well today?
2. What do you feel grateful for today?

Would you like professional advice?

Contact our psychologists today to discuss the effects of Corona on your mental health.

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