This reassuring and helpful blog post is from Emily Collins of Kilburn & Strode. Emily is passionate about mental health in the IP sector; she speaks at the CIPA student induction days about the impact of stress in an IP attorney’s work, volunteers for the charity Mind, and has worked with IP Inclusive on a number of related projects. Having suffered from anxiety disorders herself, she’s well placed to understand the challenges that the coronavirus crisis brings – and here she offers some practical tips to help keep anxiety in check.
We are living through unusual and uncertain times; for many of us our daily lives and routines have been turned upside-down. Working in IP we are lucky to, mostly, be able to work remotely. We are lucky to be able to work at all. Despite knowing this, it can still be hard. This job is taxing and often stressful. Work provides a both a wonderful stability and a constant pressure to achieve. (My chargeable hours target, an annoyingly visible measure of productivity, sits in a constant vigil in the corner of my new workspace, which was once my living room, from which there is little escape.) Whilst acknowledging how lucky we are, we are also allowed to feel the weight of the situation.
Having suffered from anxiety disorders all of my life, perversely, situations of panic or crisis such as this can lead to an unexpected calm. Suffering from anxiety when everything is ok (or worse, when things are going objectively well) is difficult. Anxiety is fear, a feeling of impending doom, which can be hard to make sense of when there is nothing tangible to be afraid of. Every situation must be played and replayed to find a unknown horror hiding just out of sight. When no reason is found, rather than disappearing the fear becomes a fear of everything. Living in fear is exhausting.
Now, in the midst of a pandemic, there is a tangible reason for the fear and I feel justified in being scared. I’m familiar with the feelings arising, and for once I know what I am afraid of. You might say that I’ve been practising for this scenario with a painful intensity for 30 years. So, if I may, here are my pearls of wisdom:
Don’t expect too much from yourself. Trust that productivity will come.
Despite the urge to dive into a fit of productivity, don’t feel as though you have to be functioning perfectly straight away. Life has changed a lot. As human beings we need to adjust, and we will all adjust differently. If you feel as though you’re staring at a screen and not getting anywhere, or maybe crying, or maybe unusually distractible – thats ok. It’s ok to feel lost.
Do what you can. Be kind to yourself. Build stable foundations and focus on the basics. In my experience, we are most productive when we feel good about ourselves, and less productive when we feel as though we are failing. So instead of pressuring yourself to function perfectly straight away, be kind to yourself.
Be patient. You’re doing great. As a profession, we are full of high achievers. Try not to be frustrated if you can’t achieve your usual brilliance right now. We’ve only been in this for a few weeks. You will adjust, and productivity will come. You don’t have to thrive. You’re doing well to survive.
Limit news intake
I set an alarm on my phone to check the news. I check two times a day, once for 15 minutes and once for half an hour. It doesn’t sound very much, but it’s enough to keep me up to date and informed of the latest guidance. I have BBC news alerts on my phone for urgent developments, and some days I’ll read longer articles. But I don’t repeatedly check for every small update. Instead, I ask my friends who work in the NHS regularly how I can help, and I do that (FYI suggestions so far have included giving blood and making face coverings). I’ve learnt that the hours I put into news reading and fretting do not help a) the global situation or b) me.
You do you (ignore other people without regret)
There is a relentless and overwhelming stream of content (the majority of which is well-meaning) with tips, stories, and often boasts telling you that you should be optimising your time during the lockdown. Try to remember that the things you see online are not a guide for how you should be living. There is no guide for how you should be living right now, we’re all just doing our best.
You might read an article and find one thing that works for you. If so, great – do that. But leave the rest. Don’t let the tens of other suggestions weigh on your conscience or add to your to-do list. Give yourself permission to ignore other people’s opinions of what life should look like right now, without regret. For example, feel free to ignore these tips.
“If exercise could be packed into a pill, it would be the single most widely prescribed and beneficial medicine in the nation”. Exercising helps me enormously. However, if my motivation for exercising stems from changing my physical appearance or a desire to assuage myself of vague guilt of unknown origin, it becomes a chore and unenjoyable. I have to exercise for my mental health. I introduce it into my day as a treat, not a punishment. I have audiobooks which I only allow myself to listen to when I run, which makes me desperate to get out. No expectation on how fast I go, or how far. Just to have time with myself.
Allow yourself to feel
Sometimes putting on a brave face feels like the only way to get through the day. However, powering through and ignoring your negative feelings can not only be exhausting but also make the feelings stronger. Sometimes it’s important to sit with your feelings. Acknowledge them. Maybe name them aloud to yourself or to a friend (it can be a relief to unburden). Don’t feel the need to come up with solutions, but rather notice the physical sensations the feelings cause. Allow yourself to feel your feelings. And then, when you move forward, hopefully they will have eased their grip.
There are many many support networks available, which can be found on the mental health and wellbeing section of the IP Inclusive website. Although where we can move is now limited, the people willing to help have not gone anywhere. There are numerous people willing to help. If none of the above, feel free to reach out to me. At any time.
Page published on 27th April 2020
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Great advice Em. I especially liked your emphasis on being kind to yourself and allowing yourself to feel bad. Compassion rules!
Your description of anxiety was, for me, spot on. Thanks for the article.