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Head start on coping in a crisis

Self-isolation can be a time for reflection and re-evaluation, posits a new book. Peter Gruner talks to its author

03 April, 2020 — By Peter Gruner

Gael Lindenfield

A HAMPSTEAD psychotherapist aims to help people deal with the day-to-day miseries and insecurities of self-isolating.

In How To Feel Good In Difficult Times, Gael Lindenfield provides ideas on how to cope with anxiety and depression, financial woes, or simply boredom.

Her book was written before the coronavirus outbreak, but Gael, 76, who has a bad lung condition, was self-isolating before the lockdown.

She is familiar with living through difficult times, having survived a problem childhood, divorce and depression and most traumatically, the death of Laura, her 19-year-old daughter, in a car crash 20 years ago.

“I bawled my eyes out for a long time after Laura died,” she said. “Then I said to myself I must put into practice the kind of strategies that I’d advised others to do in similar situations.”

As for the current crisis, she hopes that despite the huge financial problems that many expect to face, the majority will eventually come out of it the with a new sense of purpose and direction.

She quotes world champion racing driver, Sir Stirling Moss, who admitted he learnt from adversity, when he nearly died in a car crash. “It has taken 33 years and a bang on the head to get my values right,” he said.

In the book she talks about creating a small “haven” in the home where people can go in times of stress.

“It doesn’t matter how big the space is, but that it is a place where you can feel relaxed. Maybe you can enjoy a little comfort food. I have a box of chocolate mints and I allow myself two each day.”

She suggests this four-minute exercise in your haven: “Close your eyes or put on an eye mask; take three slow, deep breaths and allow yourself to sink into a physically and mentally relaxed state. You should feel as though you are a floating zombie!”

Some people also appreciate a box where they can keep precious things that make them feel cheerful, she writes. This could include old photos, letters, music and small artifacts that bring back happy memories.

“There’s no question these are difficult times for people, particularly financially, and I talk about budgeting in the book. But for some, self-isolation may also be an opportunity to slow down and reconsider lifestyle and possibly where you are heading in the future.”

Self-isolating may also help people to get used to living with solitude and even start to enjoy it, she said. “Certainly in my case, as a writer at least, I’ve benefited from silence and solitude. I don’t fear it. A lot of people who have led busy, exhausting lives, may now appreciate moments of quiet reflection.”

She encourages gardening and growing indoor plants as being very therapeutic. She quotes a Chinese saying: “To be happy for an hour, get drunk; to be happy for a year, fall in love; to be happy for life, take up gardening.”

Gael is amazed at the number of young people who are volunteering in the area. “I’ve even had volunteers getting my medical prescriptions. This horrible virus is actually bringing out the best in people.”

The environment has also benefited enormously from the lack of cars on the local streets. “I can walk the streets, hear the birds and not breathe in pollution from car exhaust for the first time”, she added.

She writes: “The crucial key to making the best of difficult times is, I believe, to look for the positive in change, however unwelcome it may seem. But I also know that this is much easier said than done.”

How To Feel Good In Difficult Times. By Gael Lindenfield. Trigger Publishing, £9.99.

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