SO, here we go again! The virus is gaining control and we are now facing severe new restrictions. Here are five things we can do to cope.
Most of us had settled into managing the Covid-19 restrictions as best we could. We followed the guidelines so strictly that our hands were raw and our hearts were lonely. Then we cautiously decided that ‘life must go on’ and reclaimed interests and activities that were regular features of life up until March. Now we know that despite the best efforts of many, the virus is in the ascendant.
Let’s acknowledge that this is a strange and difficult time. We may feel drained, weary, scared, frustrated, angry, numb, fed-up, resigned, anxious, depressed or even hopeless. Further restrictions are distressing for many and we may feel apathy or fear. It is good to acknowledge the sense of relief some people feel. We have been given guidelines and once again we can choose to follow them.
Times have changed. Let’s acknowledge that right now, the battle may not be going our way. Let’s acknowledge how we feel, at least to ourselves and preferably to someone we trust.
Of course, it is essential to keep going. None of us want to dive into a pool of negativity and bring others with us. There is a balance. Adapting an approach of counting the many blessings Covid-19 has given us will only work if we also acknowledge that we did not want it, do not like it and really wish it would go.
Ignoring our feelings does not work. They show themselves through our behaviour, our health and our relationships. Acknowledging them is an essential first step to managing them as well as we can.
We need to manage our thoughts, as well as our feelings.
Have you at least once in the past six months thought, ‘This is not fair’, ‘When will life be back to normal?’ or ‘I am missing out’? Thoughts such as these are understandable but may not be helpful. They may drag us down. We can acknowledge such thoughts and simply label them as ‘unhelpful’. The less attention we give them, the better. Sometimes this is easier said than done. Just like a young child who is demanding attention, thoughts can intrude, interfere and distress us at the most inconvenient times. This can happen while we are working, while we are doing our best to relax and switch off and, frustratingly, while we are doing our best to sleep.
So how do we manage these unhelpful thoughts? There is no one way that works perfectly all the time. While simply labelling a thought as ‘unhelpful’ can be very effective sometimes, it might not be enough when we feel exhausted, distressed or even hopeless. We can use imagery to see all of our unhelpful thoughts steadily marching to a container marked ‘unhelpful thoughts’, jumping in and dissolving in whatever amazing cleanser we have in there. We can face the thought and acknowledge it, before firmly telling it that we will deal with it later.
One of the key challenges for us as humans is to manage our own thoughts. We know that they can be very powerful and can lead to amazing discoveries, as well as to feelings of fear, depression and worthlessness.
It is essential that we manage other things too. This includes the practical things such as wearing masks, hand-washing and maintaining social distances. We also need to manage not taking on other people’s fears. Many of us have discovered the benefits of managing social media and news.
We must also challenge. People have different opinions and different experiences relating to Covid-19. They also have different beliefs which could do with being tested.
Before attempting to do this, it is essential that we examine our own beliefs and, if necessary, challenge them. Most of us accept that wearing masks and maintaining social distancing are important and that regular hand-washing is essential. People who deliberately do not take these precautions may have different beliefs they live by, refusing to allow us or anyone to challenge them. Being caught in the grip of a belief we have had since we were young can be like being in a cult. We do not want to change and everyone else is wrong. Yet, we know that beliefs may not be true.
People who experience anxiety may believe they’ll be unable to cope with whatever they think the worst may be. We know that humans are resilient and adaptable. One of the gifts of Covid-19 is the proof of this. Teachers and students are now familiar with online approaches to teaching and learning. People of all ages use technology to communicate with family, friends and colleagues.
Giving is also key. It is easy to give when giving is a distraction from acknowledging, managing and challenging whatever is going on for us. Let’s give differently. Let’s ask people what they need and give them that. Their answers might surprise us. Maybe our elderly neighbours do not need another frozen meal at their door right now. Maybe they would value a 10-minute socially distanced chat. Or maybe they have done enough talking and instead would really appreciate a tub of ice-cream. Yes, surprise giving is wonderful and has its place but giving can be planned too.
A good question to ask before we give is whose needs are being met by our giving? Are we giving something so that we feel good or are we giving to really support someone else? The thrill of giving can become a trap. If the only way we feel good about ourselves is to give, we can quickly become depleted. Carmen Rene Berry described this well in her book, When Helping You Is Hurting Me – Escaping The Messiah Trap.
It is easy to recognise the wisdom in the advice to put on our own oxygen mask first.
Finally, you must also know how to take.
There is a natural balance in ‘give and take’. There is a fear that the increasing challenges we all face as a result of Covid-19 are creating a surge of mental health difficulties. Let’s see if we can use what is happening right now as a way of helping ourselves and others to acknowledge that things are difficult. Let us manage our thoughts and expectations. Let us challenge views that ‘things are getting more difficult’, that ‘nothing is working’ and even that ‘life is not worth living’. Let’s give support and let’s take it.
But let’s also take time. Let’s take care. Let’s take good advice. Let’s take action to make this time count. Let’s do our part to tackle Covid-19.