Life as we know it is rapidly changing. Our work patterns, daily routines, and social lives look very different right now – and even our shopping, eating and exercise habits will undoubtedly take a hit over the coming weeks.
Nervous, scared, angry, weird... that’s how you might be feeling. These aren’t normal times and, as such, there’s absolutely no ‘normal’ way to feel, say therapists. Three weeks ago there was rarely talk of COVID-19 in their sessions, but psychotherapist Natasha Page says the issue is increasingly brought up week-on-week.
“Obviously change for people can be challenging anyway, can’t it?” says Page, a member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP). “But this isn’t just a period of change, it’s also a period of uncertainty. It’s a period of people feeling quite scared and, obviously, isolated.
Page likens what many of us are experiencing to a period of grief. “Sometimes we think of grief in terms of bereavement and losing a person, but actually the cycle of grief can be applied to situations like this,” she explains.
We’re losing work, money, routines. We’re losing our freedom as stricter social-distancing measures come into play. “It might make people feel like they’re losing control,” she says. “And obviously there’s the potential of losing family members and your own health being at risk. It’s bound to make people feel nervous, scared, upset and angry – all of these emotions.”
Many of us are also navigating this emotional rollercoaster with other people around us – our partners, housemates, and children. “It’s an enormous pressure placed on all our relationships,” says therapist Pam Custers. “It’s almost a bit like Brexit because inevitably one person will be more anxious than the other.”
So how can we best navigate the ups and downs of the next few months?
It’s important to get in touch with your emotions – do a mental look around and think about how you feel. “It’s absolutely normal to feel shock, denial and anger. But also feelings of overwhelm, depression and helplessness – they’re all part of the cycle of grief,” says Page. The next step is to move to a place of acceptance – this is the situation. Your new normal, if you like.
“We have to embrace the fact that life isn’t predictable,” adds Custers, a member of Counselling Directory. “External events like this can create chaos and cause us to lose focus. The way we can get back our sense of self, or what psychotherapists call our ‘secure base’, is focusing not on what you can’t control, but what you can control.”
“We have to embrace the fact that life isn’t predictable.”
One of Page’s clients who can’t work at the moment has started making her own clothes and doing more cooking. Creativity can be really helpful in a time of adversity – so if you’re looking for a way to take control back, why not try a new hobby at home?
Keeping a sense of structure and routine is also important, particularly as more people turn to remote working. “It’s so easy to wake up, slump around in your PJs, not brush your hair, and brush your teeth at midday,” says Custers. “But structure allows us to take control of our life – so we feel empowered by that.”
If, for example, you’d pick up a coffee and newspaper on the way to work, why not make yourself a coffee at home first thing or get a newspaper delivered to your door?
During a period where everything seems up in the air, we should also aim to find comfort in the smaller, less significant habits in our daily lives. Custers offers the example that at lunchtime, her golden retrievers go up to her, hoping for a biscuit. “It’s quite sweet,” she says, “so I pay attention to that habit of giving them a biscuit. Or making myself a nice cup of tea. You can find comfort in those habits.”
Four things you should focus on in your daily routines, at work or home, include: getting outside and spending time in nature, exercising (but keeping a distance from others), connecting with others digitally (whether through phone calls, Whatsapp groups or FaceTime), and continuing to prioritise sleep.
“Try to have good sleep hygiene but also understand that if you’re waking up more often, that’s quite normal in terms of a change in mood, and hopefully that will be something that will pass in time,” adds Page.
There are small things we can be hopeful for – already, the coronavirus outbreak has shown us that humans have a huge capacity to be kind and establish a sense of community during the toughest times.
“I’m hoping people will get something from that patriotic feeling and connectedness,” says Page. “Even though it’s a horrible time for us, there is this sense of trying to pull together and that we are all in the same boat.”
Useful websites and helplines:
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
- The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0300 5000 927 (open Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on www.rethink.org.