The world as we know it… has changed!
Dr Tania Rodrigues, Consultant Clinical Psychologist at HMP New Hall, is here to help us help ourselves through this changing world.
Change tends to bring with it a niggling feeling in the pit of the stomach. Even a good change or a planned one like a new job, a new house, or starting a family. Generally welcomed, often planned and much anticipated, and yet, deep down, there’s that unmistakable niggle of doubt and fear.
When these sorts of anxious thoughts and feelings come up alongside something we choose to do, we can often cope better, digging deep to quieten them and push forward to find the positives. It’s the unplanned changes that tend to throw us off…
February 2020, and plans for the year ahead were merrily being made. Meanwhile, news and social media feeds were busy painting a picture of neighbouring countries in crisis. It was worrying but it was far away enough for our way of life to carry on as normal.
By March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic was with us and life, as we knew it, had changed without our choosing or planning. All of a sudden, the arrangements we’d made for the year ahead were redundant.
Instead, we ‘ve been at home keeping loved ones and ourselves safe from this disease, and finding new ways of coping in this weirdly socially-distanced world while still trying to provide for our families.
We’ve seen the slogan, ‘we’re in this together.’ But when this looks completely different for each and every household, it’s not always easy to feel that sense of solidarity. Not when some are still going out to work, some are shielding at home, some are isolating, some are working from home, some are furloughed, some have sadly become unemployed, and, of course, some are coping with tragic loss because of this pandemic. If anything, our stories feel disjointed.
But the truth is, we are all dealing with our own crises whether at work or home, with no part of our lives untouched by the coronavirus. And the common theme? We can all agree to at some point feeling a sense of fear, uncertainty and anxiety during this time.
Those at work may be feeling resentful or frustrated because they have to work extra hard while others are being paid to stay at home keeping safe. Those at home may be feeling guilty or frustrated for letting their work, team, family or friends down as they are unable to help where they normally would. Those furloughed at home may feel uncertain about their job, ‘what if my work say they don’t need me back?’
Whatever you are thinking and feeling is OK. We are all struggling for different reasons and it’s important to remember that our thoughts and feelings are valid and completely normal.
So, how do we manage these feelings of unfairness, worry, fear, guilt, of wanting things to go back to the way they were, or not wanting things to go back to the way they were – and beyond?
It’s important to accept that the current circumstances are not ideal, for anyone. It’s OK to feel angry and frustrated by it all. The situation IS the situation and we must accept that we CANNOT change it. But we CAN change how we respond to it. If feeling anxious, frustrated or overwhelmed, try a breathing exercise. Notice any sensations in your body (a flutter in your stomach, tension in your chest), and accept them, they are neither right nor wrong they are just there. As you notice these sensations, imagine they are releasing with each breath. Once your body feels calmer, take a long deep breath and choose how you want to handle your reaction.
Decreased Emotional wellbeing through isolation
The biggest change we have all made has been practicing social distancing. But as necessary as this has been, isolation and loneliness can intensify feelings of anxiety and depression in many and even impact our physical health. Staying in contact with others in new ways is important to feel connected and not so alone. Be brave and reach out for support when you need it, that person may need it too.
Whether it’s the way we shop, the way we socialise or the way we work, all of it has changed and looks different in some way. Learning to accept these changes and avoid resisting them will help give you the space and clarity you need to adapt to change and move forward.
It’s obviously important to stay updated with the latest about this pandemic. But overloading yourself with information and reading everything you can find about it, is not good for you and feeds into fear. Much of what’s going around is sensationalised and taken out of context. Stick with a news source you know is reliable and step away if you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed by it all.
Look for the positive
Above all, take the opportunity to stop negative thoughts in their tracks and look for the positive instead. We are relying on each other like never before, we are pulling together, pooling resources and every day hearing of more amazing acts of kindness and bravery the likes and scale of which are unheard of. And we now spend our Thursday evenings in solidarity with our neighbours clapping for those that every day are going to work to keep the country going and to support the most vulnerable.
It may not always feel like it, but we are all in this together, living, isolating, laughing, crying, and having our own crises and trying to find the best way to cope. The world has changed. We just have to keep on our toes, accept those niggling doubts and try to find our ‘new normal’ in these unprecedented times.