Coping through the 'new abnormal'
Updated: Nov 3, 2020
There’s a lot we don’t know. There is a worldwide pandemic. We don’t know when it is going to leave us. We don’t know when there will be a vaccine available.
I heard someone describe recently, how there is, what feels like an undercurrent of anxiety. We are all functioning in a weird way, on a new anxiety baseline. It feels in ways that the people who are not feeling anxious are the lucky ones.
Before we get into a few strategies to use, I first want to acknowledge something important: Anxiety is a perfectly normal and to be expected human emotion. It occurs when we feel threatened. At the moment, it feels like there is potential threat everywhere. Before now, most of us would not have given a second thought for instance about going to the shops.
There are a number of key factors that are underpinning anxiety at the moment:
Health risks – for ourselves or for our loved ones.
Economic risks – risks of mental health issues go up when people are worried about how they are paying their bills.
Isolation – the safest thing to do is to isolate but we live in packs. We are social animals and the isolation is immense. Sadly, one of the most important things in our human language is a hug and this little joy has been taken away from us. At least for the time being.
Identity – going to a football match or a gig. Engaging in activities that previously were just part of our life and identity are now not possible in the traditional sense.
But there are things we can do to look after ourselves.
It is ok to acknowledge that we are scared or worried. We know what we are living through is not, dare I say, ‘normal’. I’m not so keen on the phrase ‘the new normal’, I have heard a number of people say. But listening to the radio some time back, it was described as the new abnormal, which I felt more an affinity with.
So what kind of strategies can we put in place to support ourselves? Let’s take a look at a few:
Knowing your own anxiety:
What makes you anxious? What is it the bit that you find most difficult?
Recognising when you feel anxious can be the first step. Know that your anxiety goes up and down. It is not the same in all situations. Know that your anxiety is not all the time. It is a state. How about making a friend of it? And know that it will pass.
It is important to educate yourself. Notice your thought process and then compare that to reality. You may think for instance: ‘I have been out in the shops. That means I have been exposed to COVID and I am going to get seriously sick and will die’. Examine how realistic this statement is. Using this example, the chances of being in the supermarket or using an ATM is a very low chance of contraction.
Minding the body:
We know that anxiety is an adrenaline response. The best way to manage this is to do exercise. You don’t need to have a hardcore session in the gym (though of course I know that this isn’t an option in Ireland and now England at the moment, though we are still able to train here in Scotland). It just needs to be a nice walk or a bit of yoga on youtube. Taking some nice deep breaths.
Feelings instead of facts:
People are talking about COVID in terms of facts. We only need to listen to the radio or TV for moments before we know the statistics of the day… the symptoms we should be looking out for… the number of people who remain on furlough. The number of businesses who won’t be reopening their doors.
But how would it be to talk instead about how we are feeling? Expressing to loved ones the worries that we are living with: ‘I have an elderly parent. I am worried and I want to know that they are going to survive this’. You will find that the person you are speaking to will be experiencing something similar. We all have our fears. It is ok to share them.
Change how we communicate:
We can’t hug and embrace like maybe we are used to. But what other things can we do to support those in our community? Especially those who may be isolated? I have been writing letters more. It’s a form of communication I have always favoured, but I am making an effort to do it more now.
Zoom is not the same as a hug, or having a laugh over a few drinks. But right now, it remains an alternate way to keep communication lines open with others.
Keeping our identity:
If you are unable to go see your team play, how can you make sure that that part of your identity remains? My husband has been watching some old games telly. Not the same of course, but still a way to celebrate something that has been, historically a big part of his life.
It’s ok not to consume yourself with COVID data:
I said earlier how we are bombarded with facts and opinion left right and centre on the radio, TV and from our social networks. The thing is, we don’t need to get hourly news briefs. We don’t need constant updates from our media sources via email or as updates on our phone.
Part of the human condition is control. The more we know about something, the more we can control it, right? I’m not so sure. I am not suggesting you put the head in the sand. But how about choosing a time of the day to get your updates? And just taking the snippets that you need.
My sister mentioned to me at one point in the summer, that she had to stop listening to the current affairs programme she listened to every day. ‘It was too depressing’ she said… maybe, but I suspect her mental health improved no end.
Think how far we have come:
At the beginning, (in fact for almost 4 months), my Dad didn’t leave the house: Not one foot into the outside world. He went into his back garden, alright. But that was it. Now, he is out walking every day, albeit when there are very few people around in the early mornings. But that little bit of fresh air has done him the world of good. He is still scared, but he has travelled a fair distance since March both physically and psychologically.
These really are the strangest of times, but please keep checking in with yourself and your loved ones. Remember that everyone really does experience this differently and how you are feeling is ok.
If you are feeling overwhelmed and want to restore a sense of balance, please feel free to get in touch to arrange your complimentary consult. All work is carried out over Zoom.