Counsellor's thoughts: Coronavirus
What a year it has been, and continues to be... Covid-19 has turned the whole world upside down and still rages havoc on our lives. We have been forced to adopt new ways of working, living and relating. If you are feeling tired or fatigued, there is no need to be alarmed. I've had some time to contemplate the pandemic. Below are some thoughts and feelings.
Social distancing has rocked our ways of relating in more ways that one. We have had to rely on online options to speak with family and friends. For some though, this way of socialising has created isolation, and of course there is an assumption that a laptop or phone is available to everyone, which they are not. We hopefully have those in our life who are our 'secure base' - the people who provide us with a feeling of safety. It is disconcerting to suddenly be unable to see them, hug them or hold their hand. Images in the news of grandparents meeting newly born grandchildren through a window fill my heart with sadness. Other major life events such as weddings and funerals have been tainted by restrictions, leaving people in a tricky situation or having to cope with the experience not through choice. We are social beings, and often creatures of habit. Covid-19 has distanced us, not online socially but in terms of touch, intimacy and routine, things that give both stability and joy.
Coronavirus has the potential to become the new social-shaming topic. Whilst it is positive to have collective effort, there is the danger that we forget people's circumstances differ. I heard a great saying recently; "We are all in the same storm, but all have our own boat", and I couldn't agree more. While I do not condone blatant disregard for others safety, there is the danger that we can end up shaming others for doing the best with their situation, for instance trying to balance social distancing with supporting vulnerable family members. There was the same feeling with clap for carers with some observing who was participating. We carry enough shame in our lives and I fear the potential for the pandemic to create ruptures in families, friendship groups and society.
Many people's futures hang in the balance with the closure of businesses. This creates high levels of anxiety and this will continue in the coming years as people struggle to salvage their businesses and careers. Some will inevitably have to call it quits and move on into the unknown. My heart breaks for those who are in a crisis of identity as they are rendered powerless by the pandemic. There is a grieving process attached to redundancy or loss of a business that is often unacknowledged by society. So if you are in that position and feeling anger, low mood, confusion, or physical symptoms such as interrupted sleep - they may all be part of that process, intertwined with anxiety. You may be best to seek support via the NHS, or a counsellor.
Have there been any positives? I think there has and while these do not balance out the crisis we face, they are important to remember. Some have surprised themselves with their ability to adapt; businesses have changed the ways they work, parents have home schooled children and people have learnt new skills. Although these may not have been relaxing, they demonstrate the human capacity for adapting and resilience. We have seen stories of human kindness - those supporting others in their community and raising money to support the national effort against Covid-19. These remind us that even in time of great adversity, the human spirit can win in small ways. I appreciate that these can feel very distant to some and they don't necessarily change our personal circumstance.
So how can we support ourselves in the current circumstance?
Firstly, we need to be compassionate to ourselves. This can be easier to say than to do, but we can start by giving ourselves some allowance to just be in the moment. Be kind to yourself - you might not be performing as well as you usually would at work, or you may be struggling in a relationship, or being on your own. This is understandable - we are all feeling drained and anxious. Start saying '... and that is okay' rather than '... and I need to do better'.
Secondly, where possible, talk to others. It sounds cliché, especially coming from a counsellor, but we have something at the moment that binds us together; a common concern. Talking about your worries, fears, concerns and maybe even anger can be helpful in coping with the effects of Coronavirus. Of course, speaking with a therapist can also be helpful if you are concerned about the ways you are feeling.
Remember positives in your life. Day to day, you may appreciate special times such as speaking with family, or enjoying a pastime. Try keeping a journal of these moments, or taking photos and creating a scrap-book. In the current climate, small things can give you a massive boost and there is benefit in putting these in one place to refer back to. Take time to look back through your memories and thank those around you.
What if you are feeling isolated and alone? There are a number of online groups you can join, one of them being Side by Side, run by the charity Mind. Those who join can chat to others who want to connect, learn from each other and inspire each other to make positive steps with their mental health.
I wish you good health, both physically and mentally in this challenging time.
Adam Rothwell MBACP is a registered person-centred counsellor in private practice. He sees clients online and in person in the South Manchester, Stockport and Cheshire East areas of North West England.