Covid-19 and lockdown can teach us how to 'let go'
Difficult and traumatic though it is, the need for lockdown in order to contain COVID-19 could turn out to be something which teaches us how to let go of old habits. Habits which may have become empty and pointless yet persist all the same.
Despite the many promises we make to ourselves - to ditch the abuse, to be kinder, more patient, accepting and show compassion to ourselves - too often we find our own self-talk doesn't get us very far. Self-isolating may not be much fun, yet by associating with others we can often find ourselves wanting their lifestyle.
It's almost like we are thinking in an automated, unconscious way - detached from our sense of self and identity and living someone else's life (which in itself can become an unhelpful habit).
Yet even the most mindful and aware person can find themselves getting drawn into old behaviours, feelings and patterns of thinking.
Everything we hold onto benefits us in some way. We are attached to things or people which bring us comfort and familiarity. Trouble is, such attachments can also prevent us from moving forward and trying something new. 'Something new' suggests uncertainty and risk which in turn can lead us to feel anxious. So it's easier to stick with the habit.
The power of pull is tangible; anyone who has experienced cravings knows the powerful and primal forces they can be. If you have ever weaned yourself off tobacco, alcohol, chocolate or sugar then you will probably have experienced the force of compulsion and cravings. It is not just substances that can create habits leading to dependency. We can also think in ways which are habitual so that our attitudes and activities demand to be continued even when they are not serving us well.
However, we do not need to be resigned to unhealthy habits and thoughts.
Life today is lived at a fast pace. We can barely reflect on what we do let alone about how we think. Now it's possible to do so. Suddenly, we may have found we have a lot of time on our hands and an opportunity to take stock - without overthinking. Just quiet reflection and contemplation.
The enforced lockdown which COVID-19 has brought gives us an opportunity to manage our anxieties, worries and stress and encourage us to re-evaluate our lives. There is every possibility we can find ways which will help us be less tied to our unhelpful, habitual thoughts and behaviours. And who knows - we may also discover we have no intention of returning to them once the lockdown is lifted.
We now have a chance to break free from people who after all, do not add anything positive to our lives, and whether we engage with these folk face to face or on social media, we can decide whether the relationship has just become a 'habit'.
Hopefully, we are now aware of not touching our faces in order to avoid risking infection - helping to address that nail-biting habit which was on our New Year resolution list for a decade.
The focus on buying essential food may help us to avoid the sugary stuff we have tried so very hard not to consume.
Or buying a luxury item which we knew, deep down, we could not afford, and now we are finding the strength to resist.
The intention to abandon our habits was there, but the psychological space less so.
Yes, COVID-19 is a crisis, but sometimes it takes a crisis to do one of the hardest yet most rewarding things we can ever do for ourselves - and that is to face ourselves. Sometimes it can help to detach ourselves from our own life scripts. One way of doing this is to pause and be mindful; 'just be'. Psychological distance helps us to step outside ourselves and have a look at what is happening and what changes we want to make.
We can ask ourselves some challenging yet potentially life-changing questions:
- What do I want to change?
- Who or what is stopping me from changing?
- Why do I keep on doing something which isn't really helping me?
- Is this habit or thought getting in the way of bigger goals I want to achieve?
- Who would I be and how will I feel if I let go of this habit/thought?
Take one step at a time, as this is a process. Writing down your progress or 'stuckness' can help identify what is getting in the way and what is helping.
Transition can feel a struggle and at times, a hellish one at that. Reflect on your life and recall how you have coped with a crisis in the past; listen to the way others have overcome adversity; read about those who have struggled against the odds and how their life and their place within the world is so much better now.
Who knows how life will be after lockdown and beyond? With life on hold for many people just now, there is the psychological space to consider how we can build a better life for ourselves. This is not necessarily about seeking a grand solution. It can be a small yet significant shift that brings the change. Right now, we may feel a range of emotions which can feel uncomfortable. That discomfort suggests we are in touch with our feelings.
When we come out of this chaos and darkness, it is possible we can see a way forward towards building a better life for ourselves and those around us. So it is important to remember there is an end game and a prize worth fighting for. This crisis offers us the opportunity to reconsider our priorities and ask ourselves again: 'What do I want?'. This is not a selfish act - it is practising self-care. By looking after ourselves we are then ready to look out for others, which is one of the most rewarding and humane things we can do. A chance for enormous personal growth and development.
If we can take this opportunity to adapt to a new way of thinking, behaving and feeling, liberation awaits.
Hopefully, you will ask yourself some of the above questions and feel empowered to make changes for a better future. If you would like further help to become unstuck with negative self-beliefs then consider talking to a qualified counsellor or life coach. Online and telephone sessions are now available with many therapists so help is available whenever you're ready.