How can we use this time in isolation to help us grow?
I’m not sure about you but this has been an incredible experience for me; living with the threat of the coronavirus. It has certainly been an uncertain period in my life and something I think, for many of us, have never experienced and hopefully never will again. We are sociable creatures who need to connect with others both physically and mentally but when we are forced into a situation of lockdown and disconnection it can bring up all sorts of fears and emotions that we may have managed before, but now seem uncontrollable.
Being disconnected from the outside world can bring with it a sense of loss or it can trigger some hidden traumas or emotions from the past that are now surfacing due to our current situation.
These traumas or emotions can be associated with many things that a person may have experienced in their past such as growing up with adverse childhood experiences i.e. parental addictions, death or illness of a parent or divorce/separation of parents. Or from adult experiences such as: divorce or separation, death of a loved one, financial upheaval, life-threatening illness or maybe some abuse; both physical, emotional or psychological.
The definition of trauma is when you are unable to do anything to change the situation you find yourself in. You feel overwhelmed and there is a sense of uncertainty, helplessness, hopelessness and loss of control. When you find yourself now faced with a similar situation such as the isolation due to the virus you may start to experience these feelings again. This can lead to anxiety and life may feel out of control again, sometimes triggering these old emotional scars that have been hidden for many years but when faced with similar situations start to emerge.
Some feelings of loss right now are perfectly normal and even people who haven’t experienced any form of major trauma will be feeling anxious and missing the normal structures that we used to rely on that give our life meaning and stability, such as routine and social interaction with friends and family. The orderly world that we were familiar with now feels unsafe, unpredictable. We are exposed to daily updates via the media of the death toll rising and more and more people are contracting the virus and as the days become weeks and then months we start to panic as to when our lives will return to normal again. Our anxiety continues to increase and we ask ourselves when will life be back to normal, when will I feel safe again and this fear for the future and helplessness is when unresolved emotions or traumas from the past can be triggered.
Often when these feelings re-emerge we don’t make the connection with the past as to what is happening in the present. This becomes an unconscious process and we start to act out our painful feelings and make them about the present situation; often projecting our emotions onto others by indulging in self-defeating behaviours such as angry outbursts, blaming, irrational or illogical thinking, catastrophising, or co-dependency. Or it can manifest as wanting to self-medicate such as over-eating, binge drinking, drugs, online gambling or self-harming – anything to avoid the pain or make us numb. The key thing here is to be aware of what you are feeling and what part of the current situation has triggered such emotions as this could be an opportunity for growth. If you can consciously connect to the feelings and witness where they have come from in the past, then you may become aware of the younger part of you that was vulnerable and hurt at the time, the part that has stayed hidden and the part that needs to be healed. When this happens, you can comfort and love this part rather than shut it down and ignore it.
We can’t control the environment outside, it’s unpredictable, but we can create, predict and take control of how we feel and how we structure and organise our day. This is very important as this will help you to feel in control of what you can do until such times when you can re-engage with the outside world in a safe way and emerge with new resources and resilience. It is your relationship with this experience that will help you to take back control and you quickly realise that you can ‘handle it’. You have the courage and the capabilities, you just need the belief that you can do it.
Let us look at some practical steps you can take to help support your emotions and structure your days:
- It is really important to think of this situation as temporary and to focus on the future. Even though there is uncertainty this had a beginning, a middle and will have an end. Just like any other crisis.
- Bring up a colourful picture in your mind of all the things you will be doing once this crisis is over, then add some sounds such as laughter, talking with friends, having fun. Now step into your picture and experience some wonderful feelings of happiness, gratitude, excitement and relief. Keep repeating the picture daily so that you experience what life will be like as soon as this situation changes.
- Learn to calm your anxiety by taking some deep breaths in, holding for the count of four and then gently releasing the breath. This will help you to stay calm, focused and know that this will pass.
- Focus on the positive things you have in your life right now, family, children, grandchildren, friends. Be grateful for your health, your surroundings and connect to spring and nature by walking or gardening.
- Structure your day by adopting a routine and set some goals such as making a list of completing those old jobs that have been neglected or learning new skills by going online and finding something that interests you.
- Connect with at least one friend or family member each day and get involved with community activities.
- Adopt regular exercise either at home using online regimes or going outside for long walks.
- Put on some of your favourite music and sing, move and dance which gets your energy moving and makes you feel more positive.
- Eat regularly, chose healthy nutritious foods which will boost your immune system and avoid junk food which will affect your mood. Experiment with your cooking and maintain a good sleeping routine.
- Avoid too much negative media coverage!
Stop feeling that you need to be perfect, we are all in this together and if you feel that you are punishing yourself for not be able to cope – forgive yourself and remember everyone is probably experiencing some degree of anxiety; this is normal.
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