Every conversation I am having is starting with something on the lines of “isn’t everything very strange”. Many of us, across the world, find our world has been turned upside down. Lockdown. Social Distancing. Isolation. Those of us who are having to continue working, continue going out there (sometimes to the most hazardous situations – to care directly for people with this virus, sometimes into situations that put us in closer contact with more other people than we might like, such as working in supermarkets, on public transport – wherever) – are having to cope with higher levels of risk than they might be comfortable with. Sudden loss of income. Wondering if we will get support, if so, what, will it be enough. Maybe our employers are not as supportive as we’d like, maybe they are being fantastic.
Most of us are experiencing something unusual. And we may be responding to that sudden change in a variety of ways, most of them based on fear.
Fear is normal. It’s sensible. Fear is acknowledging danger. You cannot be brave if you don’t feel fear. Bravery is feeling fear and dealing with it appropriately. Another word for fear is anxiety. Anxiety is a vitally important emotion, it means we are alert to threats. It also provides us with some tools to deal with those threats. Unfortunately it is not very sophisticated. It screams like a hypersensitive smoke alarm sometimes, and when we need tools it throws random things, rather than always something appropriate to the danger.
A lot of effing responses. Direct and indirect ways of tackling or diffusing danger. Some perhaps the right response in different scenarios.
Fighting doesn’t always look like punching something in the face. Fighting can look like frantically checking social media, posting critical things about others who aren’t behaving as you think they should. Obsessively cleaning more than is necessary. Launching a free online daily yoga class and optimising your online presence. The need to doooo something.
Flight could be denial. It could be panicking and grabbing everything in the supermarket and pushing over the elderly lady because we are closing down our sense of protection. We fear scarcity, we subsconsciously decide who is our responsibility and leave others to fend for themselves. Yes, it’s selfish, but it’s not necessarily an active choice to feel like that. It’s something innate which will have kept our ancestors alive in some situations.
I have been frozen. Seeing all the activity online. Being overwhelmed in an avalanche of information and kindness. Wanting to do something, offer support, act. But struggling to concentrate, to focus, to think. To do even my usual coping techniques. Meditate. Clean. Walk.
I have also flopped. Some days I am so tired. I can’t find the energy to get dressed. Off the sofa. Do anything other than scroll endlessly
The other responses are more complex, and harder to parse to this situation but they will be there, or they will come.
There is no right response. There are those which are more or less helpful. For ourselves and for others. There are those which have more or less to do with the actual threat. Giving ourselves permission to freeze and flop a little might be exactly what’s needed. Not fighting against the restrictions which are meant to keep us safe, but which feel very uncomfortable.
Now though – we must come to terms with this new temporary reality. Take time to look at how we are responding and ask if it is really helpful, necessary, counterproductive? The impulse to hoard all the hand sanitizer and loo roll might feel sensible in that first jump to conclusions our anxiety is so good at – but it is no good being the cleanest person in the world if everyone else is covered quite literally in poo. We all need to be able to stay clean and clean our environments to keep each other safe. Can you do anything to rectify anything you have done which is unfair? Offer excess on local groups for those who need it. Forgive yourself for not being perfect. Forgive others for being human.
Be mindful. Look for the gifts in this time. Things will change, we have a chance to think – what will I be happy to go back to? What don’t I miss, what of this time would I like to keep?
Wash your hands. Don’t touch your face. Keep your distance
Exercise. Eat well. Avoid (too much) alcohol. Get sun on your face as much as you can in your circumstances. Don’t try replicate your usual day. Look for small things to be thankful for. Find ways to see the faces and hear the voices of your colleagues, friends, family. Talk to your neighbours. Connect. Do things you enjoy. Try new things. Learn something new.
Thank you so much if you are out there helping people, our beautiful NHS and Care workers, retail workers, cleaners, delivery workers, lorry drivers – anyone doing what has to be done. We must make sure the world we return to remembers and rewards and protects.