There is nothing I hate more than a psychologist with a list, but I suppose it is an easy way to spatially organise ideas so here we go.
- Get into the uncertainty: Our mind is set up to predict and anticipate for the immediate future and this is wonderful ability that has given us an evolutionary edge over less cognitively-wise competitors and has helped us escape the clutches of more than one predator. We love closure and we cant bear to not know what is going to happen next. When we don’t know our mind will set about inventing possible scenarios, some helpful and some not so helpful. Tolerating uncertainty is an art that needs to be practiced. Being in a place of not knowing can be scary and to prevent the void opening up before us, our mind will try all sorts of tricks to “know” and to find certainty. Of course, it can’t know and nothing can be confirmed. When you find yourself listening to your mind going over and over again different possible scenarios, just acknowledge that your mind is really trying to help you out. Thank it and just ride the uncertainty wave.
- Don’t forget that we are a resilient bunch: We have a built-in bias to expect and anticipate the worst. Again, this has a clear evolutionary advantage. The non-anxious types all got eaten by predators millennia ago, whilst your anxious, worried ancestor lived to pass on her genes. Amazingly enough, humans are survivors. We will survive this the same as we have survived plagues and wars. Life will go back to normal for some of us, for some of us it will never be the same, but life will go on. We will tend to overestimate a threat, especially if it is unknown. Try limiting what you watch on the news. There is a balance between being informed and being over-informed.
- Now is a good time to be taking care of yourself: You may not be able to go for a run or a bike ride in the country, but that shouldn’t stop you from finding ways to exercise, even if it for a few minutes a day. Getting your blood pumping helps on both physical and psychological levels. It helps us feel good about ourselves through the release of endorphins and will allow us to sleep better at night. Try and maintain a healthy diet and not rely on take away food. Of course, alcohol and tobacco are not recommended, although they will offer brief immediate relief from anxiety, they are false prophets and in the long run are like using petrol to put out a fire.
- The paradoxical theory of change: Goes something like, the more we try to be what we are not the more we stay the same and the paradox is that when we accept ourselves as we are, then real change can come about. This translates into being honest with yourself and owning feelings of anxiety and despair. In the situation we are presently in, our only window out to the world is social media, with lots of traps about how we should be coping with this. If you feel anxiety, spend a moment with that anxiety before you try and push it away, it is OK to feel scared and worried. Now is the time for emotional intelligence, which means recognising and labelling what we are experiencing on an emotional level. Keeping a diary can sometimes give us clear picture of where we are at a certain moment, but also allows us to create distance between ourselves and our emotions. Getting them on paper is a cathartic process.
- Allow an amount of madness: If you are at home all day climbing the walls, give yourself 5 minutes of madness a day. Put on your favourite song and dance around the front room like a lunatic. Run up and down the stairs, allow yourself to be gripped by anxiety, worry and panic. It’s all valid in Coronavirus lockdown land. In times like this we can’t help thinking about our own mortality and the mortality of our loved ones and if you have a God, then pray to It, if not then maybe its time you considered getting one. Something that transcends us can be enormously comforting in moments of difficulty and can give us something to hold onto in rough waters. Be spiritual, be at one with the universe.
Chris Neill is a trained psychologist and CBT therapist and is available for Skype sessions. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org https://eshaspain.org/