How did you react to the lockdown when it first happened? As we know, it was a bad experience for many people. But a perhaps surprising number responded very positively to the new circumstances in which they found themselves. They saw them as a bit of an adventure or as an opportunity to rest or a chance to do things they’d wanted to do for a long time which, in some cases, led to a complete re-think about the direction of life.
But the picture now is often very different. Psychotherapists across the country report that people’s tempers are fraying and that they’re depressed, anxious, overwhelmed, sullen or resentful. Other people have reacted to the easing of restrictions by ignoring the continuing existence of Covid-19 and the social distancing that goes with it. They’re in denial.
Pressure and powerlessness
You may be at home, furloughed, and getting increasingly worried about your job security. You may be a keyworker who’s been toiling arduously at the forefront of the crisis. You may be a parent who’s been cajoled back to work but with no solution for childcare problems because there are no summer schemes available and no grandparents available either because they’re out of bounds. Whatever your situation, it may be that you’re exhausted by unremitting, intense pressure.
The negative emotions in us arise partly from a sense of powerlessness. There’s a point beyond which we can’t control our circumstances and we’re being ground down by that. We’re used, for example, to thinking that science can fix a lot of things but it can’t fix Coronavirus at present. We’re surrounded by illness and also death – feared or actual.
Loss and bereavement
Tragically, for some, the loss of loved ones has been part of that landscape. But the loss of those close to us is not the only loss around. There’s also the loss of social and religious rituals around death, birth and marriage, the loss of health, the loss of freedom, the loss of employment, the loss of social relationships and human proximity and the loss of the ability to make plans for the future. You can add to the list yourself. It’s very long.
The point about this is that any significant loss constitutes a bereavement. That may sound strange but it’s true. And what are the symptoms of bereavement? Depression, anger and denial are the big ones. All the things we’re seeing at the moment. It may be that we have a huge nationwide and worldwide bereavement in progress. Most people have lost something.
So what can we do about it? Apparently trivial and obvious things like having a break are important. For quite a few people that may simply not be possible right now but hopefully it will be later on. Bereavement is tiring and a holiday enables us to gather our strength once again and re-group.
Realizing that help will eventually come in the form of a vaccine may also enable us to keep going. In the meantime, perhaps it’s possible to summon sheer dogged willpower. Abraham Lincoln is reported to have said, ‘When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on’.
But above all, talk. That’s one of most effective things you can do in the face of loss. British stiff upper lips tend not to work. Share with someone else what you’re experiencing. In the process finding out that you’re not alone and that very many others are going through similar things can be valuable. Communication is key.
And it may be helpful to remember that psychotherapy is all about talking and communication. At the moment a lot of it is being done by video and my next blog will be about what that’s like.
©Brian Shand 2020
You can see more of my blogs here https://www.guildfordtherapy.co.uk/blog/