This article is about staying sane during the coronavirus outbreak. It also makes brief reference to people who may already be struggling with emotional difficulties.

In therapy, people discover that the scariest parts of life can often be in the imagination. However, there are also certain times when external reality can mirror what is going inside us in a very frightening way. The coronavirus outbreak is such an example. Fears of death, isolation, disconnection, abandonment, but also persecution and totalitarian responses from outside, that we carry inside us, are likely to be finding a mirror in the outside world. Even for individuals who have had fortunate childhoods and manage relatively well today, the current situation is full of uncertainty and ambiguity and likely to disturb even the most robust amongst us. In this article I am sharing an invitation to consider certain strategies that can help ease the difficult times ahead.

Protect

Follow the government guidance, get information from reputable sources (such as the NHS, or the World Health Organisation), but limit exposure to social media. Some media sources will often focus on exceptions and present things in a sensational way which can exacerbate the sense of panic. Check the media once a day, but then leave it alone for the rest of the day. This may be especially difficult for people who suffer from health-related anxiety. Checking the internet is an impulse which aims to reduce anxiety, by providing reassurance. Reassurance can alleviate anxiety in the moment, but it maintains it in the long term. We can become intolerant of any uncertainty and ambiguity and dependent on constant reassurance.

Meditate

Boredom, restlessness, and anxiety are emotions we are all likely to experience while we are under lockdown. Comfort eating, alcohol or drug use can increase during these times. Encourage yourself to eat healthily.

Try mindfulness mediation instead to help you:
(a) Help you “ride the impulse” to get rid of the emotions using substances and therefore
(b) Accept the emotions and allow them to pass and therefore
(c) Be present to what you do have rather than following the mind when it dwells in what you don’t

There are many free meditations online as well as apps you can download that can help you. Managing impulses is especially difficult for some of us who may not have had the opportunity to discover healthier ways of managing our emotions when growing up. It can certainly help to shop wisely and limit access to comfort food and alcohol. Connection is the antidote to addiction and it often starts with connecting to ourselves and what we need.


Give

Increasing our sense of community is the antidote to panic, fear, and competition for what at times appear to be limited resources. Try volunteering or helping a vulnerable person with their shopping. This can be hard if you have suffered emotional neglect and deprivation (and we often do not know that because how can you know what you did not get). Anxiety about emotional deprivation can manifest as fear of being deprived of more tangible resources such as money or food. Alternatively people can over-care for others as a way for unconsciously distracting themselves from their own unmet need for care. This can lead to emotional and physical exhaustion. Give, but only where you can.

Create

Social withdrawal can be a major maintenance factor in depression. It limits opportunities for meeting our need for support, comfort, and excitement. It can give us plenty of time to ruminate about the past and worry about the future. If you are experiencing financial strain and you generally struggle with feelings of hopelessness this time may be unbearably painful. Creativity is a very powerful aid against depressive feelings. Try something like drawing, painting, singing, or arts and crafts. It’s something that can often provide enormous relief. **Rest** At the same time, a lot of people can feel pressure to make the best use of increased downtime. Use this time also to rest. A lot of clients who are not working or now working from home are telling me that they are enjoying the extra time gained from not commuting, as well as feeling under less pressure. **Exercise** If you are able, go out once a day for a walk, cycling or other forms of exercise. Go to parks if you have access to them and enjoy nature.

Connect

People all over the internet are criticising the idea of social distancing and emphasise it should be rephrased as physical distancing. Use phone and video to connect with friends and loved ones. Keep an eye on the internet for virtual group activities. Some people who normally suffer from social anxiety can find the current situation preferable and reduce their attempts to connect, but this may make it harder to re-emerge later. Because phone and video connections reduce visibility you may find that you are feeling less anxious and can experiment with saying things you would not normally do. You can then hopefully discover something you can take with you when the lockdown is over.

Disconnect

This will be a very challenging time for many couples because you must share the same space for most of the day. We all have a need to relate as well as not to relate. We need to be especially sensitive to our partner’s need for space and couples will need to be creative in terms of how to divide the space and time between them. Usually, there is sufficient confidence in the other’s good will that solutions can be found. For some couples this period will be very distressing because a way of sharing space physically and psychologically has never been firmly established. This manifests in situations where there seems to be “room for only one view and only one way”. Couples seem to be faced with decisions where there is no possibility of compromise, even at relatively simple scenarios regarding chores, entertainment or when we have sex. A positive way of looking at this is that the couple may now be forced to face the situation and finally find ways to negotiate space.

*** If you feel you may need some additional help with whatever is coming up for you during this period get in touch by emailing me at nikos.tsigaras@kensintgoncounselling.com. My clinic currently operates as normal with video sessions. 07805945233 if you’re old fashioned.