Step 1. Self-Compassion.
The first step is to acknowledge the difficulty, the suffering, the worry, or whatever feelings the situation is evoking. Have at least one close friend, partner, or family member you can be totally real with, and allow yourself the space to express what’s difficult.
Be understanding, and compassionate towards yourself. Don’t criticise yourself for having these feelings. It generally does not help to push away these feelings or dismiss them. This can lead to anxiety surfacing unexpectedly. Step one should not be confused with complaining continuously or dwelling endlessly only on what is difficult. This is where we fall into self-pity, rather than self-compassion. Self-compassion is wise and knows that validation and acknowledgment of feelings are just the first step. However, it doesn’t stop there.
Step 2. Perspective taking.
This is quite the opposite of step one, but can work very effectively in conjunction with it. Try this exercise: Zoom out from your current situation, almost like a drone taking flight above your head, and begin to hover above your neighbourhood, and then even further, looking down on your city, the whole country. Are there other people struggling? Are there people in worse situations then you? See if you can acknowledge that you are not on your own, with your suffering. Perhaps returning from this overview you can come back to your current situation with a different perspective. Knowing that other people suffer too, can make us feel less alone. Most likely, there are some people, whose suffering is even greater than ours, which may help us feel different about our own situation. Be careful not to use “perspective” to dismiss your feelings, but rather as something to help you with your feelings.
Step 3. Get your “thoughts” working for you.
You might have heard of cognitive therapy. In its essence, cognitive therapy believes that your “thinking” affects how you feel, and how you behave. When we are faced with a difficult situation, we often fall into thinking patterns that ramp up anxiousness and fear. Some of the common “cognitive distortions” are: jumping to conclusions, using sweeping statements, or black and white thinking. Let’s take a simple example of a thought that could come up at times like this: “everything is ruined!” You can imagine that that thought would lead you to feel, scared, panicky, or perhaps paralysed. Your resulting behaviour may be further debilitating, such as numbing out on mindless flicking on your phone, or just being unable to choose more constructive behaviour. Knowing that this thought is not helping you, is the first step. Often, we are engaging with thoughts that are not even factually true (and making us feel miserable). However, even if we feel this thought is a fact, we need to challenge it. We need to reframe this thought, into something that will create a different feeling and a different behaviour. So a reframing of this thought could be something like “This is very difficult for me, there are a lot of changes happening. “ We don’t have to go to the other extreme and replace our sweeping statement with some upbeat positive thought. But we do need to be aware, that if we continue to engage with thoughts that “everything is ruined”, it will be difficult for us not to spiral into even more negative thoughts and feelings.
Step 4. Get into action!
Behaviour is one of the greatest tools we have to help us shift difficult feelings. Write a list of activities that you can reach for, to help redirect your energy and thoughts. Think of things that nourish you, fulfil you, make you feel more grounded, or calmer, or energised. For everybody this will be quite different. Also, we need to be aware that some things we normally enjoy doing, are just not possible now. So, we need to get creative! Make sure you include small things as well as big things on the list. It’s important that you can reach for simple actions when you are feeling very blocked, or resistant, to helping yourself. Here are some examples:
20-minute YouTube cardio workout. Watering my plants. Taking the dog out. Listening to a motivating podcast. Making myself a tea and sitting down to enjoy it. Having a long shower. Reading a novel. Yoga on YouTube. Baking. Calling a friend. Singing. Just the downward dog, for 2 full minutes.
If you are struggling with step 2, behavioural change may be an easier tool for you to work with. Your feelings, and thinking, are affected by what you do. A small change in your behaviour can help you move into a small change in thinking and can begin to make you come out of a negative spiral. Look for small changes (which are very worthwhile) and validate every effort you make that contributes to your overall well-being.
If you need further professional support, I am seeing clients on Skype, and other digital platforms during the lockdown period. My contact details and further information can be seen above.