During this crisis everyone is having to change their whole way of life. For some it’s staying at home with the kids or supporting vulnerable people within our families or communities. For others it’s trying to continue to work to support the efforts to combat the impact of the virus. For all of us life has changed immeasurably. There is a lot of fear of what will happen to our friends and family but also to our livelihoods as the lockdown continues.
Things we have always taken for granted are a challenge. The weekly shop takes twice as long, involves long queues and multiple decisions. When to go, what to buy if something isn’t available, how much to buy, and the risk of being in the shop itself. All of this takes a lot of brain function and that is a limited resource.
Those of us at home with kids are also trying to make their lives as pleasant as possible. We spend our time trying to be this amazing super-mum/dad who can entertain them through the day and stay patient and calm when they throw tantrums or won’t go to sleep. We pretend that everything is fine and try to convince ourselves of that too.
On the surface we appear to “Keep Calm and Carry On”. But this is where the danger is. If we fail to face the emotions that are actually coming up for us, then we will feel drained or even empty. Our health may suffer and at some point, we risk burnout.
I have felt a range of emotions during this unpredictable journey. Anger at how the situation is being handled, Sadness that I can no longer support my clients in the way I would like, Grief that I have lost my freedom, Fear that this will go on for a long time and that I will lose friends and family and maybe even my livelihood.
My daughters have felt similar emotions as they have lost direct contact with friends, they can no longer attend their sports training and, although are exams are not a pleasant experience, they have even lost that process which rewards you for your hard work. All of us are finding this whole process really challenging.
The turning point for me has been letting my emotions come out. Initially I thought I had genuinely lost it and felt guilty that I was being unreasonable when everyone around me was in the same boat. Of course, my husband was having a tough time working hard each day despite everything that was happening but so was I, and it didn’t seem fair to have to be the strong one holding it together for everyone else.
In fact I needed to take time to grieve for the fact that my planned holidays weren’t going to happen and that whilst my husband can continue to work, I must change my whole world and do basic menial tasks around the home. I had to be with my anger and let it have a physical expression (against the pillow rather than my loved ones!).
I realised that fear is natural and a way in which we protect ourselves from danger. Suppressing these emotions that we perceive to be negative means that we supress everything we feel and that can leave us feeling empty. For others the emotions may become extreme and can manifest as anxiety or depression.
It’s therefore vital that we have a release for these emotions – rather than pressing on like some crazed superhero we need to take time to feel the uncomfortable emotions.
Dancing or moving your body can be a powerful way to disperse them. In fear and anger we produce the flight and fight hormones and so we need to let our body do what it needs to do; move, punch, scream.
For sadness or grief, we need to move the emotion through our body so have a good cry but then get moving and work that sadness or grief through. Imagine what your inner mother would say to you – it’s likely to be kind and gentle support.
Now is the time we need to get comfortable with these uncomfortable emotions and take time to release them each day. It’s a bit like staying fit – it’s not enough to do it once and think that’s it for the next month. It’s a practice we need to do each day to clear what’s come up for us so that we have space to fill up with the positive emotions.
The love we feel for our friends and family, our joy at the beauty of the world as spring unfolds outside, the fun we can have with those around us. Since the lockdown began, I have laughed with my children so much, I have got to know them better than ever and the garden has never looked so tidy! But I know that tomorrow is another day and uncomfortable emotions can spring up at any time but I have the tools I need to not be scared of them but to appreciate that if I stop feeling them, my life will be the worse for it.
So to answer my initial question: Keeping calm and carrying on is possible but only if you regularly let your feelings out and if you lose it completely it’s just your body telling you that you need to be compassionate with yourself!