While my last column focused on dealing with stress and anxiety with the help of establishing routines and trying to have a healthy lifestyle, this month it’s time to ask how are you feeling now?
For many of us, the answer might be a resounding ‘worse than a month ago’, and that’s not surprising.
What you are feeling may be grief. Traditionally, we may think of grieving as something that happens after a loved one’s death, but the feeling of grief and the process of grieving really are associated with any form of loss. All of us have lost things – and people – over the past weeks and months.
Our losses may be very different, ranging from social contacts to actually losing a family member or friend to Covid-19. However, some of the emotions we are now going through are the same, no matter what we are grieving for.
What to do now? It’s hard to deal with something we have little or no awareness of, so the starting point would be to try and define your emotions better. You may feel sad at having lost social contacts or powerless after losing your job. You may be disappointed in your attempts at homeschooling – for most parents that sounded easier than it is in reality – or angry at your neighbour who is socialising with friends despite social distancing orders.
All of those emotions can be summarised as grief following a loss: a loss of connections, freedom and community, a loss of security and knowing how to pay your bills, a loss of structure provided by school runs and work hours, a loss of control of providing for your family, or whether or not others are sticking to rules. We all are united in grieving for life as we knew it and things we took for granted, like queuing for a takeaway coffee or meeting a friend for lunch.
Then there is the guilt of feeling of your emotions are unjustified and over the top: how can you feel sad for your life-as-you-knew-it when there are doctors and nurses who are totally overstretched, stressed and watching patients die on a daily basis? The truth is, there are no justified or unjustified emotions. Your feelings are genuine, and the first thing to help you deal with them is to allow yourself to feel them.
Acknowledge what you are experiencing. Your body and your mind know something bad is happening, and there really is no way of tricking them into thinking or feeling like everything is fine.
Anyone who has dealt with loss before, for example the death of a loved one, will remember that grieving takes time. A popular view of grief is that it happens in five or six stages – denial, anger, sadness, bargaining, acceptance and finding meaning. That doesn’t mean it’s always a linear process of moving from one step to the next.
Instead, you may find yourself being able to accept your current situation just fine one day whilst being incredibly sad the next day. Allow these emotions into your day but be aware that it’s ok to ask for help – be it anonymously online, by phoning a friend or even just writing down what you are experiencing at a given time.
Every emotion is valid, and so are practical coping strategies like establishing a routine. Just don’t be surprised when you have days on which sticking to that routine is simply impossible. And above all be kind to yourself and allow yourself the time and space to process and start over if things haven’t gone to plan.
Professor Ewan Gillon is a Chartered Psychologist and Clinical Director for First Psychology Scotland with centres in Aberdeen and Inverness