Melanie Reid, the Times magazine columnist, wrote recently that, ‘Bravery is a concept I’ve always been suspicious of. I’m not sure it exists. Mainly it’s what you do when there isn’t really an option to do anything else. Bravado, though, that’s something else altogether; a conceit, a performance…
She goes on to say that over time she has remodelled herself, ‘as a paragon of cheery fortitude, a total pro at making the best of things. I did it for my family and I did it for myself, and everyone assumed I was as strong and humorous as I appeared. Thus you grow into your mask.’
However, as with many of us, the pandemic has challenged that resourcefulness to breaking point and she finds herself waiting for the cavalry to arrive. I think we all have our own concept of the cavalry, the light at the end of the tunnel, the relief that may come in the shape of a vaccination, or the lifting of restrictions, or finding a new job, or being with friends and family, or a holiday…
But, unfortunately, it’s not here yet and we live with the uncertainty of not knowing when it will. So, worn down by yet another lockdown, how do we cope while we wait? When sometimes it is hard to muster up the hope of a better future, or find the energy to deal with another groundhog day?
Stoicism has its limits and we need to be regularly checking in on ourselves in order to recognise the times when we really are not ok. Then, when the cracks begin to appear, to also recognise it is time to reach out for help. Repressing anxiety only works until the dam bursts. It is fine to acknowledge that a tipping point moment has come and it is necessary to offload.
Also remember that, if your dread and despair is overwhelming and you feel alone, the Samaritans’ helpline is open 24 hours on 116 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org and there is always someone available to talk.
As human beings we are hard-wired to make connections and attachments with other people, and the enforced isolations and quarantines and reliance on contact through screens has been particularly challenging. The brave mask can slip, the chin can wobble – and it is not just mental toughness that can get us through. In fact, it is often the opposite. Relief is at hand when we risk reaching out and speaking openly to reveal our personal fears. We are fortunate if we have someone close who will listen and offer reassurance, and who will remind us of our strengths and capabilities and the times we coped in the past. However, we can also find support in unexpected places if we drop façades of bravado. Accepting what seems to be a paradox, we can find strength through being vulnerable. If we give ourselves permission to lean on others we do not have to endure alone and we can renew our inner resources and resilience. Sometimes linking with another person creates that ‘whole that is greater than the sum of the parts’.
This could also be the time to seek out a therapist who can offer the space for unpacking a confusion of pent-up feelings. Therapy can help us to explore and understand what seems to be a tangle of distressing negative thoughts. Bottling up emotions can make it hard to keep perspective, and letting them out safely in an environment of compassionate curiosity can diffuse their painful intensity. Interpretations and insights can uncover alternative methods of managing difficult responses and reactions – and encourage confidence and control.
Journaling is a more private method (though your notes can be shared with a partner, or a friend, or a therapist, if it feels appropriate). The process of expressing a jumble of anxious thoughts can lead to an understanding of triggers and stressors – and recognition of effective strategies for mental relief.
[It is recommended that you designate a special notebook and write only on one side of the page. Write with a free-flowing stream-of-consciousness without managing, editing or censoring. Write in the journal every day – or more than once if it helps. It may be enough to write and close the book. You may wish to rip up the pages and let the pieces float away. It may help to read back. You make the decisions. It is your personal safe space to express yourself. You may wish to write a positive thought on the opposite page; or statements that contradict the negative biases contained in your outpouring. Sort out beliefs from facts. Highlight and challenge any distorted or judgemental opinion]
Life’s blows can be cruel and life does not always feel fair or kind. Sometimes the most we can do is be in the moment, steady ourselves, and breathe.
NHS Better Health – every mind matters is an NHS mind plan tailored to help during the coronavirus outbreak. For, as well as taking time for physical exercise to keep our bodies in an optimum health, we need to pay mindful attention to preparing our minds to withstand stress.
For some it helps to give space for a daily meditation exercise. As with all such suggestions, establishing a steady daily routine means we are more likely to maintain the habit. Try: HackSpirit 4 Mindful Breathing Exercises
Sometimes we can consciously change a suffocating, deadening, negative energy by engaging dynamically with nature and the arts.
[Saturate in music. Dance without inhibition. Find humour. Be silly. Read a poem. Get absorbed in nature, the garden, the park, a leaf. Find a picture you connect with. See ‘The Seven Most Calming Works of Art in the World’ by The School of Life Create your own list]
‘When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves… to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances… to choose one’s own way.’
‘Man’s Search for Meaning’Viktor Frankl (1946)