I believe that all painful experiences bring about some kind of personal change or growth, helping us give meaning to challenging periods in our lives. From the stories shared with me by clients, friends and family members I’ve noticed some common themes which have emerged in relation to the current global crisis. These are themes related to enhanced awareness, a re-evaluation of values and priorities, and realisations about the changes people would like to make in their lives when this situation is over. Here are a few of these:
Compassion for others
As I sat indoors for the last few weeks, 14 days of which were in mandatory quarantine, I couldn’t help thinking how lucky I was that this situation was only temporary and that being indoors so much is exactly what many people go through every day of the year. The elderly, people who are ill, those you are socially isolated and have no-one to meet…this is their daily reality. When this is all over and you can go back to work, meet up with friends, go to your favourite restaurant or café, don’t forget this period of isolation and how lonely or difficult it was. That colleague from abroad who doesn’t seem to have many people to spend time with, or the elderly neighbour you barely see, or that young mother you see taking her baby for a walk who somehow looks so sad…smile at them, say hello, or go the whole hog and check if they’re okay. It really doesn’t take much effort but the difference you could be making to that person may be huge.
Time to re-evaluate priorities
This truly is an anxiety inducing period for all of us. However, a common theme I’ve found in clients, friends and family members, is how slowing down has made them feel healthier. People are waking up naturally, not wasting time sitting in traffic to get to and from work and structuring their days in a way that suits their needs. With the time saved commuting, people are taking the time to cook themselves healthy meals and finding time to relax. As I write this, I think – ‘But shouldn’t this be our norm? These are really basic things we’re talking about here’. How did we get to this point where a worldwide pandemic has to hit for us to slow down and recharge our batteries? I know we all need to pay the bills, but this may be a good moment for us to evaluate our lifestyles, our spending habits and our work-life balance. If we can somehow live with less, we could possibly work less, leaving us more time to spend on ourselves and with the people we love, doing the things which make us happy.
The power of humour
Never before, in such a short space of time, have I received so many comical videos and jokes. Funnily enough, these seem to be sent by the most anxious people I know. Humour is incredibly powerful in its ability to make us laugh at our own fragility and desperation, whilst helping us bond with one another in the process. Ruby Wax, an American comedian who speaks quite openly about her struggle with depression, said it all when she wrote – ‘With the traumatic upbringing I’ve had, I was destined to become a mass murderer or a comedian. I chose comedy’. I’m not suggesting you laugh away your troubles or the seriousness of the current world crisis, but try to maintain balance in what you take in. If you spent most of the day hearing about new cases of Covid-19 and number of deaths, try to watch or read something light in the evening. It’s important we remember that although we’re going through some difficult times, we needn’t lose our human spirit or our ability to laugh at ourselves and with one another. To leave you with some facts, on a biological level, humour is proven to have a number of health benefits. When we laugh, our bodies produce endorphins, which reduce pain, as well as reducing cortisol, which is the stress hormone. Laughing also causes increased production of T-cells, interferon and immune proteins, thereby strengthening your immune system. It’s a win-win!!
Let’s keep talking about mental health
I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but in the past few weeks, more and more people are talking openly about feeling anxious, scared and isolated. Organisations, the Government and private companies are rising to meet the demand by offering free mental health support. Finally, we’re talking about mental health. Maybe people are less likely to feel shame at admitting they’re struggling because their struggle is in response to Covid-19, something which is affecting us all. The reality is that life throws us curveballs sometimes and we may find it hard to cope. We may then go on to experience mental health issues. We may experience depression, anxiety, or struggle with addiction, and it will be a lot easier to get through these periods if we can feel comfortable speaking up and reaching out.
Have you ever seen a child picking up sticks in a park or looking at flowers or leaves and noticing their colours and textures? I’m curious as to when this sense of wonder stops and we start racing through life unaware of the beauty all around us. I sometimes talk to young parents who, wanting the best for their children, ferry them from one activity to another after school and on weekends. Not only do these children barely have time to play and enjoy being children but they’re left with barely enough time to do their homework, eat dinner and relax. From a young age, we’re teaching children that in order to be ‘successful’ they need to push themselves, aim high and spread themselves thin. Really, is that what we want to be teaching our young people? Ideally, we could allow children to learn and grow without such a sense of urgency and pressure, in the hope that when they become adults, they’ll have a more healthy and balanced idea of what constitutes success than we do. If the current crisis can teach us anything, maybe it would be to re-define what it means to be successful and worthy. Maybe having less and doing less is, in fact, more.
I hope that throughout this period of uncertainty and hardship, you can also find meaning in the struggles you’re facing. This may be a time for you to reflect on life as it was before Covid-19 and decide if you want to return to exactly that when it’s over or if you crave and need something quite different.