Coping with a lack of control during the Covid-19 Pandemic
Routine can be wonderful; they allow us to foster habits that help us towards our goals and aspirations – whether that be simply the goal of not ‘having’ to make too many visits to the dentist, so we build a habit of cleaning our teeth or supporting our productivity to get our work done as efficiently as possible so that we can progress up the ladder. Habits and routine keeps us motivated and structured in our approach to life. So when something like the Covid-19 pandemic hits and many routines and habits have to change, this can leave us feeling anxious, frustrated and even a little bit lost.
For many of us, our routines and habits are so well formed, we barely noticed ourselves doing them – but we’re definitely noticing NOT doing them now; time can feel like it’s slipping away and when we don’t adhere to routine and we find ourselves achieving less, we can chastise ourselves for not being the best version of ourselves we expect to be.
For some, flexibility and the ability to ‘go with the flow’ can come naturally, but for others; where control is important to their optimal functioning, this situation can feel quite debilitating. Throw the kids or a partner you’re not used to having around whilst trying to get things done into the mix and you’ve also got an unpredictable environment to deal with – and lets not even throw in the anxiety around the virus. I think we get it, control is hard to come by right now. So here are a few ways to ease the pressure on yourself if the lack of control is starting to affect your mood:
- Try noting down all of things going on at the moment, how you’re feeling, how the rest of your household are behaving, your work, any concerns around the house or environment etc… now cross out any that you do not have control of the next step to move forward. For the rest, simply write down what the smallest thing you can do to move forwards would be – then plan when and how you’re going to do it. This gives you additional control, work next step by next step.
- For those things you cannot control, identify what your real fears are about each one, what is the absolute worst that can happen? Then ask yourself “What will I do if this actually happens?” sometimes, looking at the practicalities of things makes the potential result a little less scary. Plus, by knowing what we might have to do, we can put actions in place to tackle it if it does happen.
- Allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling – trying to fight fear, or sadness for example makes it harder to deal with, allow yourself the chance to experience these emotions. Think of times when these emotions have come before and how you have dealt with them, try those coping mechanisms again – and note them down for future reference. Actually allowing yourself to experience these emotions reminds you that you’d rather not feel them from the same experience again and can motivate you to find ways to tackle the situation in a different way. Remember, feelings are not permanent either, they ebb and flow; remind yourself that this too shall pass…. ‘Negative’ emotions can drive us to positive action, try and find the positive action from each feeling – ask yourself “What can I do to help myself move forward here?”
- As a positive psychologist, I’m a big fan of gratitude exercises; these are something shown in science to support wellbeing during these tough times – I’m practicing hard at the moment. Take time to remind yourself of all the good things in your life, from small things like the sun shining today (I’ve been noticing the sounds of nature in the morning instead of cars rushing off to work, it’s beautiful) to the big things, like having a loving partner. Noting all the things you notice you are grateful for in your life regularly can help you to focus on what you do have in life, rather than the things that you are struggling with. This isn’t to say, they magically disappear but it helps you to pinpoint resources that your mindset may have brushed over.
- Focus on positive emotions. No, i’m not asking you to simply ‘think positively’ that doesn’t help – but what does help to bring your mindset back into one more able to support better decision making is to focus on activities and actions that give you positive emotions. The science shows that the more positive emotions we have, the more we broaden our cognitive ability and give us access to more of our mental resources to tackle these challenging situations. Simply find short, meaningful activities that bring you peace, joy, interest or amusement for example and keep encouraging yourself to engage with these on a regular basis during your day. When you feel yourself slipping into a mindset where you really can’t think straight, it’s time to get up, grab the yoga mat and pull a few moves (if this is something that brings you peace and clarity for example) or listen to 3 tracks of your favourite music. Try it, it works. Note down these little activities and keep a nice little list to pick and choose from when those low moments strike.
When you can’t control a situation, you can feel overwhelmed, powerless, helpless and hopeless. It’s demoralising to think there’s nothing you can do. Or maybe we know there are many things we can do, but we don’t have the energy. When this happens, when you feel this way, move slowly. Focus on yourself. Take one small, tiny step. Take a breath. Talk to a trusted loved one. Write a few words about what you need. Take your time. In other words, be kind and gentle with yourself. 🙂