I’m writing this from home on another stunning Spring morning. What a bizarre time this is, so uncertain and yet full of unexpected beauty! After many months of trudging through mud with my dog, Rosa, we are suddenly enjoying the best Spring weather I’ve experienced in years.
How touching it is to see so many couples and families of all ages out walking together! And I’m seeing boys out on bikes, larking about in ways they did when I was a kid! I’m trusting they’re all from the same households!
I’m very aware that I’m in the privileged position of having no children at home as they’re all grown up and I have no surviving elderly relatives to be concerned about (though I do have friends!) so perhaps I can enjoy the unexpected joys of this strange time more than most.
Who knew, for example, that we’d all be getting into Zoom and Houseparty? Whoever thought that the Green Goddess would come out of hiding or that families would be doing PE with Joe Wicks? Or that Jamie Oliver would have another go at teaching the nation to cook? If Brits learn to survive on something other than pasta and tinned tomatoes, that’s got to be a win! As for YouTube, it’s a wonderful parade of the wacky and the witty, making us laugh at ourselves and our situation.
Perhaps I am nauseatingly positive. As a counsellor whose lead model is CBT, it has slowly become part of my DNA to capture negative automatic thoughts and assumptions and to challenge them. It’s still a work in progress but I am learning not to worry. Worry, of course, has it’s uses. It can alert us to danger, help us to plan, get us motivated and keep us on task. It will remind us to wash our hands for 20 seconds (thank you, Gloria Gaynor - singing ‘I will survive’ whilst lathering seems a lot more appropriate than ‘Happy Birthday’!), keep 2 metres apart and only go out once a day. But like everything in life, balance is important. Worrying about the future so much that it is damaging our enjoyment of the present is never helpful. Mindfulness can be our friend here – the discipline of attending to the here and now, really noticing and appreciating. Here’s a link to some of my favourite Mindfulness meditations. The Chocolate meditation is a great way to get young people interested! http://franticworld.com/free-meditations-from-mindfulness/
If you haven’t come across the famous Master Oogway clip from ‘Kung Fu Panda’ yet, now is a good time: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nq8loZlpa_8 It’s always a gentle wake up call, I find, when anxiety about the future looms. Perhaps, however, it’s appropriate just now to interrogate the bit about the past being history? Unhealthy dwelling upon past mistakes, wrongs and difficulties is certainly unhelpful – but if we are genuinely concerned that we might lose someone to the virus, and there is forgiveness we want to voice or apologies we want to make or love we want to share, then this is the time to do it. As someone who lost both parents suddenly and unexpectedly, I can’t tell you how much I regret not having had that opportunity.
Another particularly helpful way of managing anxiety is to look at what we can and can’t control. Here’s a helpful graphic. It’s American so please substitute ‘Government Guidelines’ for ‘CDC recommendations’. I know that my own default position is ‘I need a plan!’: it’s a great antidote to anxiety because it gives me a sense of control. We live in a wild universe. We like to think that we are in control but the arrival of a new virus shows us painfully and thoroughly what a fallacy that is. There are, however, aspects of the situation over which we have some control and others that are beyond us. Our plans need to focus on the bits where we do have some agency. It is a waste of energy to give headspace to what we can’t control.
As is well understood in twelve-step programmes ‘Powerlessness is the beginning of wisdom.’ If we acknowledge and accept the areas over which we have no power, then we cut out a whole swathe of stuff to worry about! And the stuff left? Well, worry still won’t help us – but making a plan and carrying it out, just might!
On that note, here’s a wonderful mental health resource, shared with me by Marie Buckley, Acting Head of Psychology, which might help us all plan to look after our young people and, indeed ourselves, both emotionally and mentally at this challenging time. https://www.annafreud.org/on-my-mind/self-care/
Do remember that Gemma and I are still offering counselling by telephone and are always happy to arrange one-off appointments to parents who want to talk to us about their sons prior to counselling or simply to talk issues through, though counselling boys does take priority. Please contact us via my email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Finally, if you need some instant cheer, you might like one of these, the first for sheer joy and exuberance and the second for a good laugh and appreciation of wit and resilience in tough times!
I wish you good health and all the very best in this difficult situation.
Head of Counselling