April 10th, 2020
The Coronavirus crisis is forcing every one of us to adapt, to pivot and to accommodate new norms. We are all dealing with challenges and there will be days when we are responding calmly and with compassion and humour and other days when we feel anxious, angry or despairing and our responses then may include snapping at our loved ones, micro-managing our families or retreating to our beds. We may be surprised by our responses.
What are you learning about yourself? There may be huge opportunity for growth here. The disease and the necessary limitations imposed in order to limit its spread may provide a real opportunity for us to develop self-awareness in a way we haven’t encountered before.
Stress testing is a term that is used both in the medical world and in engineering and it involves putting stress on the heart, or a piece of concrete, to see how it performs when challenged. A cardiogram is performed to see what the real state of your heart and blood vessels is and to reveal potential weaknesses that may not show up in ordinary life. We’re being stress tested right now and it may reveal the true state of our emotional health. As with the results of an ECG this gives us a chance to take action about our mental health.
We’re being confronted with our emotions more than ever before. This is an opportunity to examine how I am dealing with my feelings –do I reach for alcohol to numb or TV to distract or do I plough into work or exercise furiously? Am I rowing with my partner and snapping at my children? Has my response to this crisis been to reach out to others or to retire inwards? Do I feel as if there’s nothing I can do or can I see that I am doing something just by staying at home. Do I feel I have to do everything myself or am I relying more on others? Am I prepared to ask for help when I need it?
For myself I found that when the crisis really took hold in Europe and I became aware of how wide-ranging the issue was I was filled with anxiety, not for myself particularly because I am not in any of the categories that we were being advised were vulnerable to the virus, and I thought I might be able to weather the storm financially, but for the world generally. I was filled with sadness which then became despair and I felt real bone-aching tiredness. Then I found there were things I needed to do for my business and for our clients whom I could support. Once I started feeling as if I could be useful I found a new sense of purpose and less hopelessness.
Pay attention to whatever feelings come up for you –be curious about them. Curiosity leads to compassion. There’s been a lot of judgment in mainstream and social media about people who engaged in panic-buying and those who don’t seem to be observing social distancing. It’s been characterised as selfishness but maybe there is fear behind those actions. As parents we need to think about why our children behave in ways that aren’t acceptable and we can model that non-judgmental, curious approach when considering the behaviour of strangers too. People who have experienced past hurt have fear built into their systems and that fear response gets triggered easily. Their response in the present reflects their past experience (which may be hidden even from themselves). When we don’t know what’s triggering us we tend not to be as flexible in our responses.
A great gift we can give our children is self-awareness and self-compassion. When we are conscious of what we are feeling and we learn to tolerate those feelings we can manage our responses better. If we can sit with our own feelings we can respond effectively to our children’s feelings.
Parental stress has a huge impact on children so the best thing we can do for our kids is to take care of ourselves. I know it’s difficult if you are working from home and looking after kids at the same time but think of the time you’re saving by not commuting! Build some time for yourself into your day even if it’s only half an hour in the bath with music and candles.
My advice would be to talk to your children about your own feelings, and the steps you’re taking to deal with them. I’m tense –I need time to listen to some calming music. Acknowledge vulnerability but don’t make it the child’s problem. When we explain to our children how we are feeling it helps them to understand us and themselves. It makes it less likely that they will make our response be their fault. Otherwise they feel the tension in the air and they make it mean they are wrong. You can say: I’d love to spend time with you but I have to make a work call in 20 minutes. Can we play a quick game of table tennis? That would really help me be calm. That helps the child not to feel wrong but also to feel they can make a contribution.
As well as discovering our internal emotional world what else are we learning?
What internal resources am I finding in myself? Am I actually stronger than I think? Have I got through days of home schooling and achieved something that is in fact good enough? Have l mediated between squabbling siblings, got kids to bed more or less on time and put food on the table? Have I done all this with no preparation but just rose to the occasion because it was required of me?
You’re probably discovering what’s really important to you as so many things have been taken away. Have you found you didn’t really miss some of the things you did regularly, like clothes shopping? Have you found that you can communicate perfectly effectively without spending hours in face to face meetings? Have you found you really do miss the freedom to move about and take in fresh air? Do you miss the gym or has Jo Wickes taken over for life?
You are probably clarifying what and who you value and respect. Is it the Instagram influencers or the people in high status (well paid) jobs or is it the health workers and teachers, the shelf-stackers and truck drivers? Are you finding you really value principles like courage, altruism, solidarity, a sense of community and resourcefulness?
What values would you like your child to take on as a result of this crisis? We can be having meaningful conversations with our children and pointing out to them the examples of admirable behaviour that we see. You might even ask your children what changes they would like to see in the world after Covid-19 has gone away.
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