Days blur together. It is difficult to know if it is a Monday or a Saturday. We have been living this new life for less than 2 weeks and yet our normal ways of living are fast becoming memories. So how are you doing? Of course, your reaction will be shaped by your income, whether you are working or furloughed, whether you have children to amuse whilst trying to work, whether you are alone, whether you have a home office or are trying to work from the kitchen table. Whether work has been an escape from home difficulties or the place you most want to come home to.
However, whatever your situation there are stages which typically we will go through in coming to terms with how we are being asked to live.
Psychologists suggest that there are 4 stages that we move through in coming to an acceptance of what is.
Stage 1: Uncertainty.
The weeks before lockdown was marked by that uncertainty. Would it happen? What will it mean for me? Do I need to do anything different, when it feels unreal? Are we like other countries or different? It was a time for some to deny the looming reality in order to protect against feelings of anxiety. It was also time when for others catastrophising came to the fore. When watching the news and following social media leads to imagining the worst, and yet doing so is compulsive
Stage 2: Disruption
When what is required becomes real then strong emotions emerge. To have one’s wedding cancelled or not be able to visit a loved one in a care home or hospital. To not go on that holiday that had been long planned or have that big birthday celebration. To not be able to go out whenever one wants to. Disruptions to our lives bring out the big emotions: sadness, fear, anger. The fear of not being able to get medication makes a normally amiable soul become abusive with the pharmacist, a reasonable shopper becomes a self-protecting greedy stockpiler. There are tears of disappointment that celebrations are denied, or even that an exam that had been dreaded, now will not happen. The world seems unfair.
Stage 3: Adaptation
In this stage there is some acceptance that something different is needed. If we cannot change the reality, we can adjust how we deal with it. It’s not just that technophobes have become Zoom zealots, it’s not just the many initiatives that people are using to raise our spirits, it’s learning how to be with each other in close confinement. It’s building new routines into our lives to break up the day, it’s discovering the upsides of a disruption. It may even be discovering that work is not as important as you thought it was. It’s learning that not consuming can bring positive emotions.
Stage 4: Normal
At the end of this you will have developed new norms, in how you live, how you work and how you connect. As much as you may initially rush back to what was familiar, you will do so with a sense that there are now other choices. You will have internalised new norms which will shape how you choose to live and work.
So in less than two weeks in where are you in those 4 phases.
Struggling with Uncertainty
If you are still struggling with uncertainty, focus your mind on what is known right now. When you look ahead you are inviting in the catastrophiser. Instead ask yourself:
- What is true right now?
- What thoughts and actions can help me to deal with the current truth?
Finding it Difficult to Deal with Disruption
- What disruptions are you experiencing that are evoking strong emotions?
- Which of those disruptions will look small in 6 months’ time?
- Which of those disruptions will be less painful if you look at them through a lens of acceptance rather than resistance or guilt?
- What is not being disrupted in your life?
- What have you adapted in how you think, feel and behave without even noticing?
- What fears do you have about making adaptations to how you live and work. When you hold them up to the light how real are, they?
- What adaptations are adding to the quality of your life?
- What adaptations are you or could you make that connect you to a bigger sense of purpose (your own or the wider community)
The New Normal
- What have you adapted to or created that you want to continue into the future?
- What are you learning in this time that you want to become a sustainable new normal?
- How are you going to sustain the new normal when the old norms start to reappear?
Whereever you are recognise that you will move constantly through the phases and it will not be linear. You can have a new normal day followed by one where you fall back into uncertainty. That is human. By noticing that our responses change regularly, you also know that tomorrow can be different even in the world of lockdown.