A psychotherapist’s perspective on managing the ‘coronacoaster’

We’re in unprecedented times. The Covid-19 pandemic has contributed to us experiencing unprecedented emotions. So much so that there’s a new word for our ups and downs: the ‘coronacoaster’.

  • One day you may feel absolutely fine, as though life feels manageable and in control and solid.
  • Another day, you may feel as though you’re in panic, freaking out about the reality of what’s happening.
  • Other days you may feel so low that you can barely move: all the plans you’d had for this ‘time off’ may have come to nothing, and you may be beating yourself up for being unproductive.

All of the above may be your ‘new normal’. It can feel weird to have so many emotional ups and downs – and perhaps rather cliche to call this a ‘rollercoaster’. However, in our lifetime we haven’t been through this before: separated from our loved ones, being in an enclosed environment for days and weeks on end, and not having any certainty or security about what will happen next.

As a psychotherapist, I have seen people become supremely comfortable with being separated from the world, and interacting only digital ways – and others who climbing the walls to get out and back into life (with whatever that will mean). Sometimes the same person will experience both extremes in the same day. Feelings and emotions that may have existed before lockdown may now be heightened as a result of being shut in your home.

I’m therefore offering some tips from a psychotherapist’s perspective to managing these emotional ups and downs:

Know that there will be ups and downs. Acceptance is the first step to feeling a tiny bit easier about what’s going on.

Take control of what you can. ‘Out there’ is a biggie. You can’t control what’s going on in the world, what politicians and their advisors do or say, or what your neighbours are doing. You can only take control of what is in your control. And you can only really control your response to what is happening, rather than let it get to you.

Limit what stresses you. This may be TV news bulletins, social media feeds, emails from friends. Why put yourself through endless streams of content that unsettles or distresses you?

Focus on small, achievable tasks. Being stuck at home can make life feel as though it is stretching out unendingly. Making your day feel as though you have achieved something can be a help. Create a structure for your day. Create a to-do list and tick off tiny little tasks that you can accomplish. This can be something as simple as washing up last night’s dishes, calling your relative, or tidying up your laptop screen. The feeling of achieving something is what’s important.

Write down your dreams, as they may be quite vivid at this time. Dream time is usually an opportunity to process your day. With less activity in your daily world, your dreams may be dipping back into much more unconsious material.

On your heightened days… try to get back into your body by doing exercise or getting in flow by doing what helps you lose yourself in the moment, be it gardening, dancing, singing, humming, cleaning, cooking, baking etc.

On your low days… It may help to journal your thoughts, to draw or build them, to help gain perspective from what is dragging you down. Speak to loved ones who can bolster you through the troughs of your mood.

Trust that you will get through this. 

If you’re struggling and need professional support to get through this, call /text me on 07956 823501 and we can arrange a time to speak. Sessions are available by phone or Zoom during Covid-19.

Can there ever be a timescale for “getting over” a bereavement?

Is it possible to put a day and time on when you'll feel better after a bereavement?

Is it possible to put a day and time on when you’ll feel better after a bereavement?

I’ve always taken the view that bereavement has no timescale attached to it. The day will come when the pain alleviates, but it won’t disappear for good. Grief is for life. And we learn to live with it. I believe that we grieve for as long as we need to, even when the rest of the world believes we should be “getting over it”. Whatever “over it” means.

However, new research from a charity that offers end-of-life care is challenging my views. A survey of 2053 people by the Sue Ryder charity, which offers support and advice on death, dying and bereavement, has calculated the amount of time it takes to feel better after a bereavement: two years, one month and four days. Crucially, the research found that people who had someone to talk to about their grief would recover far more quickly than people who couldn’t open up about it. People with no support grieved, on average, for nearly three years (an extra eight months, three weeks and five days compared with people who could speak about their feelings).

Significant stats from the Sue Ryder survey include:

  • A third said bereavement had a negative effect on their wellbeing, with some considering suicide.
  • A quarter suffered in silence, bottling up emotions that would then explode at a later date.
  • People aged 45-54 took twice as long to feel better than 16-24-year-olds.
  • Women take longer than men to feel better: two years and four months compared with one year and nine months.
  • One in four men said they couldn’t talk about bereavement with anyone, compared with one in seven women.
  • One in 10 people were too embarrassed to admit they were scared or upset.

The Sue Ryder charity is offering an online forum for support following a bereavement, as it may be easier to open up anonymously if embarrassment kicks in at not being able to “cope”.

My view is that one’s bereavement is one’s bereavement. The length of time it takes to grieve depends on the circumstances of the death, the attachment you had to the person who’s died, and how you feel about yourself at the time. Reaching out for help can be a lifeline. But only you can know when the time is right for you.

Why bereavement can feel like getting lost in space

Like this astronaut, losing gravity is a powerful metaphor for grief. (pic courtesy of porbital/FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Losing gravity is a powerful metaphor for grief. (pic courtesy of porbital/FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Anyone who has seen the movie Gravity will know that it wows on two fronts: one, for its special effects, which have won it countless film awards; and two, for the grief metaphor that runs like a slow teardrop down a window pane until it sploshes, with relief, into the credits at the end.

One of the on-screen phrases at the start of Gravity is: ‘Life in space is impossible.’ It can feel beyond a bereaved mind to contemplate how you will never see the person again, and how life will never, ever have the same richness or colour as when the person lost was alive. LIfe, as we’ve known it, will literally never be the same again. Living can feel impossible.

Anyone who has lost anybody close to them will know how tempting it is to (more…)

Can you ‘do an Oprah’ and let go of claustrophobic clutter?

davanti clutter“Knowing what you need is more than knowing what you want,” says Oprah Winfrey in an article about clearing her clutter. Big words, big aim – but not making anyone immune to the anxiety that goes with clearing out the clutter of our lives that can keep us stuck.

Even Oprah admits to feeling some anxiety – and wanting to buy back some of her stuff – when dealing with the emotional impact of saying goodbye to some of her most prized possessions. Ultimately, her instincts were that “instead of feeling walled in by stuff, [she] want[ed] to feel surrounded by calm”.

Having a vision for a cleared space is admirable. Many of us want to feel less ‘walled in’ by our clutter, but there can be so much invested in the objects we hold dear – especially if those objects belonged to someone who is no longer in our lives.

Oprah’s point is that our stuff doesn’t have to own us, but it can be so hard to let go. Who’s to say when it’s time to let go of a particular object?

Experience of letting go shows that you more you’re able to release to the world, the more the world is able to release to you. Hold onto the objects that you’ve paid a fortune for, but you have no further need of, and work out what you will get in return. Release objects to people who really need them, instead of hoarding them yourself, surely has to be the opportunity we’ve been given: to bestow on others the gifts that we have been given ourselves.

In Oprah’s words – assuming we’re not wanting for our basic needs – then “less actually is so much more”.

Bereaved people are ‘failed’ by employers, says charity

Eight in 10 people support paid compassionate leave for the bereaved. (pic: istockphoto.com/kzenon)

Eight out of 10 people would support paid bereavement leave. (pic: istockphoto.com/kzenon)

Employers need to put more compassion into the term ‘compassionate leave’ and give more support to their workers who are going through a bereavement, according to the Dying Matters Coalition, an alliance of 16,000 charities, hospices and care homes.

Its report Life after death: Six steps to improve support in bereavement – produced in conjunction with the National Bereavement Alliance the National Council for Palliative Care – concludes that bereaved people in Britain are being “failed by a lack of support in the workplace”.

Its survey of 4,000 workers found that half of people would leave their employer if they were not given sufficient support when a loved one died – and a third who had been bereaved in the last five years felt their employers had not treated them with compassion.

Eight out of 10 people polled would back a change in the law to offer paid bereavement leave to employees who had lost someone close to them – with 82% believing this leave would be beneficial to employers in the long term because the workers would feel supported through a difficult period. And nine out of 10 think employers should have a ‘compassionate employment policy’ offering support and flexible working to the bereaved. (more…)

Survey proves that miscarriage is the same as losing a child

Miscarriage still carries so much shame and taboo. (pic: istockphoto.com: theresajam1)

Miscarriage still carries so much shame and taboo. (pic: istockphoto.com: theresajam1)

I always find it a curiosity that so many people do not take a miscarriage as seriously or as sympathetically as a death. But a new survey carried out in the US shows that two-thirds (66%) of men and women who have experienced a miscarriage say that it carries the emotional equivalent to losing a child.

I’m amazed it is only two-thirds. A treasured, hoped-for life has been lost. The plans for the future have been scuppered. The rounded belly of impending motherhood has been punctured. And then comes the shame of failure, the sadness of lost hope, and the blame and guilt for what they could have done differently. 
(more…)

Later-life crisis creates ‘silver sufferers’, says research

A later life crisis can be transformative in a positive or negative way. (pic: istockphoto.com/belory4ka)

A later life crisis can be transformative in a positive or negative way. (pic: istockphoto.com/belory4ka)

Move over, mid-life crisis. It’s the later-life crisis that’s becoming more of a concern for the helping profession. A third of people say they’ve had a life crisis in their 60s, in research by University of Greenwich psychologist Dr Oliver Robinson. How they respond to the crisis can determine the quality of the rest of their lives.

Men and women experience life crisis equally, with 32% of male respondents and 33% of female saying they’d had a life crisis since the age of 60. Reasons for the crisis – which is defined as two or more stressful events – include bereavement, illness or injury – as well has caring for a loved one who is ill or disabled.

A life crisis can trigger an existential anxiety about frailty and death. People can either respond by living life to the full and enjoying every moment, or they can become withdrawn and increasingly isolated.

Dr Robinson says: “It seems that when loss-inducing events occur together or in close proximity in time, a person’s capacity to cope in their 60s is overwhelmed and a later life crisis is precipitated. This range of reactions suggests that later life crisis is always transformative, but this transformation can lead towards either growth or decline.”