As the threat posed by COVID-19 continues to build, the rapid pace of change and the new, unfamiliar behaviors we are expected to adopt can feel overwhelming
Even as a life coach and therapist with a heap of tools in my armory, there have been moments during the last week when I’ve felt I’m fighting a losing battle, swinging between chaos and calm. This isn’t surprising when you consider the impact the change has upon us all, illustrated and explained by the change curve, below.
This was developed by Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in 1969 and was originally intended to articulate the emotions experienced by terminally ill patients prior to death, as well as by those who had lost a loved one. It has since been recognized as a model to help people understand the stages of personal transition in a scenario of change.
The change curve outlines that we move through several emotional states such as shock, denial, anger, depression, understanding, and acceptance, before feeling we can move on, having fully adapted to the change.
In these unprecedented times, with the goalposts seemingly shifting every day, we are being thrust into the change curve constantly and before we have a chance to reach the acceptance stage, we are hit within another wave of change which pulls us back to the start.
It’s like a game of snakes and ladders, just as you make some progress, you find yourself sliding down a snake. This generates emotional responses and unhelpful behaviors because the initial stages of the change curve are much more emotional-based than logical. Fear and anxiety, anger and frustration can consume us as we scrabble to understand the newly imposed reality of social distancing, lockdown, home-schooling, financial implications. Add to this the threat to our health and the emotional chaos can feel inescapable.
So what can we do to create a sense of calm? I would recommend five things.
1. Get clear about your own fears
Write down all the things that you are anxious/ scared/ angry/ frustrated/ unsure about. Now subdivide these into two lists: those you can control, and those you can’t. You might be worried about the rising death toll, but there is little you can do to influence this other than following the protocols we are being asked to follow. This would be placed on the ‘Not within my control list’.
Conversely, you may be losing sleep over your financial situation and this is something that is (to a degree) within your control. Once you have your lists, rate each item on a scale of 0-10 where 0 is ‘I’ve totally got this’ and 10 is ‘this is catastrophic.’ The scoring alone can bring a sense of perspective.
2. Scenario plan
Take your ‘Things I can control list’ and reflect on the thoughts you’ve had about each thing you’ve written down. You may have been ruminating and have a series of ‘what if’ scenarios whirring around your head. Rather than let this continue which will keep you stuck in the emotional side of the change curve, start taking positive, logical action.
Work out the practicalities of your ‘worst case’ scenarios. So if you’re thinking ‘What if I don’t get paid for six months?’ sit down and work on a financial plan. How can you cut down spending by reducing outgoings, canceling subscriptions or taking payment holidays? What will you save during lockdown by not traveling, grabbing takeout coffees, eating out and socializing? What financial help is available to you externally? Logically tackling the problem will bring down the score on the catastrophe scale and help you feel like you have more control
When you are experiencing chaos, you perceive a threat to your wellbeing and your body elicits an emotional response called fight/ flight/ freeze
You might be rolling your eyes at this one but consider giving it a go. When you are experiencing chaos, you perceive a threat to your wellbeing and your body elicits an emotional response called fight/ flight/ freeze. This puts your whole system under stress and increases the amount of cortisol in the body. To bring about calm and to prevent this response you need to send a signal to your brain that ‘all is well’ even if your thoughts are telling you it’s not.
Breathing techniques create these signals very effectively. Take a deep, deep breath in through your nose for the count of four. Hold the breath for four. Slowly release for the count of 11. Pause briefly and repeat several times. To maintain the ‘all is well’ signal to your brain, repeat this exercise throughout the day
4. Go to your haven
Havening, a therapeutic technique created by Dr. Ron Ruden, produces delta waves in your brain using touch. When working with a trained practitioner, it effectively neutralizes trauma and negative emotion, but it can also be used as a self-help tool to bring about a sense of peace and calm. I
In my view, this is the best way to elicit a tranquil state quickly. To practice the Havening Technique®, place your right hand on your left shoulder and your left hand on your right shoulder with arms crossed over your chest. Gently stroke your hands down from shoulders to elbows and continue down towards the wrists, before moving back to the shoulders and repeating.
As you apply the havening touch, say the words ‘What if I am calm? What if I am ok? What if I am relaxed?’ Repeat these words combined with the arm stroking for several minutes or until you feel the sense of calm.
5. Remember what is normal
At times of uncertainty and change, it’s easy to get consumed by everything that you need to do differently and to lose sight of the things that haven’t changed. Recognizing the things that have stayed the same, the things you recognize as normal, will anchor you to the familiar and bring down the levels of anxiety you feel.
Ultimately, whilst the current situation we are experiencing is tough, unfamiliar and at times unbelievably scary, know that IT WILL PASS, and we will learn some very valuable lessons as a result.
Stay safe and well.