I admit it. I am guilty. I am one of those individuals who secretly hoped that once the current lockdown was partly lifted we would all go back to some level of normalcy, only better.
I was hoping and expecting, perhaps like many of us, that as soon as the 1st of May dawned we would all jump back into daily routines that were mostly similar to the ones we enjoyed prior to the lockdown.
And now I know with certainty that this will not be the case and that our lives are not going to look the same as before.
It is also clear that the coronavirus is not going anywhere anytime soon. And the realisation that is beginning to sink in for many of us is that increasing numbers of people within our local communities are going to be infected with the virus and/or are going to starve. And, as a result, there will be people we know who are going to become really sick and some of these people may die “before their time”.
One important outcome of this is that most of us are going to experience multiple losses, not only of people we know and care about but also losses relating to one’s finances, one’s dreams for the future, one’s way of life, etc.
We will each continue to wear a face mask, engage in regular hand sanitizing, maintain social distancing in public spaces, but beyond this we have no control over the spread of the virus outside of our homes and within the homes of our friends and family.
The lack of a sense of control over one’s life and one’s health and wellbeing coupled with the enormous feelings of uncertainty relating to almost every aspect of life and living is potentially very anxiety-provoking. And, if we don’t manage our anxiety levels well and we don’t process our losses effectively then the ongoing result of all of this is chronic emotional stress (and, for some of us, some level of long-term psychological trauma).
So, an important question to ask oneself is: How can I effectively reduce emotional stress on a daily basis so that it does not become chronic in nature?
The first consideration relates to how willing you are to keep learning and to make changes in how you think, feel and act. This is fundamental to your success in learning how to reduce your risk for chronic emotional stress.
The second consideration relates to the fact that to learn and become competent in any new set of skills and abilities, such as are involved in the effective reduction of emotional stress, requires regular daily practice.
If you have the willingness and motivation to learn and practice a new set of skills and abilities, then I believe it is worth considering a mindfulness-based approach to stress reduction. This is because mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is not only the most well-researched approach to effectively reducing chronic stress but it is also the most effective approach (according to the ongoing research conducted over a period of more than 40 years thus far).
So, let me tell you a little bit about my personal experience before and after I received mindfulness training as part of my initial education as a psychologist many years ago.
Before my training, when a stressful situation arose, such as during a difficult interpersonal interaction, involving conflict for example, I would quickly and quite automatically do everything I could to avoid the emotion of anxiety...the unpleasant feelings, thoughts and physical body sensations that would be triggered within me by the situation.
My training in mindfulness led me to start practising mindfulness on a daily basis, and this resulted in me being able to see clearly, for the first time, how certain difficult emotions, such as anxiety and uncertainty, motivated me to act or react in certain habitual and self-defeating ways.
In other words, practising mindfulness made it possible for me to identify my emotional habit of avoidance and release it, and start building a more accepting attitude towards my experience of anxiety and other difficult emotions.
This mindful state of mind has proven to be critical to my wellbeing and, especially, to my relationship with my two children. Before their births, I had imagined that I would be a cool, calm and collected father no matter what my very busy life would throw at me. So it was quite a surprise to find that I would, in fact, frequently get caught up in powerful feelings of impatience and frustration during stressful times.
Once again, however, mindfulness helped me to more clearly see this self-defeating emotional habit of mine. And, once again, I was able to release it and start building my ability to recognise the first signs of impatience and frustration as they started to arise within me.
Catching these unpleasant emotions at an early stage in the process gave me the time that I needed to make a conscious choice with regard to how I would respond to a difficult situation involving my children. Simply breathing deeply and slowly in these difficult situations was generally all that I needed to do to bring me back to a place of relative calm. And I was then able to express what I was feeling in a way that was far more caring and constructive.
Importantly, regular mindfulness practise has resulted in a significant change in my relationship to my inner experiences, from fighting against (i.e. avoiding) and/or getting stuck in difficult emotions to one of observing and accepting the feelings, thoughts and body sensations which I now simply hold in our awareness.
The more you practice mindfulness the less power your anxiety and other difficult emotions will have over you. And, one way to learn the basics of mindfulness is to enrol on a course...
So it is with great excitement that I am able to inform you that, after many, many months of making videos, gathering articles, writing course notes, etc, my new online mindfulness course is about to be launched (on Sunday the 17th May 2020). I will keep you updated.
Keep an eye open for my next newsletter delivered to your inbox in a few day’s time.
With warm regards,
Alistair Mork-Chadwick (Psychologist)