Was it only the beginning of March that some of us were laughing off this dreadful virus? Lots of jokes were doing the rounds via the internet and most people were carrying on as normal. What a difference a couple of weeks makes. Now it is no laughing matter. There is stockpiling, social distancing, escaping to the country or - unimaginable - being forced into lockdown for an unlimited time.
Two weeks ago, I was at the cinema watching one film and thinking about seeing another. Days - but a totally different world later - The Times tempted me into an online article entitled “The Truth: Two icons are finally sharing a screen."
I was amazed at the article. “What?”, I thought when I saw it was about Catherine Deneuve and Juliette Binoche, the film I was so looking forward to at my recent cinema visit. “Who cares? How can they pretend this is important?” Life is definitely not going on in the way I’ve always known it.
What is a person to do?
When someone decides s/he would like to explore their inner world through psychotherapy, we, as therapists, will often try to help them get in touch with their hidden feelings, feelings that may have been hidden for many years. It may take time and hard work but when that process ends well - and it often does - it’s very satisfying for both client and therapist. Being in touch with your feelings can be the key to living a healthy and enjoyable life.
Therefore, what I’m going to say here goes completely against what I would usually say as a counsellor. But it has to be said. Here goes...
NOW IS THE TIME TO LET THE HEAD RULE THE HEART. NOW IS THE TIME FOR RATIONAL BEHAVIOUR, NOT AN OVERREACTING EMOTIONAL RESPONSE.
Let me explain. Life is frightening at the moment and, when we are frightened, we go into instinctive response mode to dealing with it.
Our reptilian response (led by the amygdala and the one that we needed in order to survive in our prehistoric days) goes into flight, fight or freeze mode. It’s also known as our primal brain and it serves a very useful purpose to protect us when we sense we’re in danger.
I have written about it before when talking about hyper-vigilance. It was appropriate then but we are no longer in “normal times”.
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But, set against that, we’re not facing a moment-by-moment life-threatening situation where a hungry lion or tiger has appeared in front of us and, in this instance, we have to react at speed and therefore need that primal response. It makes us react fast and unthinkingly and is an instinctive and instant reaction to save us in a split second when we do not have time to think. However, it is not a response to hold on to for any length of time.
We in the West have been lucky in recent years. Unlike other parts of our same world, we have not been caught up in the relentless terror of war or social disruption and we have been given the chance to develop and move on to live in a society where most of us are not in imminent danger. That has allowed us to further develop and advance our way of thinking, allowing us to become the chillaxed, untroubled people we like to believe we are.
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We are told we are at the beginning of this and we are presently in a position where we feel helpless, fearful, unable to trust - because those we vote for have no idea either - and, worst of all, there is nothing we can do about it. No wonder we are scared.
So, may I suggest we each individually learn to avoid the chaos swirling around our minds and instead concentrate on finding way to manage our own scattered thoughts. Personally, I am going to comply with official advice (this is not my time to rebel) while hoping the authorities are doing their best.
I am working on the rational notion that none of them wants to be in this situation either and, while confined to my little home, I will allow myself to escape this world by reading, listening to music, watching escapist TV and maybe doing the odd stretching exercises. I will also talk to friends, rather than text them and appreciate the value of human contact, even if it is not in person. I will remember how I feel about that now and take it with me afterwards - and there will be an afterwards.
I am going to be very aware of what is going on for me physically so I can connect my body to allow me and monitor my health. But, as far as my head is concerned, I am going to put on my “thinking” rather than “feeling” hat and use the rational part of my brain to guide me through the over-abundance of information that is out there.
Hopefully, with practice, my brain will settle down to do the job it has evolved to do and that will give my body a chance to calm down and stay strong. I wish you and your loved ones well.