I don’t know about you but I have been on an emotional rollercoaster since COVID-19 came onto our shores. As we fight the invisible enemy and combat this unprecedented pandemic, feelings of fear, uncertainty, and grief circle around me. These difficult feelings are heightened by media hyperbole and unreassuringly vague government briefings.
As a lawyer who spent five years studying psychotherapy and practices part-time as a psychotherapist, you might not be too surprised to know that I have discovered the benefits of acknowledging feelings rather than judging, hiding, or dismissing them. Perhaps you could acknowledge how you are feeling now, whilst you read this blog, and notice what happens?
Pause for a moment and check in with how you are feeling today. Try saying what you are feeling out loud and not just in your head. Somehow it can feel different to speak the words. The feelings might feel more real. When you actually say what you are feeling to someone else, someone who listens, and might even share some of your feelings about this pandemic, then something important happens. You can feel less alone.
I have also found that it’s important to acknowledge to myself what I am really feeling rather than what I should be feeling. If you are having a difficult day have you ever said to yourself ‘Yes, I feel sad/stressed/ foggy headed today but I shouldn’t feel that; other people have it far worse. I should get on with things and stop moaning.’ It can be so hard to stop and just acknowledge that first feeling.
But how can this sharing of emotions translate into our working environment? Let’s consider the 20th century stereotype of the professional: typically calm, rational, and unemotional. So in times of crisis, it might be more familiar, more appropriate even, to adopt the great British stiff upper lip spirit and say I have no need for support, I am absolutely fine, lest we be judged or people might think we can’t hack it. I know when I started writing this blog a part of me wondered how wise it might be to share my feelings with a wider audience of ‘professionals’. Am I over exposing myself? Will I be judged?
Either way, the neuroscientific evidence supports the notion that sharing feelings and connecting with others breeds psychological resilience. Twenty-first century resilience has been reframed in light of our understanding of the autonomic nervous system and the human brain. Resilience is not having an unlimited capacity to cope and suppressing our feelings (which can lead, amongst other things, to burn out). In fact, resilience is about acknowledging pressures, limits, and personal needs. This process then put us back in the driving seat in a pro-active rather than reactive kind of way. Also, I have discovered when you have more open and honest conversations with people, you tend to build better relationships with them.
So I have been talking with friends, family, and colleagues about their experience during this time. It is clear that due to our different circumstances we are all reacting differently to life during a pandemic. Some have shared positive feelings of how the pandemic has given them time to slow down and have more space to appreciate their life, their family or their garden. At times (at the weekends!) I have felt that too. Many though have also shared feelings of fear, uncertainty, and loss. So I thought I would focus in this blog on feelings of loss and suggest five strategies for coping, or even better, thriving, in these challenging times.
Loss in the time of COVID
During this time it seems to be a common experience that people are in touch with a deep sense of loss and sadness about what is happening around us. Psychologists call it anticipatory grief. Hundreds of people are dying every day and even if you don’t know anyone personally affected, the roll call of these numbers each day has an impact.
When others have shared their feelings with me about the pandemic, I have been struck by how many have brought up other losses in their life, whether to do with loved ones, illness, or other difficult circumstances. I know this is true for me. A deep sense of loss is weighing heavily on me even though my family and I are safe and well. This is because I grew up with a younger brother, Adam, who had a chronic lung condition called Cystic Fibrosis. Throughout his life he shared with me the fear and reality of how a virus might impact his lungs and immune system. He died two years ago. For me this pandemic stirs up those memories leaving me with a mix of love, fear and sadness.
Right now, in addition to the tragic losses of life, health and jobs are the losses experienced by people of all ages; children are missing school and their friends, students will miss their graduations, international holidays look like they are off the cards this summer and we are separated from family and friends when we need them the most. We have also lost the predictability that we are accustomed to in daily life; that we can safely touch a door handle with our bare hands, that we can get a haircut, go to the dentist or spend a Sunday afternoon at the cinema.
So….. what I have learnt
So as I make sense of my feelings at the moment (and wonder how much longer I can cheerfully keep the home schooling up), I have drawn on these resources and approaches to support me:
We all know, especially in times like this, our clients need motivated and emotionally healthy lawyers. Being able to acknowledge and express our emotions, all emotions, is a key part of achieving this.
Claire Jacques LawCare championLawyer at Taylor Vinters LLPPsychotherapist
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