How are you feeling? In these strange times

Just a few weeks ago, having coffee with a friend, visiting the family, attending interest groups and going to our place of work were normal, everyday activities. Now with the imposed isolation and social distancing measures in place we are not able to move freely and socialise in person beyond our homelife; we have lost something. On top of that we are being bombarded with information about the very reason why we are suffering the loss, which only serves as a constant reminder as well as threatening cognitive overload!

Don’t know about you, but I have been struggling to understand how I feel; at first there was stress, indecision and worry. Social media reveals that many people feel anger, increased anxiety, sadness and trouble sleeping and yes, I think at some point I have felt most of these too. So, I have been doing some reading to help me try to understand. It is suggested that this discomfort we feel is grief. We associate grief most readily with the death of a loved one but it can be experienced in relation to lots of things; the loss of a marriage, a job or a way of life. So, we have lost our daily routine, regularity of habits, social interaction and some have lost their jobs and regular income, it is natural to grieve losses but this loss is only temporary. We may grieve but we have the ability to act; to create and adjust to a new normal, recognising it may not have to be for ever.

So what might help us?

Being mindful of our feelings and acknowledging them in the presence of God is really important for our emotional and spiritual wellbeing. The practise of keeping a diary or blog as well as sharing with others we trust can be helpful. Being aware and sharing of ourselves is one thing but we also need to be sensitive to the feelings of those we might be trying to support who may be in a different place, in this boat we are all in together.

We need to think about what is happening to us as being done for us – for our benefit; rather than done to us – which is not at all helpful. Being open to accepting that our current state of isolation as something being done for us may help us to access the opportunities of the now and of the future. However, we do need to be careful that that we don’t set ourselves unrealistic or unattainable goals like perhaps painting the whole house or reading all of Shakespeare’s plays! Adding failure or guilt to the burden we already feel is just piling more straw on the camel’s back! It is perhaps better to succeed at what we need to do rather than fail at what we don’t. We read in the Gospels that Jesus said ”For my yolk is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light” Matthew 11:30. Thank heaven for that!

Recognise and rejoice in the things that have not changed: nature is still doing its thing! The new green leaves are coming on the hedgerows, the birds are singing and the spring flowers are full of promise of better times to come. God is still with us; to those who are faithful He keeps his promises and He never leaves us; He cries with those who suffer; He rejoices with those who recover from illness; He gives us whatever we need to do what we must and He continues to love each one of us; even in isolation we are not alone.

What can we do?

Practise joy, ensuring each day we do things we love doing, that bring us joy.
Stay active; the value of regular physical activity is well proven to be of benefit for body and mind.
Be kind to others and grateful for what we do have and can do; both proven by science to be beneficial at the brain level in connection with wellbeing. Recording each day one daily act of kindness and three things you are grateful for is a practical way to make these things real to us.

Be social; the term ‘social distance’ can generate a feeling of isolation. Technology allows us to socialise in different ways. I have never spent so much time each day on the phone, interacting with a screen or writing emails!! Virtual coffee dates with friends are now a thing in my life thanks to video calls.

Limit news consumption; our brains are just not ready to consume or digest the infinite amount of information available. Trying to take it all in and process it is exhausting and can affect our overall ability to function well. Maybe limiting our intake of info about the current situation to perhaps two, thirty minute slots each day and nothing late into the evening if sleep is an issue.

Save them for later; keeping perspective that this is temporary enables us to save the things we can’t do now for later. My list of things I can’t do now because of COVID19 is getting longer – have a new knee joint, walk my dog, go on a holiday, hug my family but oh my – what excitement when I can! But for now, I am saving them for later.

Ignoring the impact of the current situation on our emotions and spiritual wellbeing and not seeking to adjust life to a ‘new normal’ may be detrimental and unintentionally increase the likelihood of trauma slowly settling in for the long run. We can choose to focus on those things we can be grateful for including our health, our loved ones, the simple things in our lives and when so much is out of our control, the things we can do for ourselves and others to build meaningful lives in the present and for the future – in the presence of God who never abandons us.

Sheila J Gill
Deputy Churchwarden
Christ Church Portsdown
1st April 2020