Coronavirus, counselling and dealing with difficult emotions
The current health crisis has seen a flood of difficult emotions bubbling to the surface. It is not surprising to learn of a rise in levels of anxiety, depression and distress. There are also other less obvious emotions which have the potential to add to a general well of unhappiness including the feeling of guilt.
For many people this is a wretched time and that is understandable. To be confined to a small space with young children for a long period is bad enough. To also have the accompanying worries about the provisions of basic necessities such as food as well as job security and financial well-being is adding a heavy layer of despair.
Guilt is also another emotion which is increasingly commonplace. The realisation that one cannot look after children or elderly relatives in the way that one wants is distressing even if it is the reality of the situation. That can lead to feelings of guilt. This uncomfortable feeling will also surface within those who are in a relatively comfortable position. With a large house, a garden, financial security and a good albeit remote support network some people very are well placed to see out this difficult period. Yet for many in this group, that sense of ‘we are really fortunate’ can invite a strong sense of guilt given the parlous situation that many others face from the bravery of front line workers to the frail elderly person living alone.
So what can be done? How can we lessen the disruptive power of those disruptive emotions from overwhelming anxiety to low level guilt?
A far as the coronavirus pandemic is concerned we are aware that there are alas no magic wands that can be waved to immediately restore normality. We recognise that the way out of this morass will take some time. The easing of isolation will be gradual. Business confidence and job security will take some time to rebuild. It will take time to rebuild any savings lost. Yet perhaps the very inevitability of the slow pace of that societal recovery can inform our thinking about our personal situation.
We may dislike the fact that improvement and restoration will take time but that is the reality of the situation. If we can accept this gradual easing will also apply to the difficult emotions we are wrestling with this slightly more tolerant approach may help to lessen the disruptive power of those unhelpful feelings.
That current sense of despair and anxiety may not indicate a personal emotional frailty but instead a perfectly understandable reaction to a disturbing, unparalleled situation for which we are not prepared. The irritability of our partner and the anger from the adolescent together with our own sense of continuing anxiety are realistic responses to a difficult situation. The word pandemic evokes anxiety and the threat of illness induces worry. Those are normal reactions. If we can allow ourselves to acknowledge that these testing feelings are present for a reason it may be easier to then think about how to ease those concerns.
Rather than wasting emotional energy trying to fight something which will for now keep returning, a more realistic approach is to accept those challenging feelings but to also then acknowledge that we can live with this. We can cope. And if on a bad day coping involves an occasional tear or a raised voice then so be it.
And the guilt? It is a similar story. Guilt is an emotion which often gets a bad press. If you are sitting fed and warm and are suddenly reminded of others who are hungry and cold those feelings of guilt may come to the fore of your consciousness. That is not evidence of your selfishness. It is a reminder of your humanity. You can of course decide to regard this feeling as a call to action or as just a reminder to be grateful. That choice is yours.
If we can become more comfortable with the idea that these difficult feelings are realistic reactions to the current situation that will provide us with some more emotional and cognitive space to consider what we do next.
By acknowledging the reality which underpins our emotions we place ourselves in a much better situation to decide on our next step to help our society, our family and ourselves.