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Coronavirus – lessons for our emotional well being

Concerns around coronavirus continue to be uppermost in many peoples’ minds. The pandemic certainly remains the key focus for the media whether that is newspapers, television or social media. In recent days there has been a discernible shift in the nature of that focus towards discussion of the impact of an easing of the lockdown.

This discussion has been presented in a rather simplistic way as being between two opposing views. There are the understandable concerns as to the impact on our way of being if the current straitjacket remains in place for too long.  There is also apprehension and anxiety relating to potential dangers if the restrictions are lifted too quickly.

There is clearly much excitement about potential re-engagement but also some alarm around the possibility of a damaging second spike.  For many there does seem to be a wish to re-engage with a growing acceptance that it is time to ‘face the fear’ and walk forward. I have referred to this idea elsewhere as the ‘walk from fear to freedom’

Individual choices will be made in the coming weeks with regard to this specific issue around when and how to embrace the outside world. Yet learning as to how to deal with the effects of the pandemic has provided some wider and hopefully long lasting lessons.  The capricious nature of illness is captured in the references as to those who became ill and those who escaped; and then the further split between those who were subsequently very badly affected by the virus and those who only had mild symptoms.

One challenge of physical illness is the seemingly arbitrary split between people who become ill and the ones who do not.  This can very often seem to be pure chance although there may be some occasions when medical experts will identify a genetic predisposition to a particular illness. Yet although we are not able to stop that arbitrary card from being played we can still try to weight the outcomes by ensuring that we remain fit as possible. This seems to be a lesson that some are taking from this current distressing episode.

That may mean deciding to take conscious actions before illness strikes again such as stopping smoking, reducing weight or cutting down on alcohol intake. None of those actions will guarantee enduring good health but can help to ensure that we are physically as robust as possible. In addition to the feel good factor which comes with good health, the hope will be that this physical well-being will help strengthen our inner defences for that time when a virus or infection attacks.

The same can also true for our emotional health. It is not always possible to foretell the stress storm which is about to unfold in our lives.  Just when all seems calm changes in relationships, employment circumstances or family situations can occur quickly and without warning. That can bring worry, anxiety and other potentially disturbing emotions suddenly to the fore. Our emotional well-being can be threatened at a time when we are least prepared.

As with the physical parallel we cannot prevent those events from happening or in most cases confidently forecast when they will occur. What we can do however is to try to monitor our emotional health to make sure that we maintain a good level of mental well-being. We can try to remain as mentally robust as possible in order to be ready to cope from an emotional perspective with whatever life throws at us.  That may mean looking at our internal ways of being to see if just like the smoking and alcohol challenges to our physical health, there are any emotional habits which probably need to change.

These emotional habits could relate to current issues around anger, dealing with stress, procrastination, depressive moves or obsessive ways of thinking. It there are some of these challenges around in your life at present it may be sensible to consider dealing with them now even if they are not currently impacting.  Through talking with a friend or working with a counsellor or therapist it may be possible to move on some of these concerns.  If you can reduce some of that unhelpful emotional weight now whilst you are in a reasonably good place, the better able you will be to deal with sudden emotional intrusion or depressive episodes when these occur without warning.

And this is perhaps another lesson to be learned from the events surrounding the onset of the pandemic. There were relatively few people who saw this dramatic event unfolding in the way that it has. Nevertheless as a society we have survived and we will move forward. In some respects we should from a national health perspective now be better placed to deal with the next health emergency when it unfolds.

Perhaps we can also take this time to look at how we as individuals have dealt with the strain and stresses of the past three months. Are there issues which have come to the surface and which we have found more difficult to deal with than perhaps we would have expected?  If that is the case then it may be appropriate during the coming months when things start to settle to consider taking time out to look again at those issues.

If we can strengthen our emotional well-being now that may in turn ensure that we are better placed to deal with the next major personal challenge when it occurs.