What We Tell Ourselves (And Listen To) Is Crucial

Yesterday, I was reminded by am email sent from a regular reader of my blog about the power of language and the use of certain words when reporting on the current virus crisis. The word ‘isolation’ was especially highlighted and the comment was made that if you suggest to people that they are isolated, that’s how they will feel. While I fully agree that language is important and what we say to ourselves is essential in any stategy to cope with the current crisis, the problem is that people are starting to feel isolated, even if they are at home with family or loved ones. The evidence comes from talking to clients in therapy who are increasingly struggling with the effects of partial or complete lockdown.

For many of these people, the things in life that they normally take for granted are being slowly or completely taken away by the effects of trying to cope with measures employed to combat the virus. The ability to socialise, visit family, to shop without restriction, to sit in a cafe have all been limited. We might say that we can do without all of this for a while and that is true but we are all being asked to change habits that we have had for many years virtually overnight and that is not easy.

We all face weeks at least at home. For some, it will make little difference to their lives, for others a massive change. Despite all the sound advice online about how to cope with this period, it will come down to the individual to find a strategy that works for them. Part of that strategy will be to handle the way we think about what we are doing.

Even in ‘normal” times, our self-talk can run amok with the way we see the world and our place in it. We engage various thinking strategies to berate ourselves, escape and avoid, feel guilty and process shame. This protective thinking is a result of the way we were influenced by and interacted with our caregivers. We listen to it and behave accordingly. Much of the time, this thinking is employed so that we do not have to face our core fears by moving on. During a period like this, adjusting that self-talk to adapt to the situation is crucial. Yesterday, in a session a client said that she is working from home and finishes at 3.30 pm every day. She has a stressfull job and by that time, is ready to relax. Two days last week, she watched Netflix for two hours at a time and immediately felt guilty that she was not doing something more productive like tending to her garden or cleaning the house. The feeling of guilt and self-criticism overwhelmed her and ruined her day leading to her to engage in her default escape methods. I asked her to try to counter those thoughts and reframe them in a healthier way and she stated that at that time, it was what she wanted and needed to do. She concluded that guilt was not the appropriate feeling as she had chosen to watch Netflix rather than do something else.

I have heard this story a number of times recently and it is just the start. While she would not normally watch Netflix for two hour blocks, it was important for her to accept that it can be considered part of her own self-care program. Being conscious of that and accepting that these are difficult times helps.

Additionally, it is also important to heed what and who we listen to. There is enough doom and gloom in the media to fill our minds full of terror for the future. While it is true to say that uncertainty reigns at present, it is also important to keep a sense of reality and perspective as best we can. The measures employed at present are an essential element of confining the virus and showing kindness to ourselves helps.

At a time like this, our minds can either help or hinder our chances of coping well. It will process whatever we feed into it and try endlessly to find a solution, hence our periods of ‘feeling stuck’. These are extraordinary times. Language is important, meditation is important, having a strategy is important, social contact via social media is important but all will pale into insignificance if there is not healthy thinking behind it all.

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