Many of my friends have been telling me how busy I must be as a therapist as everyone is anxious and stressed about the coronavirus lockdown and will be rushing to get therapy. The reality is, I've had very few new enquiries. Why is this? Well aside from the fact that many people are worried about their finances, the main reason is, since the 23rd of March we've all been in 'survival' mode. Like our ancestors of 10,000 years ago we've retreated to our caves, literally and metaphorically as the threat of a deadly virus has triggered our hard-wired neurological instincts - moving our thought patterns to the amygdala - the original, primitive, animal part of the brain and all it knows is 'fight, flight, or freeze'. All of these are defence mechanisms that intuitively kick in at the first sign of immediate threat. It overrides the rational part of the brain, the left pre-frontal cortex. Where conscious, critical thinking resides. The part that knows that we can cope, we will come out the other side of this and that worrying about things isn't going to help. 'Flight' is not an option as we've been told to 'stay home'. 'Fight', is tricky. How do we fight an invisible deadly virus? But you will see 'Fight' mode if you happen to go the wrong way down an aisle in Tesco as nerves get more frayed and patience towards lockdown wains. But the primary response has been to 'Freeze'. We've frozen. Cocooning in our safe, comfortable havens with a narrow focus on basics. Stocked up with loo roll, pasta and Haribo, flaccidly accepting a few weeks of Netflix, decluttering, shed and cupboard tidying. Albert Maslow was on the money.
The anxiety is real. But some people aren't consciously aware of it. Even those who aren't particularly concerned about the virus will find their ability to focus, plan, get things done are impaired as the amygdala's powerful influence commands us to shut down, conserve, shrink ourselves down into a prickly ball. ‘Hedgehog mode’. I can vouch for this as it’s taken me tens days since I had the idea to be in the mood to write this. When the amygdala is in charge, our rational, intellectual brains is hamstrung. And we certainly don't have the mental space to access our creative subconscious (the part that hypnotherapy unlocks) and think creatively about our strategies for the medium and long term. For life after lockdown.
"Uncertainty is the only certainty there is, and knowing how to live with insecurity is the only security.” John Allen Paulos
For many, this will be the 1st time in their lives when they feel like they are not in control. When they've given any thought to the very real uncertainty inherent in being a tiny fleck of life, standing on a rock spinning at 65,000 miles an hour in a vast, limitless universe. For the first time, we feel like we are not in control. We feel vulnerable. For the first time, we can’t feel reassured by our; partner, employer, parents, politicians etc, the 'powers that be' because nobody really knows how things are going to pan out. Maybe 18 months for a vaccine and an economy that will look like it's been pistol-whipped by Tony Soprano on a bad day. A bloodbath. Covid-19 certainly gives us time for a bit of healthy reflection. A bit of quiet introspection now and again is very healthy. Checking in with ourselves; 'Am I happy? Do I enjoy what I'm doing with my life? What gives me meaning? Do I feel fulfilled? What do I take for granted? And the big one, 'what is really important to me'? This is not self-indulgence, it's taking responsibility for our lives. Our human existence.
“An unexamined life is not worth living.” Socrates If we take the time to ask ourselves the big questions, maybe we’ll be surprised or even a little bit scared by the answers. Post lockdown, maybe it's time to be a bit fussier about who and what gets our time and attention. Jobs will be gone. Businesses will be gone and some real creative thinking and application will be required for many, especially those of us who are not key-workers. Some very real considerations for the short to medium term:
How will I adapt to the post COVID landscape?
Do I still have a job/business/the means to take care of myself and my family?
What skills/strengths do I have that will be relevant and useful as the human race adapts to the 'new normal'.
Where are the opportunities?
Now that I've had my freedoms impinged for a few weeks/months and I've learned how to really value every hour of my time, how do I want to spend it?
What will I do to be financially and emotionally prepared for the next crisis/pandemic?
What can I do now to optimise my mental, physical and emotional health?
The good news is that we all have the innate ability to answer these questions and create an exciting and positive strategy for life post-COVID. Once we settle our amygdala and empower our conscious, rational, intellectual brains, we will then have access to our creative subconscious and powerful ideas on how to move forward with an enhanced sense of wellbeing. Human beings are purpose-driven, goal setting machines. We can begin to melt away the frozen passivity of forced lockdown and take back control. To create some mental space for the way forward to reveal itself. Many may not have the headspace to explore these themes in therapy yet. And certainly, there's a lot you can do yourself at home, with peace, quiet, pen and paper. But when you are ready, if you'd like some guidance in taking back control of your thinking and creating a strategy to design the life you would like in your preferred future, I'd be delighted to help. It would be such a waste to stay in hedgehog mode forever.
For more information or to arrange an initial consultation contact me at email@example.com
© Gary Sutherland 2020 photo by Austin Distel - Unsplash