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Staying Emotionally Healthy During Covid-19

As the world adjusts to its new normal, the Principality of Monaco is no exception.  We are waking up to a world where access to our beautiful public parks, beaches and gardens is closed.  Our streets are deserted.  Our construction sites stand still.  The silence is almost deafening.   How can we stay emotionally resilient while our Principality is in lockdown? 

Get in touch with emotions

In staying emotionally healthy, we first need to get in touch with our emotions.  As a therapist I realise that “getting in touch with emotions” is one of those throwaway lines that often infuriates others.   What does it mean?   If I am raging with fury as my stock market portfolio tanks, is it really helpful to get in touch with my anger?  Shouldn’t I protect my loved ones from my fear that we might run out of money?

It means that we connect with our moods.  It means we take time to understand what’s happening in our bodies.  During this crisis, the more connected we are to ourselves (and our loved ones), the more resilient we will be in riding it.   I might be British but this is no time for stiff upper lip behaviour.  This is a time for connection.  To ourselves and others.  We should not mistake physical isolation with emotional isolation.

Why does this stuff matter?  It matters because if we do not acknowledge the emotional impact of this crisis, we increase the likelihood of experiencing emotional and physical illness (irrespective of the coronavirus).  To be out of touch with our emotions requires us to use a certain amount of energy to supress them.  That leaves us more susceptible to anxiety and depression which ironically can be the very emotions that we are trying to avoid.  The more we avoid ourselves, the more our bodies become like internal pressure cookers.  We become irritable.  We become passive-aggressive.  We explode periodically.  Our bodies can only tolerate so much stress and our immune system begins to weaken.

How can you get in touch with your emotions?  Try some of these daily techniques.

  1. Body scan – Different parts of the body hold our emotions. Feelings in our stomach and upper chest often relate to fear, sensations in the lower chest indicate pain.  Spend about 10 minutes each day being mindful about your body.  What do you notice?  (Print a body-emotions chart off the internet to guide you).
  2. Name your emotions – As uncomfortable or cliched as it might feel, I invite all of us to look in the mirror each morning and ask ourselves “How do I feel?” Sure, you might feel stupid at first but keep going until you get in touch with your inner emotions. (Print an emotions sheet from the internet).
  3. Thoughts – This is one of the best ways to capture what’s happening for you. Capture your internal dialogue throughout the day.  Are you cursing under your breath?  Are you blaming others?  What do your thoughts tell you about your moods?

Anxiety

During these challenging times, one emotion we will all experience is anxiety.  We should acknowledge it or as the modernists say, we should lean into it.  I often ask clients whether they can “give themselves permission” to experience their emotions.  As a rule of thumb, men struggle more with this than women.  Men are taught to be strong and often associate emotions with weakness.  (Note to men.  Ask your spouses if they would like you to show more vulnerability or to be more secretive and closed off and you will get the idea.)

Can you give yourself permission (without judgment) to be anxious?  Can you walk into the kitchen and tell your spouse on a scale of 1 to 10 how anxious you feel?  Can you teach your kids to do the same?  If it helps, try not to see anxiety as good or bad.

We need to feel this lockdown.  The worst response right now is to deny our anxiety.  Equally we want not to be ruled by it.  Let’s try and share how we feel with friends and family.  We must stay connected during this period.  When we share our emotions with our loved ones, we feel connected.  It’s the definition of intimacy.  If there was ever a time when we needed to experience intimacy, I would argue that time is now.

Negative Thoughts

Many of us will understandably be plagued with negative thoughts about the impact and consequences of the coronavirus.  We need to zap our excessive stream of negative thoughts and prevent them from spiralling out of control. Those thoughts are often involuntary and keep us feeling depressed.  Negative thinking is usually thinking that is based on some facts but has gone awry.

These are the common types of negative thinking.

  1. All-or-Nothing Thinking: “Covid-19 is a disaster. I have to manage this crisis perfectly. If I don’t, I am weak and will let down the family.”
  2. Focusing on the Negatives:“Nothing ever goes my way. This coronavirus crisis will wipe out my business.”
  3. Negative Self-Belief: “I’m a failure. I should have planned for an event like this and broadened our investments. I am flawed.”
  4. Catastrophizing:“The Covid-19 crisis will kill me and/or my family.”

In the four examples above, there is a high probability that you were already predisposed to thinking like this.  This way of thinking has become automatic.  It leads to anxiety, depression or even addiction.

During these difficult times, we need to capture and challenge our negative thoughts. 

Cognitive behavioural therapy is a type of therapy built on the premise that the way we think affects the way we feel.  Changing unhelpful thoughts is the key to feeling better.  It is a powerful short-term method.

To be clear, the idea is not that we shouldn’t worry or own our fears.  The idea is not for us to bury our heads in the Monaco sand (when the beach opens) and become card carrying snowflakes.  These are scary times.  But if you have begun to catastrophise the situation, it’s a sign that your negative thinking is out of control.

If it’s helpful, ask yourself what facts do you have that support or challenge your initial thought?  When a client shared with me that she thought she would lose all her money as a result of the crisis, she omitted to tell me that her bank had offered her full support.  So there was some accuracy to her fear but she was also ignoring facts to the contrary.  Are your negative thoughts accurate?  What facts have you chosen to leave out that might contradict your worst fears?

It can also be helpful to distinguish between real and hypothetical worries.  It is a real worry if you need to buy medicine today.  It is hypothetical to worry about running out of toilet paper in June.  Similarly, “What if we all die?” is hypothetical.  Are you worrying about things that do not currently exist, but which might happen in the future?

Finally

Living in Monaco can feel like we are already vaccinated against the world’s problems.   It’s one of the many privileges.  For many of the clients I work with, there has almost been an additional layer of anxiety in realising that we are not immune.

Many of us are expats.  We are far from our extended families.  We may have elderly parents in other countries.  We are having to come to terms with feelings of anger, pain and helplessness.

Our Principality looks and feels different today.  That might make us anxious.  Perhaps there is a sense of loss.  The Big Apple doesn’t have a monopoly on a city that doesn’t sleep.  Living in a place that is home to Sass and Jimmyz and has a curfew seems surreal.   We should be used to change.  Every day I see a new crane that wasn’t there before!  But this much change feels different.

At times like these, we are often drawn to what connects us in life rather than what separates us.  We share something in common.  We are waking up to a new Monaco.  We have the power to choose how we process the feelings that are stirred up as a result.  Getting in touch and sharing those feelings will inoculate us against the inevitable covid-19 rollercoaster that no doubt has many more emotional highs and lows.

The holocaust survivor and psychologist Viktor Frankl wrote: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way”.

We all have the choice how to respond.  How will you choose?

(This article was originally published in Monaco Life and can be found here https://monacolife.net/staying-emotionally-healthy-during-covid-19/)

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