Dear all,

We are all experiencing significant changes in the ways we lived our lives. Let’s spend some time to see that feeling overwhelmed is a normal response to what is happening all around us.

Our routine has significantly changed as did our capability to do what we normally do to pass the time. On top of this shift in daily life, there is the added stress of the potential to fall sick or passing on the virus to our loved ones. The overexposure to different people’s ideas of how best to prevent contaminating your house and belongings, the array of fake news advising people on behaviours that might not have any merit, create an overwhelming sense of shared social panic. The fact that it is a shared social panic at this point in time, makes it difficult to have that panic neutralised by a calmer voice.

As if these were not enough to push us off balance, people are finding themselves working from home, and trying to meet their typical work duties, in atypical work circumstances, with atypical support both from their organisation, whilst dealing with atypical client/customer/organisational demands. Everything is new for everyone! Talk about messes and a hyped sense of uncertainty.

For people with partners, children, family members of the silvering age group, pets and what have you, the equation gets even more complicated. We do not exist in isolation. We are entities in a constant process of dialog and coexisting relationships. What has the potential of influence and an actual influence on our loved ones will definitely influence us, as well, and vice versa.

I will not go into cleaning tips since I trust that mostly all of you know how to wash your hands. If you are reading this, it is very likely you’ve also read articles advising on how to keep yourself and others safe. I am more interested in helping yourselves keep sane, as I am actively trying to do for myself. If you have any ideas that you’ve found to be useful please share them with us. This is by no means an extensive list.

There are many domains of functioning that have changed, and thus our systems might be in overdrive. Remember the last time you started a new job position, or the first time you took your baby home, the first time you moved in with someone…This time has created a lot of premature and sudden endings, alongside abrupt starts of new ways of doing this.

In sum, our thinking machines have too many tabs open. Please consider the following:

  • Engage only in behaviours that you can maintain over a long period of time and are not far off, from your typical habits. Extravagant and half thought plans of cleanliness will likely create a two-fold stress component. Stress while engaging in that activity and stress about the potential of not managing the upkeep of your new plan of action. Essentially, we must aim to decrease the unnecessary stress we create for ourselves. Remember that at times our mind might play tricks on us, by creating the illusion that things are within our control. This is especially true when the alternative (out of our control) is especially scary.
    • For example, leaving my shoes at the door is a great plan.
    • However, having to spray the shoes with disinfectants each time you return to the house might prove counterproductive.
    • By isolating the potential for spreading the virus, you have done enough. Just wash your hands once you’ve taken your shoes off and keep your shoes in an isolated corner.  
  • It is very likely that you share your living space with others. These others might be of different ages, have different interests from yourselves and probably deal with stress in a similar and different way than you. Consider the importance of creating a personal space for you. Verbalise, Plan and Negotiate the boundaries of that personal space and time, by bearing in mind your needs but also the needs of others. The important thing is to be able to connect with your cohabitants, to foster closer relationships and an air of open communication. You will be relying on each other for support, decompressing conversations and company. Your cohabitants are not responsible for the entirety of your “frustration”. You can go ahead and replace the word in quotation marks with the negative feeling of your choice. The many changes we are all undergoing, the changes in our duties and the uncertainty we are experiencing are all tabs your mind has open. All these are also responsible for feeling frustrated. Keep this in mind when you are interacting with others.
    • It is important that you communicate with the people who share your living space (in a language they can understand) your needs as a person, as a partner, your needs as a professional working from home and to listen to what their needs are. Come up with a joint plan. Give it a go, and if it falls short for some reason go back and renegotiate. You will be figuring out the details of how best to do this by trial and error. See what works and keep it. See what doesn’t and change it.
  • Keep yourself positively busy by choosing to engage in behaviours and activities that are rewarding both on a short term and long-term time span. Science argues that short term rewarding behaviours tend to foster pleasure. Long term gains tend to result in a strong sense of achievement by following the long process necessary to complete them. The sense of achievement also lasts longer than momentary pleasure. It is important to opt for activities that tap into both types of gratification.
    • For example, a short-term gratification might be eating ice cream. Its so tasty and pleasing. For myself, such pleasures last as long as it takes me to finish my ice cream.
    • On the other hand, long term gratification might include putting up curtains, or fixing up the garden/balcony, tidying up the storage room. Not particularly exciting activities, but I will be enjoying their benefits for a long time to come. See the difference?

If you feel overwhelmed, and that nothing you’ve tried seems to make a positive influence on your state of sanity, please consider taking some professional advice. Psychologists can offer online options for therapy. Starting therapy now is not equated to a commitment for your cooperation for life. You can opt to stop once you’ve felt that you have a better grip on being in self-isolation.

Being able to cope better in self-isolation and a general state of worldly uncertainty does not imply that your life will stop being difficult. I hope that your life will stop being so difficult and that you will come to experience happy moments within the social chaos we are all going through.

You are not alone in feeling like this.

Take care,

Dr. Maria Georgiou Shippi