Fears about coronavirus can take an emotional toll, especially if you already suffer from anxiety. It is a scary world we are living in at present. The country has been and continues to brace itself for the unknown. We are all watching the headlines for updates on what is going to happen. For many people, the uncertainty of what is happening is difficult to cope with. We do not know what to expect and our lives have been turned upside down. It is important to understand that we are all afraid of how coronavirus is going to affect us.
The simple answer is that we are responsible for ourselves. However, the reality is more complex. We have feelings, and they need to be validated because they are our feelings – both positive and negative. Often we grow up feeling responsible for the feelings of others, and we also expect others to take responsibility for the ‘hurt’ they have caused us e.g. ‘you make me so angry’, you have upset me’ etc.
But, we are responsible for how we behave in response to how we feel. No-one else is responsible for our behaviour. We can blame others, and indeed the way others behave may have left us feeling many things over the years e.g. not good enough, rejected, a disappointment. But these are our feelings and we need to work through the hurt and pain to reclaim our own lives and wellbeing. Often we need support to achieve this. You cannot change another person – we can only change ourselves. They touch a trigger in us and we get angry, hurt, upset etc. These are our feelings, and we have to own our subsequent behaviour in how we deal with the situation, and how we get our needs met.
We have responsibilities to others, but we are not responsible for their behaviour. Example – someone is upset by what you say. They sulk, don’t speak to you. You know something has upset them, but you have to guess what it is. Or not. You are not responsible for their behaviour in response to how they feel. To ‘rescue’ a person in this situation keeps the drama going and allows them to feel a victim. You feel a need to make things better for them, and they remain a victim because they are not resolving the situation for themselves nor learning to take responsibility for themselves. This, of course, applies to our behaviour as well.
We have feelings for a reason. They tell us what feels ok and not ok for us. We need to ask ourselves what we need to do to make us feel better about the situation; we have to own this ourselves, not project it onto someone else.
Why are we so hard on ourselves? I find myself asking this question over and over again.
Near enough all the clients I see for counselling will tell me that they show compassion to others – for their mistakes, for their lack of will power, for their misfortunes etc – but when it comes to themselves, they put a huge amount of pressure on themselves.
So what happens goes something like this. “I upset someone at work today. She was really upset with me. I am such an idiot. I don’t know why I did what I did – I am so stupid. I feel so bad for upsetting her”
You will notice several derogatory words in that sentence. So not only does the client feel bad for upsetting someone, he is now also berating himself for getting it wrong. So now he feels doubly guilty, shameful, and probably worthless.
There are several factors here. Firstly we do NOT upset another person. Rather we do something, say something, or not do something or not say something, which triggers a negative feeling in the other person. This person then blames us for “upsetting them”. But we are each responsible for our behaviour in response to our feelings. Blaming someone else just lets us off the hook at having to examine our own behaviour, and how we might respond more compassionately.
Secondly, I always ask my clients what their intention was. Did they deliberately go out to upset someone? Of course the answer is no. Intention is so important. We all make mistakes. We all get it wrong sometimes. But if our intentions are sound then we really do not need to beat ourselves up when it does not go quite according to our intentions. We can examine our motives, perhaps learn from how we handled it, perhaps apologise if this feels appropriate. Then we need to let it go. Because if we don’t let it go, it festers. Then the next time we make a mistake, we add the previous mistake to the new one …………………………… and you get the picture – more self-berating, name calling, guilt. And this affects our self esteem. And the habit of self-recrimination continues, doing us no favours at all.
Just something to think about.
Over the last few weeks we have been bombarded by demonstrations of the human species exerting so-called ‘power’– both good and bad. It is very easy to feel weighted down by the deluge of negativity and scare-mongering that has occurred during this EU referendum period – both from the In and Out camps. We have seen the outpouring of grief over the pointless murder of Jo Cox and now the little girl killed by her father with a history of extreme anger. Threats of increased terrorism, threats of economic disaster, threats of a flood of immigrants we won’t be able to support, threats of the NHS collapsing – either because of increased strain on resources due to immigration, or because we rely on immigration to sustain NHS manpower. Threats, threats and more threats which in turn spread fear, uncertainty and sometimes hatred, and often outbursts of uncontrollable anger. Does this make the initiating people powerful or overpowering
In a calm moment when there is space to reflect, I believe we all have inherent ability to be powerful – but this is something which is within us, not something we force upon others by violence or scare-mongering – which becomes overpowering. At the heart of all human beings is the desire to love and be loved. True love is unconditional. It is not one person exerting their will upon another – that is ‘overpowering’ not powerful. True power comes from a place of love, compassion and peaceful intention, it is not coercive. Think Mohandas Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Dalai Lama – powerful men, but they were not overpowering – they did not use threats or violence. Nelson Mandela became a man of peace – but could so easily have continued on a journey which included violence – again he became powerful, not overpowering.
To be truly powerful comes from a place of love and peace
Some of the comments I have read in the media over the last few weeks during this referendum period have been really quite personal and nasty and directed at those who do not agree with their own beliefs.. At the end of the day, even after wars have been fought, the only thing that will ultimately solve the problem is dialogue – powerful dialogue, not overpowering dialogue, or dialogue which cultivates fear and confusion. Dialogue that seeks resolution, motivated not by greed or self-righteousness, but by love.
When we are able to operate from a place of true power, rather than seeking always to overpower, then perhaps the world will be a better place. A good starting point is honest self-reflection about our motives and methods of communicating with each other. Sometimes we need to realise that when we judge another we are, in fact, just holding up a mirror to ourselves. True power comes from a place of love and compassion. Anything else is our thoughts and actions motivated by our experiences, which need healing.
“There are many different kinds of power. True power comes from serving and helping others. Such behaviour makes people respect you. They are willing to listen to your views and advice, and they support you. The energy of many people is thus channelled through one person. This kind of power is positive and authentic.”
I listened to Michael Morpurgo, successful author, especially known for writing magical children’s books (e.g. War Horse) on BBC breakfast this morning talking about well-known authors re-writing classic fiction, and promoting the importance of reading with children.
I felt this very much links in with the editorial on BBC news yesterday about parents needing help to ensure the mental health of their children which you can read here. “One in 10 children aged five to 16 years had a mental health problem that warranted support and treatment, the report said. And the quality of the parent-child relationship and parenting more broadly played a primary role.” The author, Professor Ashton says “Having produced healthy babies we then set about neglecting them.” Harsh words, but probably true!
Reading to Children
Children’s classics have endured for thousands of years and therefore one must conclude they must be extremely good. They also contain archetypal images in a language that resonates with children and teaches them many lessons in life and helps them to understand and to deal with a range of emotions. They allow them to know that life is not always easy and it often takes courage, resilience and determination, negotiation, social know-how etc to overcome obstacles as well as the ability to find happiness and to spread happiness. Stories stimulate imaginations and aid understanding of the world. Sugar- coated stories which do not address real life problems are not helpful. But they need address life’s challenges in a way that fires the imaginations and wonder of a child.
Apart from improving their literacy and access to other subjects as a result, parents regularly reading to their children also give their children the message that they are important, feel safe and secure feel close to the people they love, and can have conversations with parents who are more than physically present – the perfect opportunity to really listen to them, to help them understand and name their feelings, help them work through their worries, to explain and clarify some aspects of the story.
And when a child wants the same story repeated again and again, it is because it speaks to their emotional needs and their interests. Stories stimulate curiosity, help children explore strong emotions safely, enhances brain development.
Reading books with children – lots and lots of books, especially classics which you can return to time and time again, is a win win opportunity to maintain young people’s mental health. Books lay the foundations for future social, communication and interpersonal skills.
We read much about the increase in mental health issues at the moment. I am passionate in believing that a young person’s emotional wellbeing is vital in enabling them to maintain good mental health. I also believe that attention to emotional wellbeing enables young people to be in a good place so that they are ready and able to learn. So I was very pleased to read an article in the TES entitled ‘Wellbeing and good mental health should be seen as equally as important as academic success’ by Jan Dubiel on 12th May 2016. Jan Dubiel is National Development Manager at Early Excellence Centre for Inspirational Learning. Here is the link to the article.
Emotional wellbeing and good mental health are as important as academic achievement:
She says “Children are powerful and competent learners, who learn best when they are in an environment that connects with their interests, and with adults who value their ideas and engage with their thinking.” And says “Better understanding of the internationally renowned Leuven scales for wellbeing within schools would be a good starting point ……………..At Early Excellence, we would go further and suggest that wellbeing and good mental health should be seen as equally as important as academic success.”
(The Leuven scales uses tools to focus on two areas – children’s wellbeing and involvement).
The development of children’s emotional wellbeing in early years is, I believe, paramount to enabling them to access learning and reach their potential. And the importance given to maintaining this through a child’s education is crucial to ensure good mental health. I hope that the Government will embrace this and include emotional wellbeing and good mental health monitoring in schools and early years settings within the Life Chances strategy with a similar emphasis to academic achievement and attainment. Tthis might in time reduce parental focus which has been clearly directed on academic attainment alone via literacy and numeracy testing, and does not seem to be helping our children.
I wholeheartedly agree with the article in the TES whose heading states: “The government’s education policy is an ‘assault on childhood’, says children’s author Meg Rosoff “. Here is the link to the article: https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-news/governments-education-policy-assault-childhood-says-childrens-author.
Author Meg Rosoff won the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award in Sweden at the end of May and attacked the government’s over-focus on exams. The Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (ALMA) is the world’s largest award for children’s and young adult literature. She states “I meet these children all the time. Sometimes they get great marks on their exams. And sometimes they cut themselves with razors, starve themselves, suffer depression and anxiety.” In her speech she also stressed the importance of imagination.
This concurs with what I experience when counselling young people – they are either absolutely convinced that if they don’t achieve great exam grades then they have failed – but the paradox is, that as perfectionists their marks are never good enough – they move the goalposts to a new level. Or they feel they cannot meet what is clearly expected of them (because they know what their target grades are all the time) and they turn to some form of self harm. Either way, as Meg Rosoff says in this article “learning has become joyless”.
And this would appear to be true for both teachers and students. Teachers are leaving the profession or moving abroad. Many teachers are stressed beyond measure and working ridiculously long hours per week just to keep up with the burden of paperwork. I hear so often – “I enjoy teaching, but I hate all the bureaucracy and can’t keep up with all the marking, testing, planning and ever changing schemes of work”. Young people are stuck in the system until they have taken all their tests and exams and can leave.
As humans we are so much more than our academic achievements – I wonder when the government will stop this relentless focus on a soulless curriculum that is our education system and allow back some spontaneity, creativity, choice, focus on emotional wellbeing and, heaven forbid – enjoyment?
This morning I stepped outside to take my dog for a walk across the fields. The sky was dark and low and the rain was pouring down – but a dog still has to get his walk. I could feel my resentment at the weather – and only a couple of days ago it had been hot, sunny, calm with just a light and welcome breeze – and now it was blowing a gale – even the birds sounded happier a couple of days ago. And so began the negative thoughts. But then I thought to myself what will happen if I just notice my surroundings and just let it be moment by moment and stop thinking about getting soaking wet and windswept? What would happen if I allow myself to be mindful?
Amazingly my walk became something to enjoy. The formation of the sky was actually dramatic – thick, rolling pewter clouds one way, orangey-grey another. The, as yet uncut, long grass looked a completely different colour as it was blown in one direction by the wind – taking on a silvery sheen interspersed with red and yellow flowers. The cracked earth had for the moment smoothed over. And my dog was happily jumping through the long grass getting wetter and wetter – such spontaneous and in the moment happiness is truly infectious. I found myself smiling and then happily searching for six-petaled buttercups until I found one – totally absorbed in this task. With a conscious reminder I allowed my myself to be in the moment and to be mindful. And in that moment everything was ok.
Thich Nhat Hanh said “The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.”
(Thich Nhat Hanh – Peace is Every Step; The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life)
Allowing such present moments are the greatest gift we can give to ourselves.
I have just ready a really interesting and poignant article in The Guardian by Natasha Devon who is the Government’s mental health champion in England and Wales. You can ready the article here.
I have noticed an increase in young people presenting with anxiety, depression, dysmorphia, eating problems, stress etc.
Devon, who founded the Self-Esteem Team, was appointed by the government to look into young people’s mental health and find out what a good school support system looks like. However, she said the government was asking the wrong question. She states “The question we should be asking ourselves is what are the emotional and mental health needs of all children and are they being met in our schools?”
I believe this is a fair question, and one for the lives of children outside school as well in many cases. Rather than try to find solutions via medication, we should be looking at a child’s emotional wellbeing and this includes their ability to regulate their emotions and to be able to deal with both success and failure. We should be asking what is causing this increase in these mental issues, not just looking to the doctor to provide medical support for the symptoms, for example anti depressants.
Natasha Devon’s report to Government is expected to be critical of the academic pressures on young people as a result of the testing regime.
Depression is a debilitating illness. Dorothy Rowe, in the preface to her book, Depression, – The way out of your prison, states: “…… sometimes, suddenly, without apparent reason we feel unbearably sad. The world turns grey, and we taste bitterness in our mouth. We hear an echo of the bell that tolls our passing, and we reach out for a comforting hand, but find ourselves alone. …………. for some of us this experience becomes a ghost whose walls, though invisible, are quite impenetrable.”
It is hard for people to open up about depression still. But I have just read a really interesting article in the Guardian about Graeme Fowler, cricketer and coach, who suffers with depression. His book, Absolutely Foxed, discusses his experience. He has put together a checklist to help players keep a note of their mental health but thinks it is as important to provide a checklist of indicators for team-mates. It is not shameful to have mental health issues, he says. He does not claim to be an expert on mental health.
“It is not me standing up as a clinician and telling them what they need to do,” he says in the book. “It is simply about me sharing what happens to me and how I feel. I welcome such open discussion about depression in society.”
Marcus Trescothick, cricketer, in an interview responding to the question: But “the beast” still lurks inside? “Clearly,” Trescothick nods. “It’s not me. It’s somebody totally different who takes over. I think it always just lies dormant until the anxiety rises up. It’s more an anxiety issue I have, rather than a depression. Of course they’re two sides of the same coin but I can flip into anxiety state very quickly – because my brain doesn’t cope well with anxiety. At the same time you learn how to do all the good things so you can say: ‘OK, let’s get back to normal.”
Graeme Fowler is quoted as having said to his doctor in reply to the question: “Had he thought about suicide?” replied ““No, because I have a nice life. I have a great job, great family, lovely wife. I know all that exists but I can’t get to it. It’s over there and I can’t get there. So am I going to kill myself? The answer is no. But do I wish I was dead? Yes.”
This open sharing about what it is like, and importantly what others might look out for (signs) and how to support a person with depression is relevant to all areas of life. It helps lift the taboo around mental health and hopefully allows sufferers to be more open about their illness. Keeping quiet about the inner turmoil seems to serve only to compound the suffering.
It is good that more and more public figures from various walks of life are opening up about their experiences of, and battles with, depression.