Mind Matters – Back where we started?

Do you sometimes feel as though nothing has changed since the first wave of COVID-19?

People are talking with me about how they are feeling the same as they did during the first wave and they keep having thoughts that we are back where we were six months ago. The result of this being they find themselves tending towards acting in the same ways as the first time. For some it might be about reducing activity whilst for others it might be about doing more. In short fight, flight and freeze responses are being triggered again and responses are almost automatic.

Our response in situations is always affected by our previous experiences. When people talk about psychological baggage there is always a negative inference and yet it is natural for our negative experiences to remain with us to protect us from future harm.

And yet our feelings are a raw material, revealed to us in response to situations and it is then our task to rationalise our experience before we take action. Neuroscience suggests that our cognitive, or thinking response is up to six seconds behind our emotive, or feeling response. That age old saying of counting to ten really does have scientific basis after all!

So back to the second wave of COVID-19 – what does this mean for us? I would suggest that remembering that your feelings are based not only on this moment in time but the past is a vital first step. For example, if when you read there are 20,000 new infections then remember your feelings will be based in part on how it felt in the first wave when you saw infection figures. But of course much has happened since the first wave and so the situation today we need to navigate and make skillful decisions around is not the same as six months ago.

We all know that ultimately time is all that we have and so our main task in life is to decide what we want to do with it. The act of deciding involves us thinking about what our feelings might be telling us, doing research, considering consequences – all to ensure that in any situation we do not fall into the trap of repeating mistakes, acting on auto-pilot – that instead we get the best outcomes.

It sounds easy and yet the strength of our feelings has such a strong impact on the way we view things. It is natural that a negative feeling ends up with a negative thought attached to it. When we recall misunderstandings with others it is so often the case that the conflict arose because a hurt feeling was translated into a thought that meant the other person was doing a bad thing, when it turned out the opposite was the case.

The very best foundation for ensuring we act in a skillful manner is to ensure we have an awareness of how we are at any moment. For example, if you are tired, stressed, angry or under pressure then you are likely to have less patience and energy to think carefully before taking decisions.

Everybody tells me they have been affected by the change and uncertainty arising from the pandemic. As this has been with us for some time now and you are likely to have normalised changes to some extent, it can be quite easy to miss the signs that indicate stress and fatigue. The only way to bring this into your awareness is to think about how you are doing, think about how you are feeling, look for your stress indicators for example headaches, fatigue, stomach aches, lack of patience, irritability etc, reflect on how you are in comparison to how you felt in life before COVID, think about any feedback from people you have had for example, people asking if you are ok or saying you look tired.

During this second wave of the pandemic our focus needs to be on safety and ensuring we get the best out of our time, we can adapt and change to ensure we feel positively about ourselves, get the most out of whatever situation we find ourselves, be the best we can be as long as we are looking after ourselves. Now more than ever self-care is crucial. If you are someone who doesn’t prioritise self-care then it can be helpful to remember that when you are ok you are better able to help others and also that you being ok really does matter to those people in your life who care about you.

Finally, if you find you are not coping, or if people you know are not coping then it is important to know that this is the case for many people and that there is help available.

Nicholas Rose
Psychotherapist, Counsellor, Couples Counsellor and Coach

UKCP registrant, MBACP (accred), UKRCP
PGDip, MA, Adv Dip Ex Psych

Nicholas Rose & Associates
Counselling, psychotherapy and coaching for children, adults, couples and families.


Read more blogs by Nicholas Rose

Read the next in the series – Mind Matters: The rush to judge

Read the previous one – Mind Matters: A Pandemic of anxiety

See all Nicholas’s Mind Matters blogs here

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