Living through a pandemic

In this episode I unpack some of the common experiences of living through this pandemic. It’s been over a year of masks, lockdowns and weirdness. How has that affected our minds and our lives? I also share some tips for managing during this difficult time.

 

TRANSCRIPT:

“Hello. And welcome back to On The Couch with Carly Season 2. Thank you so much for coming back to this podcast. If you are a first listener, welcome, it is so great to have you.

I recorded this episode at the beginning of this year, in February when we were in the midst of the second wave-maybe the tail-end of the second wave. Now we’re in the third wave in South Africa . A lot of the things I’m talking about in this episode are mostly to do with things that were happening with me in February since this whole thing started.

We’re now almost a year and a half into this whole thing but I think that everything I speak about is just as relevant, and I think it’s really important to think about that as well. So, thank you very much and I hope you enjoy it.

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You’re listening to On The Couch with Carly. Carly’s Couch is a safe space to talk. I’m a psychologist but I’m not your pipe smoking, tweed wearing stereotype.

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Hello and welcome back to On The Couch with Carly. This is a really exciting moment for me because I am back in the recording studio after almost a year.

The last time I recorded an episode was just before we went into lockdown. It’s been a long and interesting year-and that’s going to be the topic for today. I’m just going to talk a little bit about the year that’s been, giving everyone a little bit of a moment of reflection on what we have all been going through for the last year and what we should be expecting of ourselves, what are some of the big challenges we’ve been dealing with-specifically from a mental health perspective.

I’m also going to give you some ideas, advice or tips to manage the difficulties, as well as some of the things that have worked for me or some of the things I have read about that I think are really useful.

It’s a new world. I just want to first talk about what are the common experiences in this new world. The lockdown that started and was supposed to be a 3 week thing, turned into months after months after months. And here we are almost a year later, still in some version of lock down.

I just wanted to acknowledge for everyone whose in it because everyone is in it (everyone except New Zealand), that it’s a big deal.

You are affected by it even if you are relevantly okay and you are managing. A lot of people are in the mantra of: “If I have my health, and a job and I’m still putting one foot in front of the other then I’m okay. And that should be something I’m grateful for.” It is but it doesn’t mean you have not been affected or had some difficulties because of lockdown and the corona virus.

So I just wanted to speak to that today, to sort of acknowledge it and say: “I see you. Its okay. It is allowed. You are allowed to feel frazzled at times. We are going through a pandemic.”

I need to remind myself of that everyday when things feel overwhelming or when I’m stressed about restrictions or about the unknown future. I have to remind myself that we are going through a pandemic and it’s okay. It’s all quite bizarre.

So I’m going to talk about some of the things I have noticed from a mental health perspective-what I have seen and the consequences which the corona virus in general have done to people.

I think a big one is this sense of loss. I think we should start with that. When I last did my podcast it didn’t even cross my mind that I could walk into the studio, pick up the mic and start talking.

Now things are a lot more conscious. You leave your safe home and ask yourself: “Is there something I’m risking? Should I have this contact? What if I touch something? I must sanitize my hands. It’s that hyperviligence. So we’ve lost a sense of ease in the world. We’ve lost a sense of life can just carry on. In some ways life hasn’t carried on the way we used to. We’ve lost that feeling of continuity, predictability, and familiarity.

With that, we’ve lost our identities as well. Aspects of ourselves that are connected to being part of our lives. If you are used to going out and jolling on a Friday night, that has been impacted by this.

If you’re used to hanging out with your elderly parents and not thinking about giving them a deadly virus, that would be impacted on. Our relationships and identities have been affected. Of course, there are bigger losses: loss of income, loss of life. I know that when the first lockdown happened the virus felt very distant far away. But by now everyone knows someone who has died of it and certainly someone who has had it.

It’s around and it’s real. And of course there’s the people that don’t believe in it and think it’s a hoax but we won’t go there. This is a podcast about to talk about what are our feelings in response to this reality, and loss is a big one.

I just wanted to acknowledge that to say that it’s okay. It’s okay if you are still feeling those feelings. It’s okay if you are still mourning your old life. The life of being able to make travel plans or the loss of meeting a partner that you thought you’re gonna do cause you were going out and meeting people, now you’re suddenly sitting at home more.

There’s lots that has changed about our social lives and our lives in general, and with that there’s loss. There’s one particular thing that I see and it’s still affecting people today, is the loss of control. Even though I do believe there was a semi-belief/a unnecessary belief in control/delusion that we have any control. I think there was a lot more  sense of predictability and continuity in life.

We kind of could say: “Well I’m going to be doing this for the next few months and this is what it’s going to look like. Then I’m going to go on vacation to that place and that’s what it’s going to look like. Obviously life happens and things don’t go the way we planned. But for the most part we had a sense that there was a future that we could plan for, and that has been taken away from us to a large degree.

It’s coming back slowly but surely, but it really is still having a huge impact on the sense of the world we live in.That it is very unpredictable. Chaotic. Uncertain. Those things don’t make human beings feel very good.

So if you have been noticing an increase in anxiety, anxious thoughts, increase in social anxiety-worrying about what people are thinking, not knowing how to act in social situations, feeling awkward. just out of place, uncool. If you are noticing that you are much more pedantic, obsessive about cleanliness or keeping things in order, having stuff done just this way-in organized way.

If you are struggling in relationships to manage the parts that are more out of your control or you finding yourself becoming more controlling in relationships-I want you to notice that and think about that in response to the very out of control feeling. This pandemic is meant for all of us. We will respond to that sense of powerlessness with a controlling behaviour.

If that’s what you’ve used in the past to manage those anxieties, you will probably see an increase of these behaviours at this stage.

So anxiety is up. Worry is up. Not knowing what the future holds is not a comfortable thing. People like predictability. People like certainty. Those things have been taken away from us. So what do we do in response to that? We freak out a little bit. We feel a little bit wobbly. And everything that we have to do, or everything we’re expected to participate in or any of our tasks in life will seem a little bit more challenging.

Particularly if you’re feeling like those tasks involve an emotional capacity. I think we have to address is the fact that managing a pandemic from a emotional perspective is like a full time job. Your nervous system is on alert, much more than it was previously. Some people have very high baseline alert systems.

There is this incredible link between how we were treated when we were very small and how we respond to the environment in our later lives. Some people expect stress and anxiety and our nervous systems are connected to a high stress environment. We respond as if we are always in a high stress environment.

For some people the pandemic feels like: “Finally my internal world matters. Now everyone is as anxious as I have always been.”

For other people it feels like it ramps it up. It makes it that much more demanding to be alive because it’s that much more to attend to, to be vigilant about. Just notice which category you fall into, which one has been more you over the last year or so. Also notice the things that might have surprised you that have happened over the last year.

You might have felt more relaxed. Maybe you have discovered that you’re an introvert after all this time. Being away from people, having an excuse to stay home feels great! Finally you’ve got the best excuse for everything-to stay away from people, away from life, and the anxiety provoking situations that you once used to force yourself to endure.

And some people really feel like they getting off lucky being away from people. Some people are really stoked about working from home. Other people are finding it more challenging especially the extroverts who need company. They need other people around them to feel energized, to feel themselves(its difficult).

I also want to do a shout out to all the parents. I think we need to remember that this is the hardest on the parents. Whether you are a new parent, or whether you have kids who are going to school who now have to do home schooling. I think your job is definitely the hardest out of anyone because you are expected to manage all of the anxieties that I have just mentioned(corona virus and the pandemic itself) on top of everything else. You’ve also got another human or more than one human that you are responsible for regulating their emotions.

You have to do your job most likely and you have to do the job of home schooling or taking care of this child-and it’s a lot.

I think for the most part it still lands on the shoulders of mom’s. I think that tends to be the way things go. But I just want to say for any parents out there, this has been a very challenging time and we are not meant to parent in isolation-it’s not natural. We are meant to be in massive tribes, in villages. Where we share, talk, and where we are in community. And not really having access to share the load is extremely difficult.

So that’s what I wanted to start with by saying there is a lot going on for us. Just because some of the restrictions have been lifted, just because we’ve gotten used to it, and just because we are fatigued by it and want it to all go away, doesn’t mean it’s going away. It’s still very much a reality. I think that that’s really important to think about. It isn’t going away, its kinda sticking around much longer than we wish it would. And that relentlessness is exhausting emotionally. So anyone else out there feeling a bit tired? Anyone else feeling like it’s the end of the year already? It’s kind of exhausting and if you’re exhausted, I am with you.

So here are some tips of how to manage all of this. I don’t know if it will helpful for you-I hope it will be.

First and foremost, I think you need to start with just talking to yourself about it. I know on the days when I expect myself to be handling, and managing and figuring it all out and being on top of it and sort of superhumaning it, and getting everything done just great-those are the days when I feel most disappointed, depleted because it’s too much sometimes.

So you need to give yourself a break, remind yourself, talk to yourself and say:” Hey, there this is not a normal time. This is not the time to put extra pressure on yourself or having high expectations. This is the time to just take it easy. Take it one day at a time, take it slow. Give yourself this period to just do what feels manageable.”

I’ve come up with this concept called: “Radical half-assing”. I feel like it’s my mantra for 2021. It’s that after all that we’ve been through with all this up and down relentless out of control madness, we have to give ourselves permission to be a little bit mediocre sometimes. Not mediocre in a bad way but mediocre in a radical way that’s why it’s called: “Radical half- assing.”

It’s saying to yourself: “I deserve to be allowed to be let off the hook right now. This is hard enough.” The most loving thing I can do for myself is to be okay with taking it easy. Taking it off the to do list telling yourself that I don’t have to do that right now.

I guess we can call it: Radical procrastination. Just thinking about what we have endured. For some people it’s not as bad as others. There’s always that comparison game of: “Come on, get over it. Your life is fine”. But regardless there’s been challenges and there’s a emotional drain that has happened. Remember that we running on half full, not to strain and stress our system. To try to meet an expectation that is honestly not realistic at this time.

So, I’m giving you permission to take it easy on yourself. And taking it easy on yourself doesn’t mean not caring about you, not caring about others in your world- it’s not that. It’s the most empathetic you can be but it’s empathetic to yourself and others. It’s about saying: “I also matter and I want to be the most resourced version of myself”-internally resourced. And how I am going to do that is that I’m going to take it easy. I’m going to stop this slave driver mentality where I constantly see my flaws and my faults and my errors and I’m going to rather approach life from a perspective of: “You’ve got this! You’re the kid that’s coming second last in the race, are you going to be angry and annoyed? Or are you going to be cheerleading on the side line? You got this, it’s cool, I’m proud of you. You’re doing amazing given what you’re dealing with.

And if you’re wondering, I’m on that side too. I’m there cheering you on. I think that’s what I have been doing the last year, is just cheering everyone on. In therapy there are often opportunities to challenge and explore, work out things and make sense of things. Then there’s times where you just want to say: “Hey, you’re doing great.” You just keep doing you. Give yourself less of a hard time. Show up for yourself a bit more and take it easy.

Those are pretty much the biggest words of advice I can give you. When we’re talking more practical pieces of advice, I would say the best thing we can do is to try to remind ourselves that we are embodied. I am literally the worst person to be giving this advice because I am such a cerebral person. I spend my whole life being someone who doesn’t really focus on the body as much as the mind.

I spend all day thinking and talking to people. But I really think, especially now, with all these zoom meetings that we’re doing and all this virtual stuff, and the lack of physical connection we have with people(we can’t hug and we can’t embrace and we can’t get close), we have to do something with our bodies to remind ourselves that we are embodied creatures.

So, I really recommend any practise that is showing up for your body, being in your body, connecting to your body. That can be anything, it’s up to you whatever works for you-I’m not going to prescribe something. But I know it’s proven to be excellent for reducing stress. And that’s what we need to do because stress is linked to our immune system. We don’t want to have a compromised immune system at this time.

So moving your body will be the most loving, kind and preventative thing that we can do.

Then in terms of socialising and connecting(lemme just call it connecting with other people). I think we need to try and do that as much as possible. It’s not always easy especially if you are particularly vulnerable to corona virus because you have to stay away from people. But this is where the technology comes in handy. There are so many devices and apps and things that you can do now to connect virtually.

Or even a socially distanced walk. There are ways. You can even have a socially distanced picnic-sit on one side of the park and 2m away your friend sits and you can eat your own food(you don’t need to share food). And it’s relatively safe, I can go as far to say that I recommend it.

But basically we have to connect with one another. Isolation is not healthy, it’s not good for us. So, I really want to promote any kind of connection that you can make.

There are other people that have great ideas of creating a bubble where you choose 5 people or whatever it may be. And you basically see each other and promise each other that you will stay within those bounds and you stick to that. That is a great way of managing this because it means that you are relatively safe.

It’s easier when you are young and don’t have comorbidities to make that call. But I think it’s a good one if you’re starved of social interaction and you need something like that. So there are safer ways to do this.

And our children need to be interacting as much as possible. It is very very important. There is safer ways you can find for them to connect, it is so important.

And you can do drive-by’s with elderly relatives. There’s lots of ways you can overcome the limitations. They might not be fun, they might not be optimal. They might not feel like we living our old lives again but they are worth it. Just to do something, just to have something.

Those are some ideas that I have. I think that there’s a lot of things we can do mentally-cognitively. I think that we can talk to ourselves, unpack our funky thinking, do some cognitive restructuring exercises.

I think I have spoken about that before, I can dedicate a whole episode to that. You can research it yourself, but basically it’s a CBT(cognitive behavioural therapy) approach where you do reality testing on your thoughts. A big clue to this is when we are anxious, when we are often thinking about something that has occurred in the past that we are regretful about from the past or something that might happen in the future.

It’s really important to just notice what our thoughts are about, what we are anxious about and do some reality testing. Is this thought based on reality? Is this thought a real thing that I am thinking about? And to remind yourself then that you are not in that moment you are here right now. This is where mindfulness comes in, so to use a practice like mindfulness is very helpful and useful.

Bring yourself into the current moment, think about your five senses. Go through your five senses, notice what you’re hearing, tasting, smelling, touching and seeing, and that will bring you into the moment and connect you with right now-the present. And that is a great tool to help with anxiety. Then also self care, I’ve mentioned that before on a podcast episode before. The radical half assing-its really a sort of self care practice. It’s doing you-whatever makes you feel good, do that. Choose that. Choose kindness. Choose lightness. Choose nice things for yourself. Be the voice inside your head that you want to listen to. The voice in your head that you want to lean into. The voice in your head that you want to go towards. Make your head a nice place to be.

And the other thing I want to mention is the idea of creating ritual in one’s life. We sometimes undervalue that but it’s so relevant. Do things with presence. Do things mindfully. Do things lively and do things ritualistically. Show yourself this matters- even having a cup of tea and doing a little meditation. Just showing up for yourself. So these are some of my ideas.

This is just an introduction to this year’s podcast series. I look forward to it. I welcome any comments or questions. You’re welcome to email me info@onthecouchwithcarly.com OR you can find me on Instagram @onthecouchwithcarly. Thanks so much and see you next time.

This podcast is recorded @edibleaudio in Cape Town, South Africa. Edited by edible audio. Original music by Alex Smillie”

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