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How to deal with challenging times

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This year many of us have had to rethink the way we live our lives, and deal with complex personal and work situations.

This could take a toll on our health and wellbeing as we move into the next “phase” of the pandemic. The challenge will be how to rebuild.

In those early months, we were most likely drawing on our “surge capacity”* to operate. Surge capacity is a collection of adaptive systems — mental and physical — that humans draw on for short-term survival in stressful situations.

Pandemics are a different kind of stressful situation, however, as it stretches out indefinitely - therefore testing the limits of our surge capacity.

So what happens when you struggle to renew it because the emergency phase has now become chronic?

Ambiguous loss

Ambiguous loss is a form of loss that occurs without closure.

It’s similar to grief as it includes feelings such as — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Managing ambiguous loss often requires creativity. This can be very difficult for those of us who are accustomed to solving problems, getting things done, and having a routine.

You may experience feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, which of course are not good for our mental health. We may come to realise that our personal operating system, though it has led to tremendous success, may fail us on a more personal level.

We may have to figure out a different way to approach life. Seeking out support through coaching or counselling may help.

Try acceptance

We might refer to this mental process as ‘radical acceptance’. Far from “giving up”, acceptance is having the courage to face what is actually happening in our lives instead of resisting.

The paradox of accepting how difficult things are is that we free up the capacity to change and influence what we can.

Expect less from yourself right now

Even though we may be used to putting ourselves under pressure to achieve, it’s important that we give ourselves permission to do the opposite.

We have to expect less of ourselves, and we have to replenish more. We might see this as a period of self-discovery.

It may be a good time to reflect and find out how the rhythms of life have altered and what you need right now, moving forward.

Recognise the different aspects of grief

The familiar stages of grief don’t actually occur in linear stages.

Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance are all major concepts in facing loss. Many people have been in denial: denying the virus is real, or that the numbers of cases or deaths are as high as reported, or that masks really help reduce disease transmission.

We can see anger and frustration rising and of course deep sadness. We can also experience a lack of motivation, difficulty focusing, lethargy.

When managing this you might consider having a couple days where you feel like taking the pressure off yourself to acknowledge your feelings, but then the next day do something that has an element of achievement to it.

Look for activities that fulfil you

One of the most frustrating elements of the pandemic is that access to activities that make up our self-care routines have been diminished.

Today, we might use this time to redefine what self-care means and engage in new activities that have an element of planning and immediate reward.

Instead of eating out we might start to plan and cook new foods, rearrange our homes and plan a pamper night etc. Remember that small changes matter and build up new habits.

Maintain and strengthen important relationships

One of the most effective ways to protect yourself from adversity, and to build resilience, is through social support and remaining connected to people.

That includes helping others, even when we’re feeling depleted ourselves. Helping others is one of those win-win strategies because we’re all feeling a sense of helplessness and loss of control about what’s going on with this pandemic, but when you take action with other people, you can control what you’re doing.

Helping others could include checking in on family and friends or helping an elderly neighbour.

Begin to build your resilience bank account

The idea of building a ‘resilience bank account’ refers to the gradual use of practices that provide a fallback when life gets difficult.

It’s never too late to start and it’s especially important to practice techniques when you are calmer so you can draw on them when you need. The areas that are specifically important are sleep, nutrition, exercise, meditation, self-compassion, gratitude, connection, knowing when to say “no”, and maintaining personal and professional boundaries.

Written by: Kirsty Lilley, mental health specialist at CABA

Kirsty has delivered mindfulness and self-compassion courses to a wide variety of workplaces during her career and is also a trained psychotherapist and coach.

CABA is the charity which supports the wellbeing of the chartered accountant community. They provide free lifelong support to past and present ICAEW members, ACA students, and their close family members.

If you’re worried about the impact of coronavirus on you and your family, find out how CABA can support you

*Sourced from Anne Masten, a psychologist and professor of child development at the University of Minnesota.