Coronavirus. A global pandemic. It all feels like we’re living out the plot to a science fiction film. In the space of a month, everything has changed. I was wondering how you were doing?
Because to be honest, I’m struggling a bit.
I’m struggling to sleep; I’m struggling with supermarkets and my anxiety levels go through roof and I become a seething mass of swearing. Actually, swearing a lot seems to be a key feature of the ‘Lisa Jeskins’ coping mechanisms for pandemic.’ As does wine. It’s the one thing I’m not struggling with. In fact, I’m getting pretty good at it. Eating chocolate, swearing and wine-drinking have been my ‘go-to’ coping mechanisms for 3 weeks.
I’m often tired, sweary, (or possibly swearier), coming down from a sugar high and sometimes slightly hungover. And then I have to go to the supermarket. Which frightens me.
People don’t think when they’re frightened. Their fight or flight reflex kicks in so that they can run away or fight for their lives. This is what’s happening right now, we just can’t see the enemy.
So people can’t always manage to remember which way round the supermarket they have to go or what the tape on the floor means. They’re distracted so might not have read the posters outside and inside the shop, watched the news or TV ads.
When I’m sat at my desk with a cup of tea, I absolutely know this and understand and empathise. Unfortunately, Coronavirus Supermarket Lisa hasn’t got a clue and is wandering the aisles, angry, swearing like Father Jack when people get too close, thinking that it’s good job there’s social distancing because she’d quite like to punch someone.
Last Thursday was particularly bad and I got home in a bit of state. I was practically taking my jacket off as I was pouring wine. I decided enough was enough. I needed to find a different way forward so as not to inflict myself on others and to be honest, more importantly, so I keep my sanity/don’t get arrested.
All of this means that I’m operating from a low level of anxiety at all times, sometimes ramping up to really bloody high levels of anxiety. Which is exhausting. Which means I’m watching a lot of tv and reading A LOT. There’s been some napping. Which inevitably leads to more insomnia.
I’m self-employed and all the work I do is with people. As a coach and soft skills trainer, coaching sessions and workshops can go online. But training isn’t people’s first or even third priority at the moment, so a lot of work has been cancelled.
I have taken my personal training online which is great, and I love it but I have a couple of clients who just can’t at the moment – either financially, emotionally or because they’re caring for others.
There’s a mass of feelings and thoughts, the uncertainty of how long this will last, whether my parents, family and friends will be alright, thoughts around money and if I’ll be eligible for the self-employed help, all whirl around in my head in a seemingly constant spiral.
I think like many of us, I’d thought that I’d use this time productively. I honestly feel pretty positive about some of the opportunities I have to try things out differently, in an online arena. I’ve got some nutrition videos I’ve signed up for, that I was going to watch to make sure I’m still learning. I know some friends have said to me in the past that if I could PT online, they’d sign up. I’ve even been asked to write some articles which would promote my business, get my profile out there, be fun to write and they could help other people.
But I’ve not done any of it.
I was asked for the articles 3 weeks ago. I’ve not written a word. Not a single one until today. I’ve designed exercise programmes and delivered the PT sessions. I’ve exercised myself. I’ve been to the virtual pub a lot. I’ve talked to family and friends on Factimebookzoomskypewhatsapp. But nothing else.
My motivation is really low. Even though I know that I enjoy writing and I’ll benefit from it. Each day I didn’t achieve what I had wanted to, I beat myself up and told myself off, which made me feel worse.
As a coach and trainer, I know a lot about motivation, change and grief theories so understand intellectually what is going on in my head. I know it’s actually perfectly normal to be feeling this way. I agree with the Facebook memes that say just getting yourself dressed and washed is a win, you don’t need to learn a new language/musical instrument/be beach ready when we come out.
Everyone is living in a constant state of anxiety and uncertainty which means we are producing more cortisol or stress hormone than we normally do. Those of you who have suffered from stress in the past will know, it affects “your sleep, your blood pressure, your mood, your ability to concentrate, your eating patterns and your self-esteem”. (The Mental Health Foundation, n.d.).
Not knowing how long something will last can lead to people feeling out of control and as human beings we like to be in control. It’s comforting and reduces our stress levels.
We’re worried. About our own health, we’re worried about our families and friends. What will happen? Will everyone we know survive? These are the fears that we have at the moment and they are not insignificant.
We’re suffering from information overload and more often, a misinformation overload, (you knew there’d be an information literacy reference in here somewhere, didn’t you?) which affects our rationality and judgement. This can affect everything from our ability to think, our decision-making capabilities, and even our willpower. A little like the Internet at the moment, we just don’t have enough bandwidth to cope. To add insult to injury, we often end up beating ourselves up for not being as productive or as sensible or as disciplined as we’d like, which creates a cycle of lowering our self-esteem even further. And the cycle continues.
And the swearing? How do I explain that? Again this is about control. It feels much more proactive to be angry than it does to feel hurt or upset.
So that’s why it’s happening, but you may be thinking, ‘if you knew all that Lisa, why didn’t you stop?’ or ‘Why did you start in the first place?’ Although self-awareness is a good first step, sometimes knowing something doesn’t always help you change your patterns of behaviour straight away and I’m about 95% chocolate and wine right now. Or I was.
Simply, it’s much harder to change habits when we’re stressed, tired and emotional* and low on willpower. My personal coping strategies of swearing, eating and drinking relieve those feelings by numbing them. (Brown, 2015). Which momentarily make me feel better. Unfortunately, they make me feel worse afterwards too, and make it even harder for me to cope and make good decisions. So I feel I must stress the ‘momentarily’ again here, my coping mechanisms, whilst mine, are undoubtedly not massively healthy.
A few things have happened to make me make a change. Like I said, realising properly last Thursday, that going to the supermarket was making me bonkers, and coming to the decision that I needed to find a different way to shop, helped massively. I spent the weekend googling and talking to friends about how they’re shopping, chatting either virtually or over the fence with my neighbour Vicky (in a socially distant fashion. OBVS) A food delivery will be arriving tomorrow.
Spending time having a proper think about what I can control and how I could reduce my feelings of anxiety was really helpful. I knew going out to shop wasn’t fun so I’ve gone to online shopping and click and collect. I was self-sabotaging with eating rubbish and drinking wine, so I decided to make sure I didn’t have as much sweet stuff in the house. I know I’m not good with sweeping statements like ‘no more chocolate ever’ and actually scaling it down into more manageable chunks gives me a greater chance of success. It’s chocolate every other day now. (And not after every meal ?. I was treating it as pudding but we all know breakfast pudding isn’t really a thing.) I’ve also not bought any more wine, which helps as well.
My final kick up the butt was having a coaching conversation with my friend Claire**. Claire is my friend but she’s a fantastic coach and is great at facilitating my thinking. She also knows that I’m much more likely to help others than myself and that I’m much better if I have someone to be accountable to. Questions such as ‘What can you offer that will help people?’, ‘What is that you bring to the table?’, ‘When are you going to write the article then Lisa?’ I said ‘Thursday Claire’. (I’m writing this on the Wednesday, she motivated me that much). We scheduled another coaching conversation for Monday to figure out some more work actions and to help me keep my motivation high.
To sum up
I’ve spoken to a lot of people over the last few weeks and know that this is something that we’re all feeling to a greater or lesser extent. Nothing is normal right now, we will feel weird. We are going to do things that might not make sense to others or even ourselves.
The things we would usually do to help relieve stress (and there’s a big list at the end of the Mental Health Foundation booklet) aren’t all available to us right now. We need to work out what we need to help us cope, in a time where we can’t go and see our friends, have a massage, go to the beach or go for a walk up a mountain. All we can do is do the best we can. And some days our best will be great. And on others, not so much, but it doesn’t matter. We need to be kind to ourselves.
I’ve created the following ‘help with: ‘ guides in the hope that it might help you to navigate some of the areas that you might be struggling with at the moment.
*Euphemism for hungover
For anyone who might be struggling too, you can follow the links below to advice or ideas that might help.
Tips on how to deal with poor sleep and negative talk to follow.
I’ve read so much on stress, change, resilience and motivation theory, everything has merged into one big bit of knowledge for me. Where I definitely know the references, I have added them but I imagine there should be nods here to Kubler-Ross’s Stages of Grief/Change, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and many more. (I sound like an advert for K-Tel Compilation Album there)
- Brown, B., 2015. Rising Strong. London: Penguin Random House, p.63.
- Mental Health Foundation. n.d. How To Manage And Reduce Stress. [online] Available at: < https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/how-manage-and-reduce-stress> [Accessed 15 April 2020].
I don’t work at the NHS, I don’t have anyone in hospital, I don’t have kids to teach and entertain. My mum is classed as vulnerable, so my parents are isolating completely. Realistically all I have to do is keep the cats alive and shop for Mum and Dad. I am aware that I’m a very privileged person who is still earning a bit of money. Others are suffering far more than I am, physically, emotionally and financially and I can’t even imagine the stress that must be causing at the moment.
You can’t imagine the willpower it took not to add a *Stay safe* at the end, but you wouldn’t have seen the dodgy wink and the chuckling that then ensued when I first had the thought.