Panic, don't Panic!
Lean into uncertainty, we have proven success in ‘bounce-back”.
uncertainty /ʌnˈsəːt(ə)nti / noun: the state of being uncertain.
Uncertainty means different things to different people, It provokes a different emotional response according to the occasion. What might it mean to you at the moment? I would wager it’s linked to fear and fear seems inextricably linked to the narrative that our Mental Wellbeing is under siege as we prepare for uncharted waters, formerly known as day to day life.
It’s not that I am choosing to be oblivious to any form of risk but there is something worrying me. Returning to the sailing analogy for a moment, let’s say we are dockside and about to board. Your excitement turns to fear and anxiety as someone whispers ‘do you think you should do this?’ or ‘do you get sea-sickness?’ or even ‘have you checked the safety record of this cruise company?’ Unless you were obliged to it’s unlikely you would travel after this, yet we are conditioned to the same unnerving messaging by the mainstream Media 24 hours per day.
My tipping point was three weeks into lockdown while listening to a live phone-in show on BBCRadio 4: ‘A chance to share your experiences of lockdown’ said the presenter. The first caller sounded like an elderly woman who was clearly anxious in the isolation of her home, but it’s what played out next that stunned me as I listened to her employ the ‘gap widening’ technique. In case you're not familiar, this is where you identify a seed of doubt in someone’s mind and through wily questioning, escalate and amplify those thoughts to something unrecognisable for whence it started. As she was shuttled off air I wondered what type of support might be offered now that her fears had been validated on National Radio? How about other listeners who identify with these issues, who should they turn to now for help?
It seems I might not the only one seeing it this way. Joanne Ablett, a Consultant Clinical Psychologist, with experience of working with the NHS tells me ’the media have a tendency to focus on the negatives of any given situation, yet we have seen great stories of hope and inspiration alongside the devastation and loss’ and goes on to say ‘many people have turned to nature, exercise and gratitude as coping strategies and these are excellent examples, I use the same strategies that I recommend to my clients’. Another view comes from Pat Capel, Human Givens Psychotherapist, that is more family centric ‘A lot of parents are working, some very concerned that they might lose their job and many parents do not have the resources or skills to teach their children’ and adds ‘the amount of families I am speaking to who are very worried about the immediate future is troubling, the media has definitely exaggerated this’.
But back to the main thrust of this article : bounce-back. Coronavirus is most comparable to The Spanish Flu of 1918, which combined with the end of The Great War to inflict collateral damage in terms of human life and mental resilience thereafter. Such was the profound impact, many countries enforced news black-outs to suppress bad news excepting Spain, who were not involved, and were free to broadcast creating a perception it was ‘Spanish' Flu.
Although more than a century earlier there are still archives. One here from Alabama Public Health Department in the US*. Edna Register Boone and her family, who were living in the rural community of Madrid (aptly named): “I was 10 years old and my family was the only family in the little town that did not contact the flu,” Boone said. “Therefore my parents became automatic nurses.” Boone described her memories of living through the Spanish Influenza pandemic and her family cared for the whole community. Different period, different Pandemic I hear you say. Agreed, however despite this there are lessons to be learnt about our inane ability to show compassion, sense of community and human resilience to recover and prosper.
Don’t misunderstand me, we should continue to express our feelings of vulnerability towards Mental Health and Wellbeing, but at the same time embrace the risk factors of day to day contact as we graduate towards it. Put another way by Professor Chris Witty ‘there are no risk free option when tackling this virus’.
Joanne Ablett is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist - profile here
Pat Capel is a Human Givens Psychotherapist - profile here
APHD archives source: