“Helping you gain control over the things you want to change”

Fiona Nicolson

The strangest summer: coping with the new normal

Posted on 08 2021

We are now well into what is a very strange summer indeed for many of us. In my experience, there is a very high level of general anxiety about as we try to find the best ways of living in a world which has changed such a lot. A lot of this anxiety is stemming from the continuing changes around the pandemic. It takes different forms for different people, but at the heart of it lies a feeling of uncertainty and a worry about what is around the corner. Many of us find it difficult to cope with uncertainty and there seems no end to it at the moment.

What we think we want and what we really want

I have seen clients who are beside themselves with worry because they cannot decide whether to risk booking a holiday or stay at home. What I notice about this form of anxiety is that there is always a lot of inner demanding going on. ‘We must go on holiday or it will disappoint the children,’ ‘We should be allowed to travel abroad, it is not fair,’ ‘My partner says we have to (or have not to) go away whatever the cost.’

In all these cases I get the feeling that the person before me is not being driven by what they actually want, but by what they think others want from them. Or, if not this, then they are driven by a more general feeling of what the society they live in expects from them. Often these expectations and rules have acted as a sort of comfort blanket, a type of protection. It has enabled them to put off the sometimes uncomfortable, and even painful business of considering what they actually need to make them truly happy and fulfilled.

These times of the pandemic have meant that many of the old rules and beliefs we all had have not fitted anymore. But in the early stages of the pandemic, most of us did not have many choices, we were to a large extent told what to do by health authorities and government and most of us willingly went along, knowing that we had to protect ourselves and especially those weaker and more vulnerable than us from infection.

Lately, though, things have changed. As the pandemic has receded in many countries, rules have relaxed and new choices have opened up. Objectively, in the outside world, this has not been an easy process. The virus hasn’t gone away in an orderly fashion, many predictions have been wrong, and there has been a level of discord about subjects such as mask-wearing and vaccine refusal.

Within this complex and often confusing picture, we all have to find our own ways of living and make new choices. When these choices are difficult anyway, the confusion of the outside world can make them feel even more difficult.

How are choices being shaped

I often find it helps clients if they can take a step back and understand that their choices are shaped by their own unique map of the world. Their values and beliefs, how they see things and what judgments they make, are the background to the choice they face and the decisions they make.

For example, if they are a person who has always conformed to the norms of their society, believing that this is the correct and responsible thing to do, they may find it very difficult to cope with a friend or loved one who is bending stretching or even breaking the rules. If they are a person who values routines, who gains happiness from looking forward to regular fixed markers in the year, for example Christmas celebrations, or summer holidays, then they may become very distressed when these markers have been taken away.

You can understand why you are upset

I am always pleased to see, and this does happen often, the light coming on behind a client’s eyes when they begin to understand why they find something difficult and upsetting. Especially if it is something which appears easy and uncomplicated to those around them.

This is perhaps one of the most important steps to helping my clients. Sometimes that realisation is enough. Their understanding makes it feel more comfortable for them to live with any conflict. Other times, the client may decide that their particular value system is holding them back, or robbing them of happiness in certain areas. Where this happens, I can work with the client to alter that mental map until we find something which is more productive and accommodating for them.

The pandemic may have helped!

I know from my own therapy rooms that the pandemic has been the spur which has driven many people to look at their belief system and mental map. The unprecedented external circumstances have given many of us the chance to explore and appreciate the way we see the world and the way we live within it.

Looking forward to autumn needs to be done carefully

Another big source of anxiety is the knowledge that the summer will end and more change will come. Different people will approach this in different ways and most will fall somewhere between gleeful anticipation and sheer dread.

I do notice among my clients that even those who are thoroughly looking forward to a post-pandemic universe still worry.

Often this stems from the fact that they feel they have not been challenged at work or even socially for such a long time and at the back of this worry is the question ‘am I good enough?’.  This often comes out most clearly about work. Even for people who have been in their workplace throughout the pandemic, the changes which they anticipate can seem a bit scary. A nurse who came to see me put it like this. ‘The pandemic was crazy and I never worked so hard or was so scared, but in one way it was simple. There was much less workplace politics and petty one-upmanship and much more all in it together. I will miss that in one way. I know I am a really good nurse but I am not good at getting on with difficult colleagues. I don’t want to go back to all the back biting.’

In some ways, this client identified her issue pretty clearly and so we could work quickly. We explored why she felt like this about difficult people and we worked to change her perception of some experiences she had with awkward relatives when she was growing up. She left feeling differently and with a much clearer idea of why she had felt as she did and with some strategies for the future.

Dealing with the vague feeling of dread

Other clients just have a vague feeling of dread, whether that is about work or social life. It can take some time, and for them a willingness to quickly work through some difficult things, to change this feeling.

Once it is challenged we can get on to working out some practical strategies for our new future. This may involve building strong self-esteem, teaching conflict resolution, developing better communication skills and learning how to say no.

All of these can lead to a smoother and happier life. Often, it only takes a few sessions to see the positive benefits. If you want to know more then please do contact me.

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