“Ma’am, please go inside the house. You cannot do that here.” I’m left speechless. I’ve left the confines of my house and have stepped outside for a short moment with my son to breathe fresh air and play ball. Now, the police officer standing in front of me is ordering me back inside. I’m not a violent person, but right now, I’m furious. I have the good sense to simply step away before the anger bubbling inside me explodes. This is not me, so why am I reacting like this?
The Hintsa ‘Core’ focuses on our identity, sense of purpose and sense of control. Right now, these three touchstones of identity, purpose and control are being challenged by our change in circumstances – the curtailment of physical freedoms, the change in working arrangements for many of us, and having close proximity with household family members but no physical contact with the greater community.
Why we may react and behave strangely in crisis
Whilst everyone’s experience of the confinement is different, there are some similarities that those of us in the mental health and wellbeing professions have discerned. Common questions are along the lines of:
- ‘Why am I so tired?’,
- ‘Why am I so weird?’,
- ‘What practically can I do to remain psychologically intact’, and
- ‘If any good were to come from this, what on earth is it, and what can I do about it?’
Firstly, our identities are threatened by the curtailment of freedom. If you work in the travel industry and love going to the gym, those two contributors to your identity are smashed, and your sense of self is less secure. It’s quite possible that some of us have a much less secure sense of self at the moment and feel like we’re ‘clinging on’ to ourselves.
Secondly, our daily habits (which are energy saving) are disrupted and we are also holding way more tension for whole extended families, taking on new roles of teacher, parenting parents, community shopper. This is an exhausting extra load on top of our regular commitments.
Thirdly, those of us now working from home whom have taken on other extra roles have lost the compartmentalisation that allows us to hold the fragile threads of our life together. It’s difficult to be a put-together professional with a toddler throwing a tantrum next to you.
So – what we can do about all of this?
1. Take actions to remain psychologically intact
To remain psychologically intact, we can understand that the present situation threatens our core values, identities, beliefs and that this is very scary for us, so we’re going to have unusual, even extreme, reactions to things – like my run-in with the police. What’s more, we simply have more going on and that is more fatiguing. So, we need to create enough time for rest & recovery, regulate our emotions, and remember to go easy on ourselves.
2. Reach out to others (virtually)
Secondly, go beyond yourself. Both asking for and offering help can enable us to become less self-absorbed and more community focused. We can’t all be the stoic superhuman all the time, and just letting go of these identities for now and enlisting help from anyone else can be a massive tension release.
3. Open a window into who you are and what you want
Thirdly, (and if we have the energy and mental space) we can use this period as a window into our unconscious. If we have a very extreme reaction to something that happens, and if we are able to examine the circumstances around that reaction, it may give us an idea of what’s extremely important to us. This can be a way for us to better understand our values, identities, and beliefs, so that in the future, we live a life truer to our core selves.
After my bout of anger at the police, I realized one thing about myself: a central part of my identity is being a free spirit. I really dislike authority. And in this situation, being confined to my home and not being able to even play ball freely, the free spirit inside me is threatened. Insights like these contribute to building psychological resources that we can then employ the next time we go through difficult times.
4. Use crisis as a springboard for personal growth
Lastly, of course, for some people this period of confinement has brought many positives – going for a run may be the best excuse ever for getting out of a chaotic house. Spending more time with loved ones may be a blessing, and there may be less anxious rushing in the mornings to get out of the house. Any positive outcomes of this period are also, of course, a window on to what is important to you.
To sum up, do whatever you need to do to remain psychologically intact, and if you have the slightest inclination or opportunity, use this period as a window into the less available parts of yourself – your identities, values, and beliefs. Throughout this crisis, see what, if any, psychological resources can be built for future difficulties. Stay well and sane.
Resources for further study
• Mihalyi Csiszentmihalyi: Flow, Creativity, Good Business
• Victor Frankl: Man’s Search for Meaning
• Edith Eger: The Choice
• Jules Evans: The Art of Losing Control
• Matthew Walker: Why We Sleep
We bring the content to where you are
Over the coming weeks we share articles, free resources and concrete recommendations on taking care of yourself, your family and co-workers. Subscribe to our mailing list and you will be the first to hear about our free webinars, latest updates, blog posts, and much more. We also offer a vast variety of webinars for organisations that address the challenges of office workers contained to their home.