OPINION: Lockdown has heightened our fear of losing control – but we can handle it!

The dramatic eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano which caused substantial disruption to interna

The dramatic eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano which caused substantial disruption to international travel in the spring of 2010. Picture: Library - Credit: Archant

Christine Webber says we’ve handled similar restrictions on our liberty before and we can do it again

Do you remember when the Icelandic volcano erupted, causing an ash cloud to spread far and wide grounding planes and people?

Amazingly, that was 10 years ago. But I clearly remember the news bulletins of the time and the interviews with delayed travellers – most of whom were angry that a force of nature had, most inconveniently, ruined their plans.

“This is an outrage,” cried one irate gentleman. “I have to be at a wedding in California in two days.”

What he meant of course was that he hoped, or wished, to be at a wedding on the west coast of America in 48 hours – there being no law in the universe ordaining that he must be there! However, in that moment he was unable to see reason because he was far too busy indulging himself in what psychologists often call “rigid, absolutist thinking”.

He’s not alone. We can all be guilty of irrational thoughts when we’re cross or upset. And losing control and certainty in our modern world is seriously frightening. We’ve been spoiled. And we’ve come to believe that a click on the laptop mouse will solve most things, which is probably why many of us are finding the pandemic more disruptive and difficult at this point than we did earlier on. Deep down, we can’t help but think: “This should be fixable, by now!”

I wrote in my last column about the need to defuse pandemic-stress because of its potential danger to our health. And today’s column really follows on from that, because our lack of control is leading to a lot of distress and restlessness in many individuals.

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Most of us were great at the beginning of the pandemic in accepting that our normal way of life had to be parked for a while. We were helped by a lovely spring and summer and a sense of community-spirit and adventure.

Now we’re tired of it all and anxious about how we’ll get through the winter; especially if we can’t punctuate it with the sort of highlights that normally lift our spirits – going to the ballet or a pantomime, hosting a Halloween party, having all the family for Christmas, attending carol concerts and so on. We are unable to control what we’ll be able to do and it’s worrying and depressing.

So, is there anything we can do if we’re dwelling on the restrictions, and suffering as a consequence?

Sometimes, it’s useful to have a couple of sentences you can say to yourself when your thoughts are troubling. I tend to recite: “There’s a lot I can’t control, but there’s plenty that I can. So, I’ll get on with that.” This helps me redirect my mind into activities which are do-able, and helps me to be calm and practical.

I also think we can bring some mental balance to the situation by reflecting upon how far we’ve come. For one thing, we should congratulate ourselves on how adaptable we’ve been. Think of the skills we’ve learned – Skype, Zoom etc. Think of what we’ve achieved in cooking beautiful meals from scratch or decorating the house. Think of how we’ve learned to keep our distance from people. Manage our masks. Appreciate the natural world about us. Interact with our children and enjoy their company when normally they’ve been too busy, or we have. Think too of the decisions we’ve arrived at during this crisis, such as a house move or deciding to transfer our skills to a profession that offers more stimulus. Did you know, for example that the NHS Careers website has seen a 220% rise in the number of people interested in becoming a nurse?

Finally, do remember that even pre-coronavirus, we have experienced events which were outside our control. The period after a job interview when the wait seemed endless till we knew whether or not we had been successful. That time when we were selling our home and the buyer pulled out at the last minute. The job we hated but had to stick at longer than we wanted to, because the UK was in recession and there were no suitable openings elsewhere. What did you learn, or do then? How did you cope? Is there anything you devised to get you through that, which could help you now? Your resilience in the past when things seemed impossible could come in very handy.

So much of what is happening at present is horrid and frightening and awful. You can’t change that. Neither can I. But the human spirit is wonderfully robust. You may not have much control over what is to happen over the next few months. But at the end of it, I bet you’ll realise that you’ve learned some extremely useful lessons for the rest of your life.