As weariness with restrictions sets in, life coach Liz Wilde explains how to persevere during the ongoing uncertainty – and even thrive.
We’ve lived through lockdowns and restrictions. We’ve re-learned how to shop, work and socialise. But the threat of months of uncertainty has plunged many of us into a pit of despair. ‘I just want it to be over’ is the appeal my clients tell me most. This is what I say to them…
Remember: this is only temporary
There’s a typical cycle that occurs during any prolonged adversity. In the early months, you were probably drawing on adrenaline to cope. You may have even felt a strange sense of excitement as you learned to adapt and survive in a previously unthinkable world.
The energy needed to adjust to a difficult situation can be all-consuming, leaving you little time to reflect on your usual concerns. ‘It certainly puts everything into perspective’, was a common ‘silver lining’ I heard from clients during this time.
As your new routine started to get easier, you likely began talking with increased confidence about your ability to cope with the ‘new normal’. But somewhere along the way, your patience ran out, and now you just want it all to stop.
It’s important to recognise that it’s entirely natural to hit a wall after a prolonged period of disruption, to feel exhausted and burnt out. An interesting thing happens to us when we near the finish line of something. We unconsciously pick up the pace, even if we were feeling tired only moments before. This is known as the ‘finish-line phenomenon’, a hardwired shot of adrenaline that allows us to dig deep and find reserves of energy we never knew we had.
Little surprise then that, with no end in sight, it’s easy to give up. So soften the blow by bringing the finish line closer, and start to create small goals that you have far more control over. Set yourself a challenge at the start of each week and feel good as you move towards achieving it.
Accepting this as a natural, temporary phase will also help you feel less demoralised. Your current slump is not a sign that you’ve failed. The adrenaline you’ve been using to power through is depleted and you need to build up your reserves again. A physical escape may not be possible, but you can still mentally distance yourself. Ask: where do I get my energy? What kind of downtime do I need? Fiction is my favourite way to separate from reality. Films, exercise, meditation and nature can all shift our focus. Trust that you can ride out this uncomfortable period and you will soon be on the other side.
Fill your mind with love
Staying connected to loved ones helps protect us during times of stress, but that’s easier said than done when we’ve not been able to hug our friends or visit our parents. Losing physical closeness is one of the cruellest consequences of the pandemic, but it need never prevent us from feeling love. That’s because feelings don’t come from other people, they come from inside you.
We live in the ‘feeling of our thinking’ – as soon as we think a thought, we feel it. Once you understand this, it’s hugely empowering as you can stop blaming life for your experience of it. You may not be able to change what is happening in the world, but if you alter the way you think, you can change the way you feel.
It’s your thoughts that create the feelings of love and closeness too. The reason people say love is the answer is because love is such a positive feeling, and when you get a positive feeling you feel good – which is what everyone is searching for. Keep generating loving thoughts and you get to spend more time in the feeling of love.
Try this. First, think of someone you’ve really missed and want to feel closer to again. Vividly recall five wonderful memories when you felt full of love for them, and note each one down. Starting with your first memory, step inside the experience as if it was happening now. See the things you saw, hear the words that were said and feel the positive feelings you felt at the time. Re-enact the remaining four memories in the same way, as if you were actually there.
Go through your memories again, making the images bigger, brighter and more intense. Finally, run the showreel together so the events are overlapping and all your wonderful memories are happening over and over again.
I challenge anyone not to get a strong loving feeling from this exercise. And with a mind full of love, you can’t go wrong.
Ditch expectation and dine out on hope
In a self-help world that worships positive thinking, hope can sound a very passive word. We all had a picture of what 2020 was going to look like – probably the same as last year, just a bit different. But this year’s uncertainty has revealed our imagined expectations to be just stories we invented in our minds. We got attached to specific results with certain timeframes, then when they didn’t happen we felt confused and upset.
Hope is different. It’s having faith that things will somehow work out in our favour without knowing when or how. When we feel hopeful, we have more energy. We get creative and try new things. Hope brings out the best in us. Expectation is just making up how long something should take. My advice? Ditch your timeframes and become relentlessly hopeful. It’s a much nicer way to live.
Stop fighting with yourself
I’m sometimes stunned at the high expectations my clients put on themselves. So many of us are driven to constantly prove our worth, and high achievers in particular need to be extra careful right now. The more you’re accustomed to a strict routine, to solving problems and getting things done, the harder it will be for you to accept what’s no longer possible.
We all have an inner voice saying, ‘I need to do this’, but that’s just your ego talking. How much kinder would it be to expect less of yourself? It’s unreasonable to insist on being at your best when your thoughts are in turmoil. Put more challenging projects aside and do what’s necessary. Be kind to yourself and others, and you’re doing enough.
It’s also important to give yourself permission to feel so-called negative emotions – such as anxiety, sadness, anger and lethargy. We learn early in life that we’re not supposed to feel the things we don’t like to feel, so we try to resist or fix them. But if you stop believing these feelings are wrong, they will happen less, as you won’t be thinking about them and giving them more power.
You’ve been living your life for the past nine months without the support of so many routines you took for granted. It’s natural to grieve that loss. Get comfortable with having tough days and you’ll attach far less meaning to them. Heap judgment on top of a low mood and you’re guaranteed to feel worse. Acceptance doesn’t mean giving up. It simply means not resisting or fighting reality so you can put your energy to a more valuable use.
Don’t fret about the future
Living with background fear is a habit most of us have got used to, but this constant worry keeps us in our fight-or-flight stress response. When I ask clients what they’re actually scared of, most of them tell me it’s a fear of the unknown. They’re imagining a scary future where things go very badly for them and their loved ones, then attempting to find solutions to problems that don’t yet exist. They think they know what’s going to happen next, but they don’t.
It’s normal to feel frightened when faced with an uncertain future, but our real discomfort comes from believing our made-up stories and thinking we can’t handle them. If we realise these scenarios are just in our imagination, we can also see that there’s nothing we need to do about them. We’re terrible at trying to figure out what we’ll do in any future made-up situation, but we always know what to do in real time which is why we’re all far better at surviving a crisis than we think.
You’ve already lived through a world you could never have imagined a year ago. You have learned new skills, and you will learn new ones in the months to come. At some point over the past nine months you probably even found yourself feeling happy. This was because you temporarily forgot the scary movies in your mind and got caught up in living your life. Know that in the absence of actual danger any feelings of fear and anxiety are just a symptom of your imagination and you’ll start taking these thoughts far less seriously.
Our new normal will continue to feel uncertain for many more months to come, but we can get better at anything with practice. Most of what we learn comes to us during our periods of adversity, as these tough times show us what truly matters. During your lifetime you’ve overcome numerous obstacles and proved that you’re stronger than you knew.
Sadly, it’s all too easy to mess up the present by wanting things to be a certain way when they’re not.
What if you made the decision to have a good life no matter what else was going on? It’s not denial – it just feels a whole lot better.
See lizwilde.co.uk for more information.