Pandemic burnout, bore-out or just right
Events are being perceived very differently by each person depending on their previous experiences, preferences and personality types. What is the worst ever, might be the best ever for another human being. So why should it be any different with how we are experiencing the pandemic?
For some of us, this is bringing us close to or into burnout, a reaction to extended perceived stress or demands over a long period of time (or a shorter one, depending on our resilience). We have been in the grip of this crisis now for nearly a year and the original excitement of a change or the perceived feeling of having an extended holiday has long worn off. Home schooling, endless Zoom meetings, queuing outside shops, lack of support through childcare, cleaning or food outlets and not forgetting loss of jobs, income and potentially living accommodations... the list of losses we have to endure is endless. And let’s not forget the loss of contact and far too often the death of loved ones. All this and no predictable end in sight. Especially the extraverts amongst us, who thrive on personal contact are struggling, and of course all those who are living on their own or in a household where emotional, physical or sexual abuse is happening on a much higher scale than even before the pandemic. So, for many of us, these are the most challenging times we might ever have experienced.
Then of course there are the ones who are climbing the walls, because they are bored out of their minds. Too little demands are just as bad as too many for your mental health balance. Being furloughed, having to do (often patchy) home-schooling, having to rely on social media and Netflix for entertainment are not necessarily conducive to a rich, challenging environment which is vital to keep our brain plasticity going.
So why are some people really enjoying this crisis? These are the ones who either finally have time to catch up with friends ( virtually), be there for children and partners, read books because a lot of time is saved by not commuting or travelling around the world, take up a new hobby (I tried to order wool the other day because I wanted to revive my knitting skills - most items were sold out), turn their beautiful lawn into a vegetable patch, catch up with all these DIY tasks long overdue, do the couch to 5k challenge... again, the options and varieties are endless. Or the ones who have more of an introvert nature and just love being in their own company - no more excuses needed to not go to a party, a coffee morning or a company night out.
You know best which category you might fall into - just please be aware that this crisis will be perceived very differently by everybody and we have varying needs. A perfect time for cultivating compassion, not just for others but also for ourselves.
RESISTANCE INCREASES SUFFERING
Acceptance was the motto of this morning’s meditation. Easier said than done. Before we accept something, we have to understand what we are dealing with and then work through the grief a situation has triggered.
In this current crisis we are all dealing with loss: loss of freedom to move about as we like, loss of spontaneity to hug and embrace friends we meet on the road, freedom to choose what we eat and where, loss of choices, loss of holidays, and for some loss of income, loss of jobs, loss of wealth and the list goes on and on.
Most of us are also cooped up with our families or friends or lodgers or landlords – and we are not all experiencing this as the time to be jolly and have a great time together. Frictions will arise, cracks will become more visible and gaps will threaten to swallow us. Domestic abuse will increase. Addictions will be challenged (either spiral out of control or cause withdrawal symptoms due to lack of distraction or supply from outside).
Most talk is about the elderly and how they are particularly vulnerable in these times – yes, I agree, as long as we talk about catching the virus. Bu what about other groups of vulnerable people like victims of domestic abuse, children who are neglected at home, people at home not able to lead an independent life, disabled people needing the physical support of others and again the list could go on and on.
Lots has been written about how to get through this crisis and if you are lucky or if you follow some of the advices given you might get through this without becoming too traumatised.
If, however you would like some support, just dump what is going on for you to someone outside your system or work through strategies that might work for you please feel free to get in touch and try out how counselling or coaching might work for you.
Resistance increases suffering – this means that if you try to fight what is not in your control you will simply feel the pain more and prolonged. In a crisis you have three choices: run away, ignore it or deal with it.
HOW CORONA AFFECTS US ALL
Staying sane in this crisis. #mentalhealth
Only two weeks ago I was on holiday in Morocco, strolling through the bazaar and enjoying the local food. Corona virus had found its way into some peoples’ lives, but not mine. My husband was following the news keenly and started to get quite anxious. I was ignoring his doom and gloom prognosis as much as I could, rather planning my busy schedule for March. It was supposed to be a really good month with client work in Romania and Johannesburg as well as a CPD week in New York. I was in a in a really good place. When we arrived back in the UK, I had 24 hours at home and then went on my last trip for a while to Germany. On the way back it started to become clear that this was slightly different - DUS airport fairly empty on a Tuesday night, plane carrying about 20 people, out at the parking in 20 minutes including picking up luggage. Still, so far so good.
Then clients started to contact me that workshops would be delayed, the CPD in New York was cancelled and the US stopped people who had been to the Schengen to enter the country. I was still pretty calm; thought about all the books I could read and all the fitness I could engage in. My elderly parents in Germany were healthy and in a good place and cared for in their little village. My sister and her husband were enjoying the work from home and using the time for DIY in the house and garden. My husband started to make a list of renovation projects around the house. And I finished all my paperwork, invoicing and made some plans for tidying up the cupboards.
My children were coping in different ways: the youngest was angry that schools started to close all over Europe and he still had to go (he is sitting A Levels this year and no one knows what is going to happen), the second oldest is living with us and now having to limit his climbing activities but otherwise in a good place because his work is computer based anyway. The third son went skiing to France the day before the borders closed and had to get home. He is self-employed and has currently got no income.
But the crisis started knocking on my door today at 9:05 am when my eldest texted me from Singapore that a friend who he has just spent a week with has the virus and he might have it too. Now he is young and healthy - but still.
This is my story and I would be happy to hear yours without judging or comparing.
ANXIETY TREATMENT – ONE DOESN’T FIT ALL
I recently attended a workshop by Christine Padesky, one of the leaders of CBT treatment developers in the USA. Over the last years, CBT has been established as the number one treatment for anxiety and depression, but what was new in this workshop was the revelation that there are two main categories of anxiety which need to be treated slightly differently.
Christine clusters anxieties into danger disorders (OCD, Panic and Health anxieties) and coping disorders (General anxiety disorder, phobias and social anxiety). The focus of the treatment of danger disorders as suggested by Padesky should be exposure to the perceived danger in combination with stopping avoidance and safety behaviour because these just keep the disorder going. As a result, anxiety beliefs and threatening images can be reframed and the perceived danger is reduced. Coping disorders treatment, in contrast to the above, will start with developing new coping strategies which replace avoidance, worries and safety behaviour with new ways of addressing the perceived threats. Once the coping strategies are in place, the "triggers" will be tested and exposed to the new behaviour.
What both treatments have in common is the use of images as these might provide better insight into the perceived dangers of the client than words alone will ever give.
MIRROR, MIRROR ON THE WALL…
Or how to survive the influences of your narcissistic mother
Snow White is haunted by her narcissistic stepmother until she comes of age and finds herself in a position (with a little help from a love struck prince) to liberate herself and live the life she wants. I have always been fascinated by this fairy-tale and puzzled by some dilemmas:
Why does Snow White’s father give his new wife the power to hurt his beloved daughter?
Why does no one challenge the stepmother’s wickedness?
How does a princess know how to care for seven dwarfs?
Why is she hiding instead of fighting her cruel stepmother?
In my private practice I have come across many clients (both male and female) who put up with wicked mothers (and fathers) despite the fact that these people, who are meant to care for their children (or stepchildren), constantly put them down, criticise them or ignore them. Abuse comes in many disguises and it is particularly damaging when it is done “in the child’s best interest” because it leaves the child feeling guilty.
Last week, I came across a book which was like a revelation to me. I was looking for some literature which could help me and some of my female clients to better understand the following dilemma: Despite being financially secure and having interesting careers, these women still felt empty inside and “never good enough” no matter what they are achieving (e.g. career, children, relationships). Mostly, these women are highly motivated to engage in therapy, and lots of insight is gained rapidly - until we hit on their relationship with their mothers. Initially, mothers are often described as the women’s best friends. And then it transpires that these friendship only work in one direction: As long as the daughter focusses her attention on the mother, things are going relatively smoothly, but the minute the daughter dares to put herself at the centre of attention, the mother can’t cope. The women feel that they owe their mothers and that it is their responsibility to make their mums happy. But somehow, however hard they try, their mother will belittle or plainly ignore these efforts, or act as if this kind of behaviour is what the daughter owes her anyway.
Karyl McBride, explains this phenomenon in her book “Will I ever be good enough? Healing the daughters of narcissistic mothers.” (2009). She describes how daughters of narcissistic mothers either turn out to be high-achieving (and still not satisfied) or self-sabotaging (e.g. through their behaviour or unhealthy relationships). I wouldn’t agree that it is only daughters who are affected as I have seen many male clients with similar issues. However, this book provides a useful source for any therapist or client and gives important insights and mind provoking ideas how to come to terms with your relationship with your mother and how to move on from it, also without the help of prince charming.
And back to the question why her father didn’t support Snow White? Well, he was so busy looking after the needs of the queen that he had no energy left to also look after the princess (and he would also have had to pay the price for putting the princess before the queen).
Karyl McBride, Ph.D. (2009): Will I ever be good enough? Free Press, New York.
©Carmen von Haenisch
TRIANGULATION (OR: I FEEL LIKE THE SPARE WHEEL)
TRIANGULATION, a concept coined by Dr. Murray Bowen and used widely in therapy, is the “process whereby a two-party relationship that is experiencing great intensity will naturally involve a third party to reduce anxiety” (Bobes & Rothman, 2002). So instead of keeping the focus on the two individuals and face the potential conflict, the attention and energy is shifted to a third party - person or object. This third party doesn’t have to be another person like e.g. a lover in an affair, it can also be an issue like the next holiday destination, or a substance like alcohol; anything really that shifts the focus away from the relationship thus reducing the tension. It can also serve as protection “against excessive intimacy by removing opportunities for one-on-one encounters” (Solomon, 1992) because intimacy brings up anxieties around abandonment versus autonomy. Depending on attachment style and narcissistic injuries human beings are more or less comfortable in close relationships. Triangulation can also serve as a way to bring back excitement into a relationship - in affairs one partner often looks for the excitement that has left the relationship - or in order to avoid separation from the family of origin. A typical example would be a relationship in which the mother of one of the partners would be encouraged to constantly be present either in person or on the phone and thus drawn into the couple’s life.
Andrade, P.Y. (1988). Family of origin: A land of opportunity for Transpersonal Therapy, [Online]. Psychosynthesis Resources. Available from http://www.psychosynthesisresources.com/NieuweBestanden/familyoforigin.pdf [Accessed: 6 May 2010].
Bobes, T. and Rothman, B. (2002). Doing couple therapy. W.E. Norton & Company, New York, London.
Crowe, M. and Ridley, J. (2000). Therapy with couples. 2nd ed. Blackwell Science: Oxford.
Solomon, M.F. (1992). Narcissism and intimacy. W.W. Norton & Co, Inc., New York.
Further article by Carmen von Haenisch:
How did compulsory personal therapy during counselling training influence personal and professional development? To visit informaworld just CLICK HERE.
Carmen von Haenisch | phone: 07900 194549 | Email: [email protected]