Not worrying during the current crisis is not only unrealistic but is also unhelpful. In this blog I will explain how to make worry your servant and not your master, how to use it to help you and not let it undermine you.
Stress is a stimulus that provokes response and action and is therefore important not just to our survival but to our engagement in life. We all need a little bit of stress in our lives to motivate us and to help us grow and achieve goals.
Later on I will explain how you can plan ‘Worry Time’ into your day so as to contain it within less than 2 hours in each 24 hour period, and how you can open up the layers of stimulation gradually and close them down again so that you can live a normal(ish), easy and relaxed life, and sleep at night, even during these times of pressure.
First, however, I’d like to look at the opportunity that worry brings. This is a great time to be your own therapist and to learn about your own stress responses and tendencies so that you can move to greater balance.
Powerful, Responsible or Vulnerable?
On Karpman’s Triangle, or The Drama Triangle*, it is proposed that people take up a habitual position in life’s dramas of Persecutor, Rescuer or Victim. While we may play all three roles and move between the three we usually have a favourite or a ‘go to’. Mine is Rescuer and this suits a therapist of course, but I can also inhabit Victim when I’m extremely stressed and if I Persecute it is usually in the guise of a Victim. I’m exposing myself here because I want to model how powerful it is to know our patterns, how it can help us alter our own behaviour and gives us increased choices about how we interact with the world and also internally with our own self dialogue.
The Covid 19 situation is a perfect time to see our own patterns of response and to gain valuable insight into ourselves so that we can practice balance.
A positive framing of the P, V, R roles is Powerful, Responsible and Vulnerable. You can observe yourself in these roles and let yourself practise a range of responses rather than habitual reactions. Let me illustrate:
This energy under pressure could bring you to make leadership decisions at work or home in responding to the crisis. Or you could take that energy to push someone out of the way and grab toilet paper in the shops. Engaging with our Power is a stress response, choosing Power over Persecution is a chosen reaction. It’s a good time to practise this one, and not avoid it: Enjoy feeling your own strength, even if this is an area of your character you usually avoid, now’s a time to stretch yourself.
Many of you will be experiencing overwhelming powerlessness and fear and this too is a stress response. Others shun feeling Vulnerable as engaging with anything that could be perceived as Victim is abhorant to them. Neither of these positions is a chosen reaction, but both are stress responses. How could being Vulnerable be positive?
Vulnerability is a key component in compassion and empathy. You are Vulnerable in this situation, whether that is being Vulnerable to illness, loss of a loved one, loss of income, loss of social contact or running out of supplies. To engage with your own vulnerability, is to be courageous enough to face this. To be gentle and kind and compassionate with yourself is the first step in extending this empathy and understanding to others. It is helpful to engage your Vulnerable self during this situation in order that the Victim stance doesn’t kick in. Our Vulnerable side needs a bit of attention and if we deny it, it’s more likely to emerge in it’s twin of Victim.
In the Rescuer position people can end up disempowering others by doing everything for them and sorting out others’ lives. Being Responsible is about looking at the impact of our own behaviour on others, as opposed to trying to control other people’s behaviour and lives. Rescuers are becoming naggers at the moment and it’s difficult to inhibit this stress response but the chosen actions of being Responsible in making our own action plans and Responsible in checking on loved ones and neighbours is a way of using this energy to help.
Seeing your own behaviour
When you watch the news do you feel frightened? Or angry? Do you fixate on how government is irresponsible and needs to give more guidance, or on calculating how many beds there are per sick person? Do you think it’s a conspiracy to wipe our the sick or to pass oppressive laws? Do you make a shopping list, or sign a petition?
When you’re on Facebook are you arguing with people about whether it’s worse than ‘flu, laughing at toilet roll horders, or sharing article after article?
Or are you engaging with none of the above?
All these observations will help you understand your own habitual style and give your the opportunity to consider your P, V, R behaviour.
Worry time is useful to reviewing your plans for this time but it will compromise your well-being if it is spread throughout the day and occupies your mind. Everyone will have their own best timetable for this but I will give you my own outline that I’ve developed so you can see if that’s something that might work if adapted for yourself.
START OF DAY
Stretch, open blinds
Get a drink, take supplements
Focus on something beautiful, reasons to be alive, the spiritual or inner world
Potter around, eat breakfast
Minimal or no talking
Check messages from family
Make a list of what I’m doing today
Check emails to see if any changes in my day need to be made
Check news headlines to see if new measures, rules, bans etc are pertinent to my planning (do NOT click on any articles, do NOT go on Facebook or Twitter this is for later). I set a timer of 5 minutes for this and like to try and beat the timer to logging off the news.
MIDDLE OF THE DAY
Have the day as planned, practising ease, gentleness and love as I go along.
I have a nap or rest time mid afternoon and might listen to an audio book.
After this I go on Facebook because I have social needs and like the connection with others.
EARLY EVENING ‘Worry Time’ (max 90 minutes)
Watch the news, read the news, talk to partner and get active on facebook all simultanously – this is when I ramp up the stress and discuss the politics and shout at the TV and laugh at jokes online and when we also let the articles we read or here inform our responses to the crisis. It’s all about engaging and being alive.
It’s a time to review our action plans for these times of adjusting our life styles: We remember to add something to the online grocery order, think about our neighbours or the foodbank, make plans to help others, discuss the hot water taking ages to heat up when we are handwashing, debate our own opinions on flattening the curve and research to increase our own knowledge. At this point we are really experiencing our P, V, R roles and I like to think we go through responses to reactions and from habitual to chosen behaviour. We need some amount of stress to create our reactions.
TV drama – it needs to be engaging enough to pull me out of the real life drama so I like crime or medical drama so that my brain now moves into trying to puzzle out or resolve a situation that is not my own. This means later on when I am going off to sleep I’m more likely to wonder who the murderer is and why a character looked shifty than what the virus death toll is.
Gadgets OFF and left in the other room.
A book and a herbal tea.
Handcream and quiet time
Not thinking, avoiding and telling everyone to ‘calm down’ is a stress response. Worrying is a stress response. Neither should be dominant. We do need to worry in order to think and take action, we do need to calm down in order to maintain well-being and clear thinking. By being Responsible and in charge of our own behaviour we can be Powerful in these times and accept that we are Vulnerable and human and this links us to humanity and compassion.
*The model I’ve developed upon here is based on Karpman’s Triangle and I’m applying it to behvaviour during the coronavirus pandemic, but it will be applicable to you in other situations too.