October 13

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COVID-19: How to ride the emotional coronavirus rollercoaster

By Zoe Clements

October 13, 2020


Hands up who feels like they have been strapped to the worlds worst emotional rollercoaster?

I don’t know about you but I did not sign up for these adrenalin fuelled highs, energy zapping long lows and don’t even get me started on my looping cycles of anger, sadness and grief.

I've got to admit, it didn't start off too badly. In the first few weeks of lockdown I had some days where I had the energy levels of a 7 year old high on cupcakes. I was pumped with adrenalin, had a very British 'can do' attitude and was ridiculously excited by the potential of Zoom. However, as the weeks have slipped by there have been days where I can barely muster the energy to walk to the fridge let alone log onto the weekly Zoom Pub Quiz.

So why are we having so many highs and lows at the moment?

Unfortunately our poor brain and body are under siege. We are outside our comfort zones, fighting an invisible threat and facing months of uncertainty. All at a time when our brains and bodies are being deprived of the very things they need to function like movement and social connection.

As if that wasn’t enough to contend with, we are also trying to ride the waves of loss and grief. I don't know about you but I was expecting my life to be going down a very different path in 2020. Each day brings another loss: that holiday; those clients and that massive hug from loved ones. All these losses take their toll adding yet more twists and turns to the already never-ending corona rollercoaster.  It's exhausting.

So if we can't get off the rollercoaster how do we keep our mental, emotional and physical health intact while on it?

I believe how we talk to ourselves, and steer ourselves through this situation, will have a massive impact on our wellbeing. If we ignore our emotions or stuff them down then we will suffer. However, if we acknowledge the rollercoaster, accept it's highs and lows and learn to lean into the bends then we will feel a whole lot better.

A really practical way of helping ourselves is to adopt the ABC approach to riding the rollercoaster.

A is for Awareness

As a counsellor I probably shouldn't say this but emotions are tricky little blighters. The fact of the matter is, the more you push them away the harder they cling on. No amount of wine, beer or cake can keep them away. Trust me, I've tried.

The best way to take the sting out of our emotions is to acknowledge and accept them. For example, it you are experiencing low moods then these drops in energy and motivation can feel uncomfortable and scary. However naming this mood and understanding it is very common to feel this way can take away your fear.

Similarly acknowledging other emotions can help too.  

For example:

  • Sadness at missing loved ones
  • Low mood from feeling hopeless, loss of control, loss in general
  • Guilt when we compare our suffering to others
  • Happy when we are not commuting
  • Anger towards the government / joggers / dog walkers / employers / noisy neighbours (delete as applicable)
  • Anxiety from all the uncertainty
  • Fear about our own health and loved ones
  • Shame as we feel we aren't doing enough

When we become aware of our feelings it can help to apply our emotional brake....

B is for Brake

You know that moment when you become gripped by a feeling and you feel so uncomfortable that you react by reaching for a beer, a glass of wine or some form of carbs? Well this step is to help you make a different choice. 

Hang on, before you stop reading ... I don't mean all the time. I'm not giving up my wine collection and I don't expect you to either. I'm just suggesting there are some additional ways to help yourself. By applying your brake you give yourself the time and space to respond to your emotions rather than react. To do this I always suggest taking 3 long deep belly breaths (read more about 'braking' here). It may seem daft but this is how Special Forces in the US contain their anxiety before battle so if it works for them it can also work for us. Here is a reminder on how to breathe:

C is for Coach

The best use of our energy is learning how to ride the rollercoaster, which brings me to your wise inner voice or Inner Coach as I like to call it. Yep we all have one. It's that voice on day 5 of your holiday which says 'Why was I so anxious about sending that email last week, it wasn't a big deal' or the one that knows you have drunk wine for the last 4 nights and says:

Your Inner Coach is compassionate and kind, it recognises the gravity of the situation we face but to doesn't let you off the hook. It seeks a rational perspective based in reality, it wants you to grow and succeed and it doesn't beat you up in the process.

So to repeat my point from above, how you talk to yourself and steer yourself through this situation matters. When you notice another high or low on the rollercoaster, you acknowledge it, accept it and breathe. Then your wise Inner Coach can choose a healthy way to respond such as:

1) Being compassionate

This is a monumental historical event, you have been strapped to an emotional rollercoaster without your consent so stop beating yourself up, comparing your suffering to others and minimising your feelings. Try some compassion and kindness instead. You are doing your best to survive in an incredibly difficult time.

2) Do as The Beatles would do:
Get a little help from my friends

Talking doesn't have to be a full on deep and meaningful. It can be as little as saying "Ughh I feel so drained today" to a colleague. This is helpful because it can be really validating hearing "Me too, I've been feeling terrible for a few days and I could sleep for a week". A bit of empathy from a fellow human goes a long way

If you do need a deep and meaningful though please reach out to someone you trust and tell them how you are feeling. I know it can feel vulnerable to reach out but it can also lift a great weight from our shoulders (and hearts!) and that's much needed during these challenging times

'Help I need somebody'

Howsabout talking to someone you don't know. Someone who is stuffed full with experience and training that can help you master your rollercoaster. If this appeals then you can find a qualified therapist here. Loads of therapists are working online and they will be honoured to support you.

3) Expressive writing

If talking doesn't appeal then how about letting rip with your feelings though the art of writing. Research shows journaling or expressive writing can massively help process our feelings and trauma.

Try this experiment:

Write for 10 minutes a day for 4 days in a row and see how you feel on day 4. Your writing doesn't have to be neat, spelling can be terrrrrrible and you can mess up all the comma's'. The idea is to just free write about your feelings and let go.

4) Use motion to shift emotion

We store emotions in our body therefore we can use motion to shift emotion. Get to know the highs and lows on your rollercoaster and experiment using different types of movement and see what shifts.

  • Does an online bootcamp session shift your anger? 
  • Will a run shift your anxiety?
  • Can a walk ease your sadness?
  • Would Yoga or Pilates shift your low mood? 
  • Do weights help you feel stronger and more in control?

Get curious and use motion to shift emotion.

Summary

None of us want to be strapped to this emotional rollercoaster but we can help ourselves by learning how to ride it. By acknowledging the rollercoaster, accepting it's highs and lows and leaning into the bends then we will feel a whole lot better. We can do this by following the ABC process:

For more tips and techniques during these challenging times please follow me on LinkedIn.

Zoe Clements

About the author

Zoe Clements is an experienced BACP Accredited Counsellor and Author specialising in overthinking, anxiety, people pleasing and pesky self doubt.

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