These are unprecedented times. Complex, unknown, confusing, emotional times. We aren’t prepared for this. However, we humans are adaptable creatures and many of us have developed coping mechanisms in the face of what seems impossible to comprehend.
From previous challenges in my life, I know that my default setting is to organise the hell out of whatever the crisis is. I did it when my Mum died, when I was told my husband had crashed on a rally, when he was diagnosed with kidney failure, when lockdown 1 was announced… It’s a pretty good strategy most of the time. It gets things done and it gives everyone confidence that there is a solution. It also keeps me occupied so I don’t have to think too much about the significance of the situation.
In the case of my Mum’s death, it meant I deferred my grief. In fact, I didn’t really deal with it. On the surface I went through all the motions of processing it, but recently I realised that I had put my grief on hold by organising more. I also realised all the grief that I have been holding on to that goes alongside massive change. I hadn’t recognised it until now. I had simply used my hyper-organisation to give myself the illusion of control. It has become a manifestation of my anxiety and it’s a sticking plaster, not a resolution.
Now I am reflecting on how I organise myself and what really helps. I focus on the 4 happiness hormones (endorphins, serotonin, oxytocin and dopamine) and trying to get some of that every day. It all fits into the finding the joy and energy in life and tapping into those things to build resilience and ability to cope.
Thinking around this theme, I realised that Donald Trump’s coping mechanism is that if he loses (anything) or thinks he will, he sues someone. It gives him the illusion of control but doesn’t solve anything. It only addresses the symptom, not the cause.
There is of course a place for addressing the symptoms – I love a glass of red and a good book or film to escape into and it provides respite from the maelstrom, but it doesn’t address the root cause of it all. That’s another conversation though!
It becomes infinitely more complex when the root cause is completely outside our control, like lockdown. We can’t directly influence the decisions made by governments but we can choose how we respond to it all. What’s particularly difficult is when the impact of that root cause keeps changing so we are constantly having to adapt our response. And this is where coping mechanisms become our first line of defence so we need to choose those coping mechanisms well.
Right now we need to get through this, then we can process it and grieve for what once was. Let’s go back to those 4 happiness hormones and use those things to get us (and everyone) through safely. This chaos will end but we don’t know when. This is an endurance race, not a sprint.