We are all individuals. We all have different experiences in life and we all may be affected in different ways to a major crisis writes Jim Masson.
In this article, I will discuss several psychological approaches to dealing with anxiety and stress as many of us in the impending coronavirus epidemic are likely to experience increased stress levels.
I am not an expert but do have considerable training over time. Many years ago I spent three years studying a counselling qualification in the theory and practice of counselling. And I did study psychology at QUB for a short period as an undergrad. I was never going to be a counsellor but the knowledge and skills I learned proved to be useful many times in life for me, and none more so than now as we face this coronavirus threat together. Because as a community we are basically ‘together’.
We are linked up in may ways and there are many networks of support out there from informal systems such as families, friends and neighbours to formal systems such as health care, local government, local help groups etc. So no person is totally isolated or vulnerable although at times it may appear so in a personal crisis.
Our mental defence mechanisms.
We each need to understand how we respond to stress and often our responses are unconscious – here are a few:
- Some may repress or bury their feelings around the difficult issue.
- Some people may just go into denial and say the problem just does not exist for example, young people may congregate in groups dismissing government warnings of not to associate in more than 2’s.
- Others may try and rationalise the the problem away saying it is all a conspiracy, or it will ‘never affect me’, or find some other extraneous explanation why it is ‘all bumkum
- And there are some who may absorb themselves in a particular activity eg playing the piano – this is known as sublimation.
- And is supermarkets when people are out panic buying, the usual courtesies may be suspended as more primitive behaviour emerges (read the book ‘Lord of the Flies’ on how a group of marooned children revert to savages!). This is regression.
If someone is over-relying on any one particular defence mechanism, then this may be pathological and help may be needed from a counsellor or certainly talk to your GP.
Control the safety valves.
Our minds can be a difficult place to navigate for those who are unfamiliar with such territory. Many of us live in fairly narrow worlds where life is just a trail of meeting needs of satisfaction. When this stream is cut in some way, the stress reaction levels can be great.
Stress, which is basically the overload of stimulii to our mental system, can be very damaging and it can be caused by a single incident or multiple incidents.
Let me explain once again a concept I have often mentioned, a metaphor for what stress is and what it can do to us. It’s called FLOODING:
- Imagine your mind is a big house with many rooms.
- Then imagine you go into that house through the front door.
- You then open a door on the ground floor and a samba band is playing in the room. You are not fond of samba music. You leave and don’t close the door.
- You go to the next door and a full orchestra is playing Beethoven’s 9th Symphony which you find too overbearing and you leave and forget to close the door.
- You rush out and leave the door open and go to the next door, and open it. A pipe band is giving all its got. You don’t like pipes and drums and run out leaving the door open.
- You come to the next door and open it and a heavy metal rock band is in full swing with their amps turned up full blast. You hate rock and run out leaving the door open.
- You go to the next door and go in to the room. An Irish traditional session is going on and the room is packed. You like Irish music. You leave and forget to close the door.
Now you may understand that each door has its own unique sound and mental stimulus, but can you imagine them all flooding into the ground floor hall downstairs. The wall of sound would be overwhelming. This is called FLOODING and that’s what happens when you are over-exposed to too many negative and sometimes even positive and anxiety levels hit the roof. So control your flood levels – create flood barriers!
And you haven’t even gone upstairs yet and opened the doors there. The mind is a big place. Don’t get lost in it !
Life Changes. Stress can also occur from a range of life changes and events that come link together in a short period. Some of these events may be sad and upsetting such as a death, failing an exam, becoming ill, losing your job, not being able to pay a bill or mortgage, being subject to harassment, victimisation or a hate crime and so on. These are negative stimuli and each one in itself can be stressful.
But stress can also emerge from more ‘positive’ events such as winning the lottery, getting married or some other life event you associate with positivity.
The cumulative effect of all these stressors is simply a raising of your anxiety levels affecting your mental health. Recognising stress in either of these two forms is important to maintaining good mental health. And of course taking the correct appropriate actions to keep yourself healthy.
Group dynamics. We have all heard of the word ‘scapegoat’ When a group of people feel threatened they may project their woes onto one person or a smaller group within hat society. The Jews in Germany in the 1930’s is the classic example. The Jews became the target for PROJECTION and received abuse from the larger group transferring their own negative mental issues. It is often a complex process, but this is a common aspect o four society and we may blame young people, migrants, left handed people or people in the LGBT community for our own ills and discomforts. Projection is a common phenomena and we should keep an eye out for it always. It can be stressful getting caught up in it.
Projection. It simply means literally moving something from one place to another. In terms of stress management, it is an important concept as we all do it inevitably to some degree or other. IT is about the person experiencing the stress moving it to a ‘safe and trusted place’. Let me give you a practical example:
- it is week 3 of the lockdown
- you have been locked up with your spouse and children
- you are running low of food
- your spouse has taken to the drink
- your kids are climbing up the walls
- and someone up the street has died!
- you blow and and scream ay your spouse or children.
In this simple scenario, you notice that a pressure pot is building up. It may affect some people in week 1 or 2. We are all different. We may not blow up at all. But in projecting those difficult emotions we are in effect displacing them into those we love dearly.
A client who goes for counselling may sit there with his counsellor and project some of his/her anger or frustrations at the counsellor who is prepared to process this ‘information’ to help understand the client. But many of us are not all that savvy with these matters and it simply boils down to a good old row and a letting off of steam! Sometimes we can inflict hurt on our loved ones when the pressure builds up and we need to recognise this and therefore avoid that behaviour if we can.
The above idea revolves around the psychodynamic theory that we as humans can act as receptacles for the woes and anxieties of people around us. If we recognise that this is actually happening then we are is a position to understand the process of projection and stress build up. And sometimes the person acting as the receptacle can absorb quite a lot of stress from the projector, but no receptacle in infinite.
There are many great help groups out there such as MYMY, AWARE, Pips, the Samaritans etc who provide excellent advice and can help steer you out of a crisis. So don’t be afraid to call them. Their workers are usually dedicated and trained volunteers who fully understand where you may be at that difficult time.
Feel free to PM me at any time folks.
Stay safe and well!