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Finding Ground in a Groundless Time

Updated: Apr 27, 2020

Written by Registered Psychotherapist, Will Groenewegen.

Hello fellow people of the world,

Who would have thought that this is where we’d be? A short while ago, we would never have believed it. The whole world, rallying around the same unsettling story – never have we all gathered around a global digital campfire to hear news of an unfolding situation quite like we are right now. We’re all on edge, we’re all affected, and we’re all in this uncertainty together. As a psychotherapist, my allegiance belongs to my clients’ mental health as they try to navigate these stormy waters. As a member of a community, I worry about my friends and family. As an individual, I am concerned with my own well-being. As a global citizen, I wonder as to how this will shape the course of history. There’s a lot to worry about indeed, and not being concerned about this situation is not a viable option for anyone. To expect any of us to buck up and not show our vulnerability, fear, and anxiety in these isolating times would be inappropriate and unhelpful. Supporting each other, helping each other, in whatever ways we can while self-isolating, is more important than ever right now. And so is taking care of ourselves.

Generally speaking, when thinking about how to self-love and gather the forces within us, there are two main environments to consider: the external physical environment, and the internal psychological one. Humans have always, rightly so, found certain amounts of value, worth, certainty and comfort from both of these environments. But more then ever, we find ourselves in a place where we have very little certainty about the goings on of the external environment. And so, more than ever, the internal psychological environment becomes the place to find our ground, gather our senses, honour the self, to craft a measure of agency and help us better sit with external situations that we can’t control. Developing ways to cope with our future worry or past grief, and increase our relationship with the present moment, will surely help us during this tough time. For many, this starts with the breath, a turn inward, a reaffirming mantra, a way to lower the volume of our minds by getting back into our bodies.

It’s a hard ask though – these are concerning times and some of us are suffering very greatly because of it. We shouldn’t endure this alone; we should be reaching out to the people we know and love, and not feel a burden for doing so. But it’s also the time to do the inward dive and reach for ourselves. How do we do this? As mentioned, it can start with having a mindful breath, perhaps joining a meditation class or other type of activity (like YouTube led Tai Chi class!). Any routine that helps us quiet the mind, find our bodies, get into the ‘flow-state’, develop our relationship with the present moment, help us sit with the discomforts of life, and help us reclaim the inner world, would be a great addition to a balanced lifestyle in our strange here and now. These behavioural strategies that we can do will surely help us through this tough time. So will cognitive strategies that help us think about this situation differently – these days it’s especially important to be aware of our inner critic and self-doubting voice, to make sure that the ideas and assumptions and things we are telling ourselves through all of this are as helpful, rational and loving as possible. This could mean being consciously aware of the self-talk that goes on in all of our heads. It could mean being extra attentive to observing our thoughts, noting helpful and unhelpful themes, and course-correcting as much as possible once we’ve identified what they are. Try spending a certain amount of time a day (maybe 15 – 30 minutes) considering your general thought patterns. Is there any room for adjustment? In CBT, a strategy called ‘know your distortions’ is a helpful method of getting to know what types of thinking patterns you might be doing that is aggravating the way you feel and behave during times of crisis. Here’s a link in case you want to check it out for yourself: https://psychcentral.com/lib/15-common-cognitive-distortions/

Another helpful cognitive strategy is to take the time to remind oneself of the perspective, insights and values that are really important to you as a person, to remind yourself why it is that you’re more resilient than you think. Remember to be as kind and generous and patient with yourself as you are with others. Hopefully, with this increased agency over the goings on of our bodies and psychology, we can feel a bit better about how we are coping with this situation. I wish all of those reading this the best in the coming days, and the strength and motivation to look inward and develop practices, rituals and routines that increase sense of agency and outlook in these strange times.

We can do this!

- Will

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