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Dublin: 17 °C Friday 3 July, 2020
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Wellness Wednesday: Worry is of no use to anyone, especially now in a time of crisis

Counsellor Trish Farrell offers some tips to avoid worry during this time of change.

Trish Farrell

WE’VE BEEN LIVING with the Covid-19 crisis for some months now, and who can say they haven’t spent time worrying about their health, job, mortgage, rent, or bills?

For many, the overriding theme is fear. The restrictions we, or most of us, observe are a testament to how seriously we take the threat of the coronavirus. Judging by how successful the country’s efforts have been in flattening the curve, it would appear we rightly took it very seriously indeed.

Many of the emotional issues we fear now are not new. They are just magnified by the ever-present but invisible threat of this virus.

Worrying is part of the human condition. We feel that our traditional supports have evaporated. Our extended families, education, and childcare are out of reach. Close family are confined together with little opportunity for escape and alone time making for quite an intense state of affairs.

We are now being forced to cope far more than we are used to. We’re teaching our own kids, working from cramped home-offices, or navigating the new scary world of public transit and interaction with strangers. Some of us are on the frontline and no amount of applause, while well-intentioned, can ease the fear and exhaustion that they experience every day.

Worry, and the illusion of control

While we all know what it means to worry, I would ask you to consider what worry is. Does the act of worrying really help you? I would argue that it doesn’t. We all wish we could control whatever we face, but most of the time, we cannot, and worrying does nothing to enhance control. It simply tricks the brain into thinking it can control something. It is, therefore, a waste of your body’s energy. Lieutenant-General Sir Harold B. Walker risked life and limb in the battle of the Somme and said:

Worry is thinking that has turned toxic. It is jarring music that goes round and round and never comes to either climax or conclusion.

We can do things differently to gain some sort of control, by making plans. When we make a plan it forces us to think in more realistic terms. For example, we know that all public institutions and workplaces must have a Covid-19 response plan. The plan must outline their approach and the procedures put in place to reduce risk.

I believe that like businesses, we should all make a plan for ourselves and our wellbeing. We need our own roadmap. Ask yourself:

  • What category do I fall into in relation to Covid-19 risk?
  • Who am I in close contact with? Who are they in close contact with?
  • Is there anything I should do in my own home to reduce risk?
  • Am I safe in my own home? Has confinement exposed me to other risks?
  • Do I have to wait until there’s a vaccine/treatment before I leave my house, or my city, or my county?
  • Does my job, college, school expose me or my children to more risk than normal or necessary?
  • What is my employer or school administrator doing to mitigate risk? Do they have a Covid-19 response plan?
  • Should I wear a face mask in public, outdoors, or indoors only?
  • Should I use public transport? Do I have any alternative?

Your plan should be based on actions. Use the questions above, and add other questions relevant to you. Most importantly however is to make decisions and write down your responses to each of your questions. Try to visualise your daily activities, step by step. This is how you regain control after months of powerlessness.

Trustworthy information sources

We react to risk and doubt in many ways. Some of us are oblivious, unaware of the risks. Some believe information from any source regardless of the reliability. Some are prone to conspiracy theories, believing outlandish stories of malicious intent.

Few of us, however, take the time to assemble a realistic view of the situation. When emotion and fear are involved, it takes a significant effort to overcome our human instinct. For example, we must check in with ourselves through this pandemic, and ask:

  • Am I dealing with the threat of this virus in a calm and rational way? When does natural concern for my health become an obsession?
  • Am I spending hours every day ruminating on the crisis, reading all and every article, opinion piece, or social media post that comes my way?
  • Conversely, does my desire for something override my natural instinct for self-protection?
  • How badly do I need that holiday, hairdo, or hookup?!

Before we can assess our risk, we must be sure we’re basing our decisions on factual and comprehensive information. Dr Mike Ryan, head of the World Health Organization’s health emergencies programme said: “We need a vaccine against misinformation”.

Fortunately, Media Literacy Ireland, an independent association promoting understanding of media, has created an excellent resource to help you sift your way through the barrage of information coming your way. Check them out at www.bemediasmart.ie. The fact-checking work done here at TheJournal.ie is also invaluable.

Personal responsibility

It’s a natural response in a crisis to look to authority to give clear guidelines on safety. But what if our authority figures aren’t so sure? The situation changes on a daily basis. We must learn to deal with ambiguity.

Some things are within our ability to change, some are not. We must take personal responsibility for our approach and only expose ourselves to the risks that we can cope with.

You can at least improve your outlook using this approach. It’s important to hope for the best but plan for the worst. Remember that your plan isn’t predicting catastrophe, it’s allowing you to feel comfortable in the fact that you have done all you can.

This is the way to build resilience and confidence. You should not be afraid, too to tell people to back off if they’re not respecting the distance. Be assertive in protecting your health.

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What is our ‘new normal’?

How can we ever return to normal? I was forced to answer this question for myself. I’m a Counsellor working in my own practice in Dublin 8. I usually see my clients face to face in a calming environment but this arrangement was upended almost overnight.

Suddenly I was thrown into an unfamiliar world of remote therapy, tackling Skype, Facetime, Zoom, and an array of confusing tools.
Many clients cancelled or postponed their sessions as new worries and fears descended on them. Some tried the new format but very few were happier with the idea of seeing their therapist remotely. Some couldn’t even find a private space to engage in counselling.

So, as we learned more about this virus and began to see some light at the end of the tunnel, I began to think about how I could return to the type of therapy most of my clients want. I realised that I needed a plan.

This is a requirement outlined by the Health and Safety Authority for any workplace attempting to return to normal, but for me, making these plans, following the guidelines, helped me gain a level of confidence when it comes to how things will look in the future. It took a lot of planning and research, but we got there. The HSE’s guidelines are here and information on returning to work is here.

Trish Farrell MIACP is a Counsellor and Supervisor working from her dedicated practice on South Circular Road in Dublin 8. She is a general counsellor and specialises in Grief, Trauma, Stress, and Sexual Health. Trish’s repurposed and Covid-19 ready practice reopens for face to face, in-person counselling on June 8th. Find her on web, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

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Trish Farrell

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