Reframing the situation
Most of us are lucky enough that we have been born at a time and in a location that our basic needs have been met. Without us having to be aware of this privilege, we have been able to aspire to much more than mere survival. Our ‘normal’ includes sports, creative activities, socialising in a variety of ways, theatre and arts, choosing to wear clothes which project our personalities and achievements. The list goes on.
Coronavirus/Covid-19 has crept up on some of us over the last few weeks. It started as a situation somewhere else and our lives continued as ‘normal’. Now it is here and amongst us and we have to create a new ‘normal’ for as long as is necessary. Clinging to what we had, pretending we can carry on with our intended plans for the day/week/year will not be as useful to you personally or your community/country/species as creating a new way of being for now.
Examples I thought of as currently needing reframing are:
Your self-identity as an athlete
You will have spent time planning events for dates this year and envisaged your performance in these. Some may yet happen but it is possible that no events take place. In the meantime even though you are unlikely to be swimming, you can still bike and run (at a reduced volume and intensity to protect your immune system) and do bodyweight strength and conditioning at home and keep yourself as healthy as possible. You are still an athlete even if you are unsure when you will race again.
Self-identity is a double-edged sword. We use aspects of ourselves to create self-identity and the ones we excel in, give us physical or external rewards or we enjoy most can easily dominate our lives. If all of your identity is tied up in being an athlete then the rest of your life could go wrong and you could still be happy. However if your identity as an athlete is threatened you have nothing left.
The psychologist and psychiatrist Raj Persaud recommends self-complexity in order to preserve positive mental health. Self-complexity involves seeing yourself in a range of ways. “Positive mental health strategies should include ensuring that your self-esteem is not focused in only one or two areas of life.” [Raj Persaud, Staying Sane, 2011]
You may have got used to being an athlete and the personal satisfaction that brings you but you are not only an athlete. You are also a son/daughter, husband/wife, father/mother, worker, member of society. Allow these parts of your identity to be more important to you at this time. Be the best individual part of the solution to this crisis that you can be and let that feed your self-identity.
Your needs versus your wants
The cycle-related equation n+1 doesn’t currently apply. Think of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. [Maslow, A.H., A Theory of Human Motivation, 1943] Your physiological needs are homeostasis, health, food, water, sleep, clothes, and shelter.
Right now our health is under threat in a global way. If we don’t do the right things now this could threaten our ability to maintain supply of food and our ability to maintain shelter due to loss of earnings. The most important thing you can do right now is protect your health and the health of everyone else. That means staying home and keeping away from others.
It also means behaving in ways which allow others to do the same. You don’t need to buy products online which you don’t immediately need but which cause someone else to have unnecessary contacts and travel. (Yes we want to help businesses but the best way to help them long-term is to keep ourselves and others alive!) You don’t need that group cycle ride. You don’t need your usual hair cut, pub night, coffee and cake.
Being thankful for what you have
If you are reading this then be thankful that you are healthy enough to do so.
You also have time to read this so are perhaps not one of the frontline NHS staff who are working long hours and putting themselves at increased risk in order to save lives. (If you are one of those staff I am thankful for you.)
Be also thankful for police officers, fire service personnel, mountain rescue, delivery drivers, fuel station staff, supermarket workers, and cleaners, amongst many others who are working to keep society and supplies going. Don’t abuse this.
You have a good base level of fitness. You may, like myself, have an underlying health condition which elevates your risk of developing complications if you become infected but you are also fitter than the majority and have the best chance you can of staying healthy. You are also healthy enough to help others.
You have a home in which you can keep yourself safe.
You have the internet. You are not really socially distant. You can ‘virtually’ see and chat with friends. You can keep yourself informed. Used wisely and kindly, the internet is going to help you get through this. You have more ways of staying in touch than any previous generation. (Just be mindful that you are using it from your perspective. Someone else reading your social posts may have worked a long day on the nursing frontline or just lost a friend or family member.)
You can turn the internet off and have time to yourself knowing that no-one will knock on your door and disturb your peace.
If your work, like mine, has largely been cancelled for the next few months at least be thankful for the time you now have to read, write, think, take an online course. Now is the time to do all the things at home that you never usually allow yourself time for. No guilt needed.
Finally, the most basic of things to be grateful for, you are reading this via the light provided by the sun which is continuing to enable life on this planet. The planet will survive this. Be thankful for every sign of life continuing that you can.
Accepting what is
We all wish this was not happening and part of wanting to continue with our training and race plans is an unconscious desire to avoid accepting what we don’t want to acknowledge. Some are scouring the internet for the slightest hint of information about their race in case it is not cancelled. Accept that right now we don’t know how long this will last. We can’t know. We don’t need to know. We know what we need to do now. Stay home.
Ensure that you are accepting what IS rather than what you fear will be. Try to avoid catastrophising, projecting into the future, and imagining the worst. Try to stay in the moment. That is the bit that you have the power to control. Let go of the rest.
I personally think of and use the words of the serenity prayer. It is simple and useful. “… grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” [Reinhold Niebuhr, 1932-33] I’m not remotely religious but I find this useful regardless as it reminds me of what is within my locus of control and what isn’t.
Building for the future
This will pass. You will race again. You will do so with increased awareness of the value of your freedom and health and appreciate it all the more for that. Keep doing what you need to do today so that you are ready to emerge from this physically healthy but also emotionally healthy knowing you did the best that you could on each day in the meantime. I have coped with tough times in my life by reminding myself that I did all that I could on each day to solve or cope with the problem. Be your best you by what you do during this crisis and that will give you a strength to take into your future.
This is merely my attempt to make some sense of the current situation and in the process to hopefully be helpful to others. I would be very pleased to hear your views.
Stay safe everyone.