Institute18th May 2020Dom Dronska, Dr Claire Renfrew and Karim Fanous share different perspectives on coping during lock down, from academic psychology through functional music to crisis management, a mini series to help readers deal with the stresses and anxiety of lockdown. While we do have some good experience to share, we are not attempting to give you professional advice, so please seek professional advice if you are struggling and can’t cope.
Dom Dronska - Time For The Introverts
Global Tuning of EmotionsFaced with similar limitations, we are all going through similar phases in a strange way, and lockdown has allowed us all to tune into global emotions. We find ourselves on a similar wavelength, although perhaps on different spectrums. It’s likely that most of us went through a cabin fever-like anxiety, through desperation for more control, through boredom or ‘I can’t get out of bed’ days.
One thing we are noticing is that because we share so many of those states, it means the conversations about mental health are easier and not harder to have. This is a time for self-reflection, and as such allows us to be more in touch with our own emotions, whatever they are.
Relax, you are not in control (but you never really were)We are stressed as we feel we are not in control, and we cannot plan for a future ahead of us. But actually, we never are fully in control anyway; we just think we are. Philippa Perry in her recent vlog on relationships during lockdown talks about the illusion of control and certainty, and the fact that the only certain thing really is that everything is changing. Lockdown is suddenly stripping us of this illusion, presenting us with hard reality, showing us how little control, we really have. That’s why, for some of us this time feels very zen indeed; a time when the usual distractions are not there, and we are given an opportunity to see deeply into our own nature. This might be a scary process, but not something unknown for creatives, songwriters and performers, who are ‘trained’ to reach deeply within.
Whenever letting go is something you are prepared to do, there is one thing to remember:
You can always choose your own attitudeAs brilliantly captured by Viktor Emil Frankl, an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist as well as a Holocaust survivor, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, is to choose one’s own way”.
The defining moment becomes when you really understand what it means and start to feel the power of it.
If you can approach everything you are going through from many angles, make sure you are consciously choosing one which makes you feel better.
In the current lockdown, it’s likely you feel exposed, and your circle of control sizes down. You might be in control of your day and nearest surroundings or maybe even less. Those of us who love planning and meeting those plans might struggle with uncertainty and the quick pace of changes.
This time becomes a perfect time to train your adaptability, or even antifragility - a term created by Nassim Taleb, the author of the Black Swan theory. Antifragility concentrates on responsiveness and doing and making errors, rather than planning and being resilient.
Whilst this is a cool theory, it might be hard to adopt if you’re struggling, which brings me onto one of the most helpful approaches I’ve seen so far, coming from global crisis researcher and advisor Aisha Ahmad. A political science professor at the University of Toronto, Ahmad builds her experiences on years working in the conditions of war, conflict, poverty, and global disaster. In her article Why You Should Ignore All That Coronavirus-Inspired Productivity she talks about the three core stages of dealing with a crisis of this magnitude:
Start with the basics“It is OK that you keep waking up at 3.00am. It is OK that you forgot to eat lunch and cannot do a Zoom yoga class. Know that you are not failing. Let go of all of the profoundly daft ideas you have about what you should be doing right now. Instead, focus intensely on your physical and psychological security.” says Aisha, who then talks about focusing on food, home and a ‘crisis team’, a small close unit of people, who need your support but also those who support you.
For anyone from the post-Communistic nations, the recent ‘toilet paper wars’ brought back memories from the past. Imagine living in a country where the shop shelves are constantly empty. Nothing but mustard. No chocolate, no oranges, no toilet paper. Forget about electric goods or cars (but education is free and you have guaranteed employment). Over the years, I’ve learnt to appreciate that growing up in a non-consumptionistic society has equipped me with almost survival superpowers. No yeast - no problem; you can grow sourdough from actual sourdough bread. No kitchen towel- no probs; you can use a dish cloth instead. There is substitute for everything, and this is the time you can be truly inventive at the risk of the taste (if you feel like it). Don’t let the lack of one ingredient grow into a big disaster, but if you suddenly feel panicky as you run out of milk, don’t fight it. Let this feeling wash over you and just remember it will pass. Everything does.
And I follow Aisha’s words: food and shelter first, then the small team. Learn to manage your worries. We know some of you worry about your health and finances, about big questions which seem unsolvable right now. If they wake you up at night keep a pen and paper next to your bed, make a list, tell yourself you can go back to it the next day or whenever you are ready. This should allow your brain to trust you have a plan and allow you to rest. But to start, just make sure you are safe.
Time for Stage Two: Focus on Internal Change
Once you feel secure, your brain will automatically switch to look for more challenges. Don’t rush it. This precious time is a gift to yourself, a chance to focus on you:
“Abandon the performative and embrace the authentic.” says Aisha. “Our essential mental shifts require humility and patience. Focus on real internal change. These human transformations will be honest, raw, ugly, hopeful, frustrated, beautiful, and divine. Be slow. Let this distract you. Let it change how you think and how you see the world. Because the world is our work. And so, may this tragedy tear down all our faulty assumptions and give us the courage of bold new ideas."
Finally, Embrace the new normalThat’s when the slow acceptance comes, allowing us to be creative and find our own pace in those changes.
Once your mind is not busy denying and fighting the change you will start getting new ideas, new energy. Pace yourself. As Aisha says, “This is a marathon, don’t start with the sprint”.
For many of our gentle readers writing, producing or performing is the best way back to a new normal but:
Don’t judge yourselfMany of us use the creative process to work through problems and emotions. It’s sometimes the easiest way to express yourself, through a very childlike activity. And even if you are a professional artist, we would encourage you to try to forget your techniques and skills for a few hours and try to get into the rhythm of improvised creation.
Drawing, even if you haven’t drawn since primary school, singing on top of your voice (or shouting, but please consider your neighbours), letting your body, your hands and your mind lead you, without focusing on the outcome just on the activity yourself, and endorphins are guaranteed. Creation can be a great form of autotherapy, but only if you let go of all the must-haves and judgement.
Remember, you don’t have to produce a thousand tracks right now or write your best songs ever. You do not have to be productive. Separate the ideas and fun you’re having from filtering things out. Give a bit of time and distance between those two stages. One day you will be ready to look at your drawer from this lockdown time and see what’s worth remembering for longer. You don’t have to judge it now. Now is not the time.
If you’re too fidgety, try guided meditations or book colouring or even calligraphy; anything which engages body and mind will give you a relief from overthinking. And hopefully lead you to the next stage.
It’s okay to be happy, tooThis is a time when you can very easily cut down the noise. If reading the news accelerates your heart rate, then create news free zones in your day or week and avoid it before sleep. Allow yourself to stay in silence even if your art is all about sound. This silence will allow you to hear yourself, and maybe to find a new voice.
I am an introvert and like many introverts now, I can’t help but enjoy isolation. Less exposure to unwanted socialising, more quiet time, more time for introspection and creation. I work with software engineers and they all see how the world is rapidly adopting the tech work style. After some adjustment you are getting to your natural rhythm of the day, which makes you focused and efficient but balanced at the same time. It’s okay not to be okay, but it’s okay to feel happy now as well, as Lucy Kellaway, FT Contributor brilliantly says in her Is it OK to be happy in lockdown? article.
I feel good but I’m humble. I know I’m incredibly lucky, exercising an acceptance of change in my zen practice for a few years now. But then I also believe that we all have it within us.
And as David Hockney recently reminded us, with his lockdown project “Do Remember, They Can’t Cancel the Spring”.