How to cope with the Manx Covid rollercoaster

I think it goes without saying that these are unique times. Approx 72 emotions per day at least, and that’s even before scrolling through other people’s vortex of emotions on Facebook and Twitter. In the words of Mr Keating, ‘Life is a Rollercoaster” – inspiring, I know. In amongst the plethora of emotions, we are all coping with things differently and at different paces. So with that, I thought I would share my top tips – as a therapist & coach, on some musings through our time in lockdown.

Have you ever heard the story of King Canute? I think most kids have been told the old tale of Canute (at least back in my day). The story goes that the King of England a thousand years ago tried to command the tide to retreat, to demonstrate how powerful he was. There was a picture of Canute sitting on a throne on a beach with his hand in front of him, kind of like a medieval version of Lord Sugar, giving it all “You’re Fired”. However, the tide came in and rose up above his legs. The moral of the story was that even kings, with all their power, cannot influence some things.

Years later I learned that there was an alternate interpretation of the story. As Canute and his ‘yes-men’ walked along a beach one day, his attendants were, as usual, flattering and praising his powerful and wise traits. However, he was irritated with it all. He was a wise man and knew that he wasn’t able to influence everything. He told his officers to bring him a chair, and he would demonstrate his power over all things. The tide obviously didn’t obey his commands and the waves started to wash over his legs, with his entourage wondering if he had completely lost the plot. From this, he demonstrated that he was not all-powerful, despite what they said. So, the moral was turned on its head: some matters are out of our control, whatever we, or others, might like to believe or say

Fast forward ten centuries and to put it bluntly, we are in the middle of a crisis. Adult and child, president and pauper, young and old, we are all affected in some way. Normal life – whatever that is – feels like it is on hold. 

Humans find change – especially extreme change – stressful. In particular, we tend to stress ourselves when the situation seems out of our control (when we cannot exit the situation) but also are unable to find a way to make it better. All of this, your physical and mental well-being, depends on several vital factors, but above all, it depends on what you pay attention to.

Imagine a lighthouse, with the beam shining out, scanning the horizon, and illuminating closer objects that happen to be in its path, but missing most of the landscape entirely. Our conscious attention is similar: our narrow band of awareness falls on something within our range and illuminates it. 

This could be something outside of us: the person behind us in the Tesco queue, a Facebook post, a child’s rainbow drawing, or Howard’s latest update streaming on the Gef the Mongoose website. 

Or it could be something inside of us: that hunger feeling, trying to remember what’s on the shopping list that you left on the kitchen worktop, or that song you heard on the radio earlier that you are humming for the hundredth time.

People who get very stressed tend to think in a different way about these things, compared to people who are almost stress-free. In addition, some people tend to feel more in control of what is going on, and others less so. The difference in feeling stressed and out of control, or calm and in charge of your well-being, depends on which parts of your life you spend time paying attention to. 

People who get less stressed tend to pay attention more often to aspects of their lives in which they have choice and influence. They more often feel in charge of results, and their emotional state. It’s simply better for you, psychologically, to feel that you have choices.

We all love a list:

Let’s write down some of the things we’re in charge of, in our lives, and call it ‘My Control List’: (grab a piece of paper and a pen, draw a line down the centre of the page, and write down the items that apply to you, in the left column):

MY CONTROL LIST

  • What I wear

  • What I eat & drink

  • Physical exercise

  • How much time I spend surfing Facebook, Instagram and YouTube

  • How I react emotionally to news, good or bad

  • What work I do

  • My attitude & enthusiasm

  • How much time I spend listening to my partner and/or children

Add some items of your own: what are you in charge of in your life?

Now, in the right column, create another list, and we’ll call it ‘My Let It Go List’. We can add all the things we’re not responsible for, or in control of:

MY LET IT GO LIST

  • Weather

  • The economy

  • What politicians say and journalists write

  • The way coronavirus spreads

  • The way other people behave and their emotional reactions, good or bad

  • Sex lives of celebrities

  • What other people post on Facebook

  • What other people think of you

  • The news

Add some items of your own to this list: what are you not in charge of, and what do you have no control over, in your life? 

The idea is to increase the time spent on the items within ‘My Control List’ and make choices that bring you happiness, or better health, or better relationships, or even better results at work. Add things that matter to your list, and pin it up somewhere you can see it at least once a day. And decrease the amount of time you spend on the stuff in ‘My Let It Go List’ because there’s nothing you can do about it. Just Let It Go.

And if you find the tide of events starting to lap around your ankles, threatening to engulf you, just take a few steps back up the beach, and focus on what you can control, rather than what you can’t.