Mental health and Coronavirus

Uncertainty has become a collective experience.
Alison Bryan (Trustee)

Over the last 10 weeks, and most recently during the last 10 days, we have found ourselves walking into unprecedented times. Our daily lives are mixed with the highly familiar and the completely strange. “Social distancing” - a contradictory term in itself, suggests something of our problem. For those living with others, they are engaging with them more closely than ever before - but seeing “everyone else”, not at all. For those living on their own - silence might have fallen in new proportions.

For those in work or at school/university there have been colossal changes, with close and distant plans all put up in the air. Many fear for their work futures and how to pay their bills. Uncertainty has become a collective experience.


Everyone, whoever they are - is suffering from shock. However much some might have anticipated such times, we have, none of us, ever lived under such restrictions and circumstances before, even those who lived through the WW2 (where different challenges presented themselves). Shock appears as our daily incredulity that we are thinking or saying the things which we are. We are thrown around and feel somewhat distant from the world around us - something which is literally true too. But we are all in shock, and its worth recognising that in ourselves and those around us. If people around us are a bit unpredictable, out of character, volatile or withdrawn - these are all symptoms of shock.

Before and after

We are all having to dis-identify from our previous lives. This means we are having to let go of a version of ourselves and how we lived. Our ideas, plans and wishes all have to be suspended. For now many aspects of “Before Life” are not available.

We are having to make huge adjustments to the “Here and Now Life” we are living, which surprises us every day. It’s taking on a new identity. We are all mourning the life we had, and trying to find hope in a future we know will be different. In some ways we may be relieved to leave aspects of the life we had - but we are still saying an unscheduled farewell. We are facing our own limits. The immediate “solutions” and fantasies around working from home and keeping in touch, bring their own challenges and limitations.

And then what?

In addition, we are having to suspend any real thoughts around the future. We have no time scale and no certainties in front of us. Plans have been abandoned and none can be made, except those within our four walls. Humans aren’t very good without a timescale and uncertainty - we all like to know answers to What? and When? So this state of affairs attacks our sense of security - let alone the parading fears of ourselves and our loved ones becoming actually ill.

Here and now

Our minds are all very busy right now - its very tiring. Some people are finding new opportunities, ways of living, enjoying the reduction of pressure - finding new ways of being creative and digging into relationships, despite distance. Others feel imprisoned or alone.

Disappointments abound for everyone - we have all watched our work, holidays and events be cancelled. We are all disorientated as none of us ever expected to find ourselves here, like this. Frustration and sadness are to be expected. For others there is a relief from having to be someone which was hard to keep up with - a lack of social pressure and expectation is welcome too. Permission not to compete may by some be most welcome. Many face financial and work concerns on a considerable scale.

How to reorientate yourself

Psychologically we need to enter into a sort of internal building project. How we see life from “inside our own heads” is altering fast. I suggest we look at it this way:

We have to add some extra “rooms”, or a loft extension. It’s fair to call one of the rooms “Concern” but visit it only once or twice a day. Another room might be called “Unanswered

Questions” which you might like to visit with family or friends, again, for just part of the day. Other rooms are where we can have “New ideas”, “Things I have lost/disappointments”, “Increase connections/friends”, “Skills I might develop”, “A different looking future” - whatever makes sense to you in expanding the space in your mind right now.

Remembering we are in shock, means take it slowly, have that cup of tea, talk to anyone who will listen and don’t expect to find immediate answers.

Let’s be good listeners to each other - allowing each other to name fears, but not dwell inside them. Be kind.

Remember uncertainty has always been part of our lives - we have become accustomed to the privilege of knowing more than we do right now.

Let’s be practical, innovative - and allow ourselves to change. It would be wrong if this didn’t change us and help us work out what our priorities in life can be going forward.

Alison Bryan UKCP

Psychodynamic Psychotherapist