And it is different, despite the enormous potential for positive impact of the vaccines. Because in the short term, our horizons are limited by our immediate restrictions. Whereas April last year was an acute phase of change, the current situation now has chronic characteristics, of each day having a quietly relentless sameness that can erode our ability to stay creative and optimistic.
For those with children, and the burden of home schooling combined with working, there is a sort of compound interest applied to what they expect of themselves. “I’m struggling to do a good job with the children”, coupled with “I don’t have enough time to meet all of my work obligations” can easily be interpreted unhelpfully as: “I’m failing, and letting people down”. For those without children the tendency can be to expect even more of themselves, whilst at the same time battling the sameness of the computer screen, and the need to find inspiration, social contact and variation in their lives.
So, what can you do about it? Firstly, know your enemy. Chronic situations like this require greater scrutiny and reflection because they creep up on us. It’s like being in a bath that starts off warm enough, but gradually gets colder and colder, and its only when we’re numb that we notice. If your lower mood is being driven down by unrealistic expectations and self-criticism, it’s time to re-assess the situation and apply some self-care and compassion.
Reassess the situation.
- Identify what I am in control of and what can I influence that will make the situation better – Often people assume that because they are not fully in control of a situation, they cannot influence it, and don’t try to make the smaller 1-5% changes. In reality these small changes make a very significant difference, both in their own right, but especially because they demonstrate “I can have a positive impact on this situation” and so immediately boost your mood
- Identify what you can’t influence or change – and stop taking responsibility for this, or obsessing about it. Accept.
Apply self-care and compassion
- Start with how you are treating yourself, how you are talking to yourself, and how kind you are being to yourself
- Make sure you don’t talk to yourself in a way that you wouldn’t talk to someone else
- Simply raising your awareness of what you are currently doing will make a big difference to your mood and make you faster in intercepting the self-critical voices we are all prone to
- Keep managing people’s expectations. Communicate clearly and as soon as possible about what you can and can’t do, or if a delay has arisen. When you do this, you’re also talking to yourself, and managing the pressure you put upon yourself
- Look for small things you find satisfying each day, and identify the small achievements you make each day and write these down.
The most successful athletes keep training diaries which do just this – keep a record of the positives to take from the day, balanced with just one area to improve. And all of us can learn here from athletes, who often drive themselves too hard, and have to learn to harness this drive for the long run, which is perhaps similar to the marathon race we currently may feel like we’re running. And while we may be nearing some kind of finish line, we don’t know what’s over the line, and what our future will look like – so these are great life skills that with practice can become super powerful habits. How well can you grab this practice opportunity in the weeks ahead?”