As lockdown eases and we imagine what life might look like before a coronavirus vaccine, many of us are struggling to come to terms with the idea of a ‘new normal’. Here, a psychotherapist explains why this could be a sign we’re grieving for our old lives.
It’s safe to say that the majority of us have found ourselves on a bit of an emotional rollercoaster since lockdown began. While on some days we might find ourselves filled with optimism and feeling motivated to get things done, the next we might find ourselves feeling utterly exhausted and unable to concentrate on anything.
It’s an experience which has been well-documented online throughout this crisis (this recent post by mental health advocate Jo Love was particularly relatable). Even as lockdown eases and we begin to see some semblance of ‘normality’ return to our streets, many of us are still struggling to manage our everchanging emotions – especially when it comes to accepting the idea of a ‘new normal’. So what’s going on?
According to Lucinda Gordon Lennox, a psychotherapist and trauma specialist at The Recovery Centre, our everchanging emotions could be a sign that we’re grieving for our ‘normal’ lives – and the struggle we’re having accepting a ‘new normal’ could be a sign we haven’t passed through the grieving process.
“Grief is a complicated process – we don’t just grieve for people who have died, we grieve whenever there is a loss,” Lennox explains. “I think that’s what a lot of people don’t understand. We’ve all suffered a loss – we’ve suffered a loss of so many things. Now, we might get all of them back again, but there’s a lot of uncertainty around whether we will – and even if we are going to get them all back again, we’re still going to experience a feeling of loss when they’re taken away.”
According to Lennox, this lack of awareness – that our emotions could be a sign we’re grieving – makes it harder for us to pass through the grieving process. Indeed, she says, if we don’t allow ourselves to pass through and process the different stages of grief – whether that’s denial, anger, bargaining or depression – we can get stuck and find ourselves unable to reach a stage of acceptance or meaning.
“While picking ourselves up and getting on with life is wonderful and a fantastic trait, if we can allow ourselves to feel those emotions, whatever they are, we can tell ourselves ‘OK, I’m a human being, I’m grieving a loss – this is completely normal’,” she says. “We can then allow ourselves time to process all of those feelings as they come up; once they are processed then we can move past them. But if we deny ourselves that process we can become a bit stuck.”
In this way it’s important that we allow ourselves time to sit with the uncomfortable feelings we’ve been experiencing, in order to make sure we’ve had time to grieve the loss of our old ‘normal’ and pave the way to accepting and finding meaning in the ‘new normal’ we’re going to have to build over the coming months.
To do this, Lennox recommends having a chat with someone who is able to empathise with your experience – whether that’s face to face with a member of your immediate household or virtually over a video calling service like Zoom.
“Different people have different ways of processing grief – some people prefer to just sit with their feelings and just wait for them to move through, whereas other people find that they feel a bit stuck with that and a bit anxious and afraid,” she says. “I’d urge those people to talk to someone who gets it. Talk to someone who can really sit with you, wherever you are in the process.”
Coping with uncertainty
If you’re struggling to deal with the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus crisis, you’re not alone. We’re facing a situation none of us have ever dealt with before, so it’s completely normal to feel uneasy or worried about what’s coming next. However, if you’re looking for a way to alleviate some of those feelings, here are three articles that might help.
- Everything you need to know about seeking mental health support during the coronavirus pandemic
- Free online therapy and wellbeing resources you can access during the coronavirus outbreak
- The unexpected secret to feeling happier in times of uncertainty