Journeying Toward Wholeness

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The Big Uneasy: Coping with Covid 19 and Anxiety

September 28th, 2020 · coronavirus, COVID 19, covid 19 and anxiety

This third post on “Emotions of the Pandemic” focuses on one of the more powerful and obvious manifestations of our COVID 19 experience: anxiety.

We may be used to thinking of anxiety as a “disorder” or a “problem, but as the American Psychological Association reminds us,

Anxiety is an emotion [italics mine] characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure.

“Anxiety”, APA website

Anxiety is a regular part of human life, which everyone experiences to some degree in the course of living ordinary life. Yet it can also be one of the most excruciating experiences that we can have when it’s at its worst.

Psychology and neuroscience affirm that anxiety is the nervous system’s standard and predictable response to uncertain and threatening circumstances—to crises. Our brains and nervous systems are wired to feel anxious when we encounter threats that have unpredictable aspects.

The Alertness Emotion

Anxiety was created by evolution for a purpose. It’s meant to protect us and to keep us alert when we’re facing situations of potential threat. It’s intended to motivate us into taking action that keeps us and the people and things near and dear to us safe when there’s danger in the environment. So, anxiety can actually be a very good thing, that enables us to take good care of ourselves.

However, we can become overloaded with anxiety in situations where we feel we’re dealing with too much uncertainty. If it gets too great a hold in the wrong way, anxiety can overwhelm our capacity for coping, and it can cripple our ability to function effectively. For many people, this has been the experience with COVID 19 and anxiety, as they deal with digestive issues, headaches, relentless worry, sleep problems and nightmares, and experiences of sudden rage that seem to come out of nowhere. It’s not surprising that some people are turning to alcohol, drugs or other means of diversion at record levels. As renowned physician and addictions counsellor Dr. Gabor Maté emphasizes,

A lot of us carry a great deal of anxiety that we usually cover up or distract ourselves from, through work, relationships, going to the pub, watching sports, exercising. Some of these are good things to do, but they can also function as a way of binding or diverting our anxieties.

Now that there are fewer of those options for coping, people’s anxieties are rising, and that’s showing up in their behavior. [Much] anxiety was not born of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was there before, and in almost every case, it goes back to people’s earliest experiences.

Mate, Gabor, “When The World Won’t Hold Us”

Denial, Minimization, Diversion

Certainly, when it comes to COVID-19 and anxiety, the anxiety can be so continuous and so overwhelming for many people that they try consciously to deliberately minimize it, or, on an unconscious or semi-conscious level, they deny its existence, or try to divert from it. They seek to live their lives as if nothing untoward or different is happening.

It may well be that much of the resistance to wearing masks or engaging in social distancing comes from the fact that acknowledging the anxiety that the present situation arouses is simply too uncomfortable or painful for individuals to take in. Also, in many cases, the anxiety of the COVID situation connects too powerfully with other anxieties that we’re had in our lives for an incredibly long time, but may have been able to keep at bay—until now.

COVID-19 and Anxiety: How To Deal with It

If you’re facing an overload of anxiety at the present time, how can you best deal with it, and restore yourself to experiencing normal and appropriate levels of anxiety, as opposed to overload?

One simple answer is to connect with things that give a sense of calm. This can include quite a number of straightforward practices, including deep breathing, and exercise of many forms. Many people find great value in practices such as yoga and T’ai Chi. There’s a lot of scientific evidence that getting out and exercising in green spaces enhances relaxation and a sense of well-being.

There’s something I’ve mentioned before is limiting consumption of news channels. These days they’re full to the brim of stories about COVID. One good approach can be to confine yourself to one trustworthy news choice, which you listen to just once a day, rather than bathing yourself in the constant 24 hour a day news cycle.

Another important type of thing we can do is to move our anxiety towards action. We can do this by doing something where we take hold of our power. Generally speaking, anything that you can do that genuinely increases your sense of control in your life, and helps you to feel that you do have power you can use is good. It will tend to help you feel better and less anxious. This could involve help for other people, or creating things that bring more of what you want into your own life.

To effectively address COVID-19 and anxiety issues, it can be extremely valuable to do therapy with a depth psychotherapist who can help you to greater insight about the roots of your anxiety, and how it might relate to what is trying to emerge in your life. This can be very valuable, if the therapist also has an understanding of the neuroscience of anxiety. For people who are experiencing the COVID-19 crisis as a major life transition, this kind of help can bring important healing and growth.

With very best wishes for your journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2021 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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How to Deal with Grief and Loss of All Kinds During COVID-19

September 21st, 2020 · how to deal with grief and loss

Whether we’re conscious of it or not, we’re all struggling with how to deal with grief and loss during this COVID-19 period.

I’ve chosen the subject of grief for this second post in my series on “The Emotions of the Pandemic” because grief is such a pervasive and powerful emotion during this pandemic lockdown. We may well not be aware of all the ways in which it is emerging for us in this extraordinary time.

Perhaps we’re aware of the very difficult circumstances that anyone who has lost a loved one has faced during the COVID-19 period. The hardships have been notorious and very well-publicized, including families being unable to visit dying relatives in the hospital, harsh limitations on attendance at funerals, and a range of other very trying ordeals.

Other manifestations of grief may be less obvious. We experience them without even labeling them as grief, yet we may experience them in ways akin to depression.

The Many Forms of COVID Grief and Loss

In a recent article in the Amplify section of the Globe and Mail, Lara Pingue writes about her experiences with her son’s first day of school this year as a senior kindergartner. She notes how getting him ready with mask and hand sanitizer, “after the longest and least rejuvenating March break in history” left her with a keen sense of sadness. She came to realize that this sadness was a sense of grief, stemming from her lost sense of normalcy as she thinks about her son, going to SK in a mask, “who knows that he can’t hug his teacher or high-five his best friend”, and as she thinks about all the normal experiences of work, home and social life that we’ve all had to leave behind in this pandemic period.

As we noted above, Pingue recognizes that she had previously thought of grief in terms of catastrophic loss: “the sharp pang of a lost mother or father, a job, a home”. But she recognized in her experience that the loss of the small things that make life ordinary and secure can result in very substantial experiences of grief.

Pingue quotes the famous thanatologist and grief expert, David Kessler, writing in the Havard Business Review:

We feel the world has changed, and it has. We know this is temporary, but it doesn’t feel that way, and we realize things will be different. Just as going to the airport is forever different from how it was before 9/11, things will change and this is the point at which they changed. The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. This is hitting us and we’re grieving.

Kessler, David, “That Discomfort You’re Feeling is Grief”, Harvard Business Review

Working Hard to Avoid Grief May Not Help

Whether we acknowledge it or not, we are grieving in this pandemic period, in a multitude of small ways. We may also find that we are trying very hard to avoid acknowledgment of our grief as we make our way through so-called ordinary life in the pandemic. We’re experiencing a major life transition, with all the emotional fallout that entails

It’s natural to want things to be normal, to damn well insist on them being normal, even when they clearly aren’t. That’s one way in which we try to cope, and among other things, try to reduce our anxiety. Yet the plain fact of the matter is that grief has a way of being present to us, even when we seek to ignore it, and perhaps berate ourselves for feeling it, because we “haven’t had a catastrophic loss.”

Finding Meaning Amidst Grief and Loss

Kessler emphasizes the importance of finding meaning in our grief and loss, as a way of coping with it. In this, he is very much on the same page as C.G. Jung, who continually emphasized the need to find meaning in life, and especially to find it in life’s dark and hard experiences.

What would it mean for us to find meaning in our experiences of grief and loss during this pandemic? First of all, we would have to be willing to look at those experiences, and genuinely acknowledge our sense of loss, and sorrow, much as Lara Pingue did with her experiences. However, we should be aware that our experiences of loss may well be very different from hers. Someone I know finds it really distressing that the whole experience in grocery stores has become so slow and joyless. I personally can feel a huge sense of loss in the way one day blends into another. How do you experience the pandemic?

Working with a depth psychotherapist to process feelings of grief and loss over the pandemic, or any experiences of grief and loss can be of great value. The process can lead us on the path of finding meaning in our loss.

With very best wishes for your journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2021 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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How to Cope with Anger During COVID-19

September 14th, 2020 · how to cope with anger

This post on “how to cope with anger” is the first post in my new series on “The Emotions of the Pandemic”.

As we all know, the COVID-19 experience is stirring up strong, complex feelings. How do we cope with them? What do they mean? In this series, I plan to look at anger, fear, despair and other emotions to attempt to answer these questions for each emotion—and what they respectively mean for our lives at this point in our journey.

Today’s post deals with anger, and the ways in which we’re experiencing it during the COVID lockdown period. Has anger been a part of your experience during the lockdown? It certainly has been for very many people. It’s important for our health and our growth as human beings that we understand as much as we can about what’s going on with this feeling.

Our Anger Now

Bernice (Not her real name) is angry. “My business is really struggling. We’re way down from last year at this time, because of social distancing, and because my business depends on bringing groups of people together. I’m fed up with all the stores and my favourite restaurants being closed. We didn’t really have much of a summer, because of travel restrictions, and everything being shut down while we were away. Now the kids are going back to school, and I really don’t know what to expect. Is it safe? Who knows? And if one more person tells me that this is ‘the new normal’—I don’t know what I’ll do!”

Many of us can relate to the kinds of things that Bernice, and the many people like her, are saying. For many of us this is a very anxious, painful, frustrating time, and whether we want to admit it or not—we’re pretty angry about it. What can we do about it?

Owning Our Anger

Before we can do anything else to respond to our anger, we have to acknowledge that we have it. A lot of people don’t acknowledge anger, and that failure can have some very negative impacts. Anger which we deny or refuse to acknowledge can come out sideways, leading to passive-aggressive responses to other people. Also. anger can get displaced, so that our anger ends up getting dumped on those who don’t deserve it–a loved one, an innocent party, or even a family pet. Or, unresolved anger can end up coming out in our lives as anxiety.

To feel better about our lives and to get more of the good things we want from our lives will mean that, at some point, we have to come to terms with our anger. Even to move towards becoming the unique individuals that we have the potential to be (to individuate as Jungians say) will require us to acknowledge our anger and to come to terms with, and somehow incorporate its energy.

The Dynamic Side of Our Anger

As anger researcher Prof. Ryan Martin of U. Wisconsin-Green Bay reminds us, anger is

the emotion we feel when we are treated unfairly or our goals are blocked…. Anger can be helpful in that it energizes us to confront injustice or solve problems.

That is, provided we find ways to use that anger that are healthy and constructive. Seeking to find such ways to be creative and life-giving with our anger is particularly important for all of us who are now seeking out how to cope with anger in the midst of these pandemic times

It can be of genuine benefit to both explore the roots of your anger, and discover creative ways to express its energy through working with a supportive depth psychotherapist. What comes out through working on your anger may be of great importance for the whole course of your life.

With every good wish for your journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2021 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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