Therapist Artūrs Miksons: The Crisis Highlights Our Past Experience and Can Lead to Growth
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic our lives have turned upside down and everyone has been forced to drastically change their everyday habits. Collective consciousness, decency and concerted action are essential and invaluable during this time, but what should we do individually in order to adapt to the crisis psychologically? Artūrs Miksons, a psychotherapist and lecturer at the Rīga Stradiņš University (RSU) Clinic of Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy answers these and other questions.
‘The most rational way to get through the crisis is to accept the situation, learn from it and act rationally,’ believes Artūrs Miksons.
Why do people react so differently to this situation?
The current situation is comparable to that of a student who has put everything off to the last minute and who is suddenly told that an exam will take place two months earlier than planned. There are several scenarios of what the student could do - one is to start panicking and blaming the situation, or themselves, and the other - to deny everything, to believe that everything is exaggerated and that they will somehow manage. The best solution would be to accept the situation and to proceed with the resources they currently have available. We see the same thing now - some people are blatantly ignoring all safety precautions, and some are panicking and buying out shops.
We need to think about what this crisis means to each of us and what we are really worried about - working from home, limited contact with friends, or cancelled holiday plans? If someone is panicking now, then they were probably already living in denial and had relationship or work problems.
The current situation is unique as up until now, most people had never encountered an emergency situation like this, or had to live in quarantine. It can be compared to a traumatic crisis that requires adapting and seeking solutions to survive.
We can recognise all the typical stages of a crisis in people's reactions: shock, denial, anger, guilt, sadness, fear and acceptance.
Denial is a psychological defence mechanism. If people become aware of the real situation, they are unlikely to be able to deal with it right away. The other extreme, however, is panicking and dramatising. Some people are unable to trust authorities, but can’t make decisions themselves either, because then they would have to take responsibility. This creates huge anxiety that needs to be addressed. In searching for an authority, people jump from one source to another and this brings like-minded people together and causes mass panic.
How can you learn to look at a situation rationally and critically?
You can learn through small everyday situations that people are often unaware of, for example, by solving household problems or difficulties at work and in relationships. These can also be seen as small crises - people can react by blaming everything, including themselves, or acknowledge what has happened and understand what they could do differently next time. In the former case, you respond to unpleasant feelings, but will not learn anything new and behave exactly the same way next time. Situations can change, but your mindset should be the same - you should accept reality and take action. This type of response also helps to resolve major crises.
A crisis is like a magnifying glass that illuminates all the experiences that have come before. It shows how you have learned to deal with life’s difficulties so far. If you have destructive, non-adaptive ways of responding then this is multiplied in a major crisis and both the individual and those around them suffer the consequences.
What can we do now to make us feel better emotionally?
First of all, you should ask yourself which aspects of your life have been most affected by the crisis and what you can do to change that. You have to look for the tools to remedy the current situation inside yourself, in your past experiences. It’s possible that someone doesn’t have tools if they have previously just coasted, or relied on luck.
A crisis can bring up previous emotional experiences. It can provoke different feelings of despair, loneliness, anger, resentment - and that is normal. In this case, you can react unproductively, for example, by venting your anger on Facebook, but you can also start to do something constructive and rational to take care of your situation at home, or at work. All in all, people now have the opportunity to spend this time in a valuable way - you can organise your life, relationships, and learn something new.
Many people are finding it challenging to spend the whole day with their family and children. Why?
If up until now we were used to having minimal contact and meeting our families only at happy moments, then now we need to learn a new relationship model, learn new ways to spend time together. Together with learning something new, there also comes the fear of failure and we have to find the internal resources to overcome these fears. The same is true of working remotely - people need to learn new skills, new technologies, and find ways to discipline themselves.
A good way how to deal with the current situation is to not live in denial, but to acknowledge the problem and to do your best to not exacerbate the situation. In this case - to avoid the crisis information bubble that satisfies your need to vent your fear, anger, and envy.
You should take a break from the constant flow of information. Avoid constantly consuming news and information as especially on social media this can often be toxic information, or fake news that angers people. This is a moment when we should turn inwards.
People who take the middle road will survive the crisis the best - they hope that everything will turn out well, that they will soon return to a daily routine, but they keep in mind that it may be worse and have a plan B ready.
How do young people feel at this time? This could be a worrying time for them, especially for upper secondary school students.
Young people have mixed feelings - on the one hand, they are happy to not have to go to school, on the other - feel anxiety because of remote learning and exams. Those who use their smart devices and technology a lot feel very comfortable, because it familiar to them.
Some students do not worry because they do not understand the gravity of the situation, others do, but they are in denial. Young people’s reactions often depend on how their family perceives a situation. In my opinion, young people from disadvantaged families will suffer the most, as they have relied on communication with the outside world for comfort. Now they might feel trapped because they have to be isolated in a home where they feel bad. Domestic violence is likely to increase in this situation.
For young people who are finishing high school this year and are thinking about where to go next, this stage of life is already anxious and the COVID-19 crisis is an additional stressor.