By Steph McClean, Psychotherapist
We have been though a lot this year. 2020 has not turned out the way any of us could have possibly anticipated. We have had to tolerate crisis and change to almost every area of our lives. We find ourselves collectively on a path none of us have chosen, a path that has presented us with challenge, fear, change and re-evaluation.
And now we find ourselves at a new stage within this unprecedented journey. Our paths have now changed. We have options. New forks in the path ahead, and we are not entirely sure which one, if any, to take.
We are now in a space of transition. We stop walking, and look back at the path behind us. We consider where we have been, and what we have experienced: Lockdown.
We look at the paths ahead and wonder which ones to take and what they may lead to. It feels uncomfortable, we may feel anxious, concerned that it’s too soon, and worried about the continuing risks. Or perhaps we’re pleased to finally have a choice of our own, and look forward to reconnecting with the world.
William Bridges wrote extensively about coping with transitions. He talks about the 3 stages we go through when managing transition:
In order to move forward, we need to let go of old aspects of our life that are no longer helpful. This can be positive as we finish with things we never wanted, like being isolated from our loved ones or not being able to go out and enjoy ourselves.
But endings may also mean we are letting go of things that were helpful. Perhaps we felt safe in lockdown, glad to be furloughed so we didn’t have to risk infection or were able to spend more time being at home with our children.
2. Neutral Zone
This is the place many people find themselves in at the moment- an ‘in-between’ space where we regroup, explore our options and think about what may have happened previously.
This might be an uncomfortable space to be, processing the experiences that brought us to this place and concerned about what is yet ahead. For others, it might be a space where we feel there is possibility for helpful and wanted change, where we are able to think about what needs to come next.
During COVID-19 everyone was expected to follow very clear government guidelines. Now as lockdown is easing, the guidelines are more complex, encompassing a variety of choices based on personal health, geographical area and ongoing change in the ‘R’ value. This may feel empowering for some and overwhelming for others.
Help with ‘being in neutral’
If you are finding this transition difficult, here are a few guidelines to help you try and work through this. It might be helpful to get a pen and paper and write down each bullet point, or perhaps use these as points of discussion with a trusted friend or relative:
- Reflect– Take time to reflect on your experience of lockdown. How has it been for you? Think about the challenges and benefits, how it’s made you feel and what thoughts and feelings you are left with when you do this.
- Review– What needs to happen next? How are you going to ‘ease’ your way out of lockdown? Do you need to connect in with others? Do you need to think about anything practical that you need to do? Are there opportunities you now have that you didn’t have before? Think about decisions you may need to make about how you may want to socially distance or where you feel comfortable going.
- Plan– What do you need to do to make this happen? Are there arrangements that need making? Eg. buying a mask so you can go to a shop, or forming a social ‘bubble’ with a friend or family member who is on their own. Make a list of priorities of how this might happen, and consider if this is realistic. Consider what might have to happen if further restrictions are brought back in?
- Picture– What does this look like? Think about how you want the next bit to look and what is your aim and why? Are there things you may need to accept as part of this picture that are not what you’d choose? How will you accommodate them? Try and get a fully thought out vision of what you want the next bit to be.
3. Moving forward-This is a place of new beginnings, when we start to put into action what the next bit looks like. It may take some adjustments when we have to deal with unforeseen issues.We will need to communicate more and start connecting in with others around us and recognising that others will have also been through their own journey. How do our experiences compare? We may need to maintain some resilience in the face of this new direction, but we may need to pace ourselves and build in some time to rest and re-evaluate.
We may also be very aware that we don’t know what is yet to come. One thing Covid-19 has highlighted is that we never really know what is around the corner. We may grieve the past idea of ‘normal’ and the losses that change brings, and at the same time, try and embrace whatever this ‘new normal’ is.
There is a sense that we will be slowly re-joining the world again. Our paths will become less lonely as we take the fork in front of us, and we start to become aware of the paths others have trodden around us. We see them through the trees and up ahead and we think about where they have been and if they are going the same way.
We return to looking at our path in front of us. We don’t know what is ahead. How many rocky moments we are yet to endure, smooth downhill slopes we stroll down with ease, uphill struggles we will climb or incredible views we are privileged to witness. All we can do is stay true to the foundations of who we are and what is important to us. So with one eye on the horizon, we lace up our boots and start to put one foot in front of the other…
William Bridges transition model: https://wmbridges.com/about/what-is-transition/
Lockdown restrictions: BBC: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/explainers-52530518
Guidance on the ‘R’ value: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-publishes-changes-to-growth-rates-and-r-value
Please do keep checking online major media outlets for up to date guidance for continuing changes to lockdown restrictions in response to the ongoing changes with Covid-19.