Struggling psychologically at the moment? Worried about what the future holds?
This is normal. We are in a period of great and rapid change, where all the commonsense rules of behaviour are being pushed aside and fear and anxiety are replacing them.
Rage at the supermarket, panic buying, short tempers at home… these are the signs of the times. Are they signs of the end game, as some fundamentalist religious people would have us believe?
No, these are the normal reactions to grief, and grief is what our society is largely experiencing at the moment.
The widely-held five stages of grief are:
- depression and
To which you can add a sixth, Finding Meaning.
Currently, I’m willing to bet that the vast majority of us are experiencing Anticipatory Grief. That is grief that is focused on the future, not the present. We are worried about our family members, our jobs, our ability to pay our bills, what the future holds for us. The future is uncertain and we are struggling with that uncertainty. We’ve never experienced it so widely in society before — certainly not so widespread in society, with so much media coverage, with so much social media analysis and debate stirring up fear. Yes, the World Wars were grief-filled times, but those who lived through those times knew their jobs. Currently, the vast majority of us have no job, or no job we can do in the company and with the support of others.
So how can we cope with grief?
It helps to stay in the present. That’s something that those who meditate train themselves to do easily, but it can be as simple as noticing five things in the room you’re in. Just that act will bring you into the present. Of course, with worry so prevalent in us at the moment, it doesn’t take long to slip out of the present and into the future again. Back into anticipatory grief.
A further skill to develop is the 5-4-3-2-1 skill. It is a five-step exercise that helps bring a person back into the present, where things can be dealt with.
In essence, it is this:
5: Notice FIVE things you see around you. It could be a pen, a spot on the ceiling, anything in your surroundings.
4: Notice FOUR things you can touch around you. It could be your hair, a pillow, or the ground under your feet. Not your face.
3: Notice THREE things you hear. This could be any external sound. If you can hear your stomach rumbling that counts! Focus on things you can hear outside of your body.
2: Notice TWO things you can smell. Maybe you are in your home office and can smell a wooden pencil, or maybe you are in your bedroom and smell a pillow. If you need to, take a brief walk to find a scent you could smell soap in your bathroom, or in nature outside.
1: Notice ONE thing you can taste. What does the inside of your mouth taste like—chewing gum, coffee, or the sandwich you had for lunch?
Using the 5-4-3-2-1 tactic can help bring attention back to the present world, the only place where current challenges can be most effectively addressed. You’re not going to be able to stop the future-focused images from flooding into you, and the useful Acceptance & Commitment Therapy says you shouldn’t try, but David Kessler — co-author with Elizabeth Kubler-Ross of two brilliant books on grief — argues convincingly that the goal should be to find balance in the things you’re thinking. To bring your thinking under control where present thinking is there in equal measure to future thinking.
We need future thinking in order to plan and strategise. We can plan for circumstances, more so if we are calm, which present thinking creates in us. The future may not turn out as we fear. Maybe not everyone we love dies. Maybe we all get sick but the world continues anyway. We need to plan for that future, to feel we have control over it.
Anticipatory Grief is what many of us are currently feeling. Fear of the future which looks scary. To bring our thinking back under control we can use the well-proven 5-4-3-2-1 technique to bring our mind back to a calmer present, where we can then approach our future scenarios and plan how to manage them.
If you would like some help understanding and coping in this challenging time then I’m available for online counselling Tuesdays to Sundays. You can book a session with me.