It's OK not to be OK

I believe today is the fifty-first day of lockdown. Thinking back, my emotional regulation probably changed about ten days ago and went from feeling intermittently challenging to feeling like it was a REAL struggle.

As an emotional health trainer and coach, I know emotions. It occurred to me the other day that even Jesus capped his isolation at forty days, and I think he was onto something because it was around the forty-day mark that the general feeling among my family, friends, and colleagues became that we had unwittingly transitioned into a place of unexplainable emotions.

I would find I was switching from feeling like I could conquer the world and have an amazing coaching call, finish another level of my course and within half an hour would literally nose dive and start making really poor choices or just find myself crying with no clear reason.

Mental health is everywhere and everyone is talking about the importance of talking about our feelings, sharing how hard the current climate is, and accepting that “it’s ok not to be ok”, and so on.

This is a good thing because mental health is of the utmost importance, nevertheless, I believe that something vital is missing from the conversation. Emotional health. Emotional intelligence is a term we are hearing a lot nowadays, and we should be asking three questions.

Firstly, how far-reaching are the skills that come with being truly emotionally intelligent? Secondly, is knowing the lingo the same as being emotionally healthy? And thirdly, how do we bring this kind of understanding into the conversation?

This period of disconnection has been really hard for me because I am the only adult in the house I share with my three kids. It’s not the workload, because my kids are usually pretty easy, rather it’s the lack of adult interaction. I’ve been alone with my kids for a year now, so why after all this time have I started to experience moments of profound sadness? By taking the time last week to sit in my sadness, own it, and ask myself, “when did I last feel this way?”, I was able to connect these moments of sadness back to when I first became a single parent, having to navigate my own emotions while helping my children with theirs. This period has also led to some of my children’s big emotions revisiting them and, in a way, has felt like we are reliving those early weeks of being a single-parent household, only with more intensely because we haven’t had the distraction of school, work, friends, time with extended family, etc.

Mental health conversations are, now more than ever, amazing; valid, and essential. A lot of the feelings and emotions we struggle with are profoundly linked to circumstances, adversity, and pain we experienced in the past; perhaps even trauma.

For many, the challenges of isolation could be stirring up similar emotions to ones they have experienced in the past, during circumstances like, for example, childhood abandonment. If those circumstances have not since been validated then the relative emotions were very probably pushed deep down within, and are very likely resurfacing in a greatly magnified form, which can be extremely confusing.

We all have stories to tell and experiences from our pasts that are consciously or unconsciously affecting us today. Further to that, there is a lot of talk about how we will get back to normal and what our new normal might look like... And here’s the thing, when our schools and offices reopen and social gatherings are back on the can-do list, the spaces we share will inadvertently become melting pots for our individual and collective strained experiences, from this strange period in time.

Everyone in the room with you will have felt the knock-on effects of Covid-19 in their own unique way, meaning that every emotion imaginable will be floating around in that room with you. Simply put, the otherwise simple process of getting back to school, getting back to work, and generally getting back to ‘normal’ is likely to bring about a feeling of culture shock.

We will need time to recover, to tell our stories, to feel validated and feel seen. To feel safe in our recovery. We will all be affected, including the leaders among us, and rushing in without the right understanding of what just happened may well end up doing us more harm than the isolation itself, so what questions should we be asking?

A great starting point is this: How can we prepare for something none of us has faced before?

As humans, we have an innate need to feel safe, and that being authentic is ok. We have an innate need to feel trusted, and worthy of the confidence that people place in us to do what is expected. I’m not sure that, with all these huge feelings swirling around right now, my family, friends, and colleagues will feel able to show up and do what is ‘normal’.

How are they going to feel emotionally safe, and how are you as a leader going to enable your ‘team’ to feel safe?

All these weeks of working from home will have brought freedom to some and an awful sense of imprisonment to others. How are you going to feel up to the job and ensure that everyone in your team knows that you trust them to do the best they can?

Teachers, especially those teaching GCSEs and A-Levels, have been empowered and trusted to grade their students for the first time in decades, which is amazing and, in my opinion, long overdue. How are they going to feel if and when that newfound autonomy is taken away from them?

What about the students who have experienced a sensation of great loss? Will they feel assured they got the grades they ‘deserved’, given the restrictive test heavy education system? How many of us have considered the impact of going back to ‘normal’ schooling, with homework being set?

Children who have found home-learning difficult or painful during lockdown could experience similar emotional responses down the line when they sit down to do their homework assignments, meaning we should start asking the questions now that can facilitate prevention and solutions, such as ‘How will these kinds of challenges be managed within schools?’ And ‘How can parents be ready for any fall-out?’.

This new form of culture shock will extend to all parts of our lives and we must ready ourselves now, for everyone’s benefit.

We must work now to understand that our unseen lockdown experiences, possibly coupled with experiences from our pasts, will be the root of many of the inevitable, seemingly negative responses we will witness in ourselves and from those around us.

As I mentioned before, talking about and treating mental health is an amazing step on its own, but couple it with the process of understanding the ‘why’ behind the causes of the emotional reactions and responses in question, known as ‘addressing emotional health’, and you will have yourself one incredibly powerful combination.

In the coming weeks, I will be offering workshop taster sessions for different sectors, providing you with insight into three key areas. The importance of understanding emotions, How to open up conversations in the home and in the workplace, and How to own our emotions and use them to inform decisions, I hope you will join me.

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