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The power of must, should and have to


At this time of shutdown and social distancing, social media can play a number of roles in our lives. it can be a source of connection - something we so desperately need in times of isolation. It can be a source of humour, to lighten our spirits. It can unfortunately be an avenue for hatred, fear and scare mongering, as well as the usual pitfalls of encouraging comparison, issues with self-image and "not being good enough". I don't want to talk about any of that today. I want to talk about something that is coming up a lot more and is related directly to the coronavirus situation.

What I’m seeing a lot of online can be summed up in a single post I saw the other night. It said:

“If you’re not using this time to rest, reset and prioritise your purpose and people in your life, you my friend are wasting an opportunity you may never get back”

This, in my humble opinion, is nonsense. And dangerous.

There are going to be some people out there who have been furloughed, or are working from home and are finding they have more free time. For those people, this may be a great opportunity to do those things they just never quite find time to do. But for others, this is a time where things are busier, not quieter. Where they’re being asked to juggle several roles at once, like parent, employee and partner in a single moment, rather than have them conveniently separated by school and work hours. It might be a time where self employed people, or those who have lost their jobs, are scrambling to stay afloat. For those people, the idea of having any time to do anything else on top of that is an impossibility. And that’s before we get to the additional fear, adapting to changes in our lives and the uncertainty we might be feeling.

Telling people this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to change their life, puts too much pressure on people who are just about getting through the day to day. The idea we should all be writing books, or doing an online course, or learning that foreign language creates a feeling of not being good enough in those who simply can’t find the time to do anything other than survive right now. Those people managing a mental health condition right now, getting through the day to day without your usual routines or patterns can be enough of a challenge.

So I want to reframe this message.

If you can use this time as a period of self reflection, and to make some changes that you feel would benefit your life, that’s great.

If you’re just about getting through the day to day and can’t imagine having the time or energy for those things, that is equally great.

We think of progress as moving forward. If you’re climbing a mountain, moving upwards is seen as progress. But sometimes, when the wind sweeps in and threatens to throw us off the mountainside, or the ground beneath is starts to give way, just being able to hold our ground, keep our feet, is as much progress as moving forward. In this time of crisis, staying upright is a monumental achievement.

If you are getting through each day during these difficult and uniquely challenging times, you’re doing enough. Don’t let ideas that you should be doing more make you forget that. Everyone has the right to get through this in whatever way they can, however they need to.

I’m aware that I have been encouraging people who are struggling with not having a routine or feeling a bit lost, to try learning something small that they can fit into 15 or 20 minutes, almost as a grounding exercise. For me, that’s helped with the transition into this new structure in my life. I’ve been re-learning how to solve a Rubik’s cube, and some basic card tricks. Things that are not revolutionary or going to change my life, but when I’m feeling overwhelmed, stressed or like I’ve lost that grounding, I can turn to for short burst that’s helps me to regulate. Learning little things like that can be helpful, but even then, I don’t put pressure on myself to get it right. This isn’t a thing I “must” do, but a thing I do because it helps. I’m finding my own way through this time. It’s okay to encourage people to use any time they have productively, or to learn something new – but be mindful of creating the impression that it’s something that everyone should be doing.

You are enough, just as you are

If today you did nothing more than survive, then that’s enough right now.