How to cope with unwanted change and escape the 'fertile void'
TORONTO -- While the pandemic has changed many aspects of everyday life, some may be struggling to cope with that change.
U.K. psychotherapist Julia Samuel explains how to cope with unwanted change in her new book "This Too Shall Pass." She told CTV's Your Morning on Tuesday that recognizing discomfort, anxiety and pain early on can help people meet change appropriately rather than with bad coping mechanisms.
"Our information transporters, they tell us if we have sort of a feeling of discomfort at one end or real kind of pain or anxiety at another end that's [saying], 'Wake up, something is coming, you need to adapt'," Samuel said.
Samuel said underlying dread and anxieties may slowly grow over time if one finds themselves in an uncertain situation, including a global pandemic. She says it is these feelings that push people to change.
"The pain is the thing that forces us to adapt and change because the discomfort of it forces us to face this new reality that we wouldn't face otherwise," Samuel explained.
While she acknowledged that "none of us want to feel pain" by recognizing our own anxieties, Samuel said blocking those emotions can lead to worse outcomes than adapting.
She explained that one of the ways people block their discomfort is by keeping busy.
"Being on your phone, scrolling, being on your laptop all the time, and if you do that, you don't listen to what's going on in your body and you shut down so your capacity to experience has been shortened," Samuel said.
"If you have joy at one end and pain at the other end, if you block the pain, you also incrementally block the joy, so you live in a very kind of flat line existence," she continued.
Samuel calls this type of existence the "fertile void," which is space in-between where one has been and where they are going.
If one finds themselves in this "fertile void," Samuel said it is important to not control it, but rather support oneself while in it.
"Do the things that actively support you and allow the change to come through your system and then you do naturally adapt. But if you try and kind of push against it, you hurt yourself more," she said.
One important key to adapting to change is the quality of one's relationships, according to Samuel. She explained that strong relationships with different kinds of people can ease transitional periods in one's life.
However, she says maintaining those relationships has become challenging amid COVID-19.
"We're social beings and our relationships are crucial to us, but social distancing is I think the two chilliest words in our lexicon right now, because we don't need just our primary relationships, we need all of our relationships," Samuel said.
She noted that Canadians likely have either a partner, roommate or family members they currently live with, but public health guidelines have made those relationships the only in-person ones available right now.
"We need our village, we need the people at work, we need our friends, we need fun, and so everything that we need as human beings is poured into one person," she said. "And I think everyone feels very worn out."
Samuel said it is important to keep up with other relationships and have meaningful conversations with friends and colleagues as they can listen to problems without judgement.
"[Be] open and honest about how you feel, because then other people open up and then you feel like you're not the only one who isn't coping," she said.
In addition, Samuel says getting regular physical exercise every day can help one cope with change.
"Just moving your body shifts your emotions, no one takes exercise and feels worse," she said.
Samuel added that having structure to one's day can also assist, in addition to doing small, achievable tasks.
"I think we need to keep our expectations low right now. We've had nine months of a pandemic so we can't expect ourselves to perform or meet our normal standards, but what people talk about is kind of mini habits [to] help build your resources and then you meet those demands," Samuel said.
She says that finding a moment of calm throughout one's day by meditating can make changing situations seem less scary.
"When we're nervous and anxious, which the pandemic is making everybody, we get more and more hyper so anything that helps wined our system done is really helpful," Samuel said.