As the pandemic continues, and a second uptick of cases are happening with Covid19, the time we spend with family members and household members are increasing once again. And as counsellors, therapists and helpers, we see, hear and feel the stress and discomfort that arise when all family members are at home, and people cannot do their “normal” routine, whatever that may be.
Like you, I ponder the same question: But why do so many of our clients, and some people in general, find that stress and discomfort arise and increase when we are all at home together during our work and school days. Looking at it from another direction, should not our stress and discomfort go down being home, less rushed and in our own living spaces during our workday?
One term that has arisen to explain this has been “Quarantine Fatigue”. I will suggest that there is no such thing as “Quarantine Fatigue”. The reason I state this is because, as well all know, we are not fatigued strictly due to the quarantine, for the simple fact that quarantines do not in and of themselves give us fatigue. In truth, getting more rest should give us vitality and not fatigue.
Out of curiosity, if the quarantine itself is not causing this fatigue, then what is?
As counsellors, we know the importance of attunement. As such, it points to the lack of ability to sit with oneself, with all the feelings and emotions that arise, that are showing up as symptoms of stress and discomfort that makes everyone at home tired rather than refreshed. Now add our triggers, stressors, and a few coping mechanisms so that we can handle modern day society, we get activated.
Recently, I decided to start exercising again. In the past, I had some health concerns and after a few fits and starts, I had committed to swimming consistently as well as creating opportunities in my week to use physical energy to get around and do things. Well, in the last few years, I had been sporadic with my exercise, and it was not until around 6 months before the COVID-19 shutdown happened that I had started swimming again following a consistent routine.
Well, like a lot of things during COVID-19, this stopped and if I wanted to exercise, I had to find something new. After some fits and starts, I decided to commit again to an exercise and weight resistance routine and created a routine I thought I could successfully do. I did the routine and found I could barely finish it. Actually, it was closer to that I could not quite finish it. The curiosity that arises is, why could I not finish it when it should have been a routine I could do
What is most interesting is how I re-acted towards it. Interestingly, I felt disappointed and started to analyse it. However, it was not until I really sat with it, and observed it did I realize that the reason I could not do it was because I was fatigued, meaning I had attempted to do something beyond my capacity. I did not have “weight resistance” fatigue, rather my muscles were too tired to life beyond what they could do. Once again, a question, why such a reaction to not being able to do something?
When the quarantine first started, I suddenly had time free up due to not having to drive around to meet people in person, as well as do other “so-called “needed tasks, etc. Before this, I was quite busy and had finally changed my schedule enough to start creating free time to use as I chose. As well, I had gone through a year of working close to non-stop under both demanding and rewarding requirements. It would be an understatement to say I was very tired. So, from the perspective of an observer, the great pause of Covid19 was really a welcome gift for non-Covid19 me, to take time and get some needed rest. However, that was not my response and I started to fill my time and react to the new spaces in my life. After a lot of resistance on my part, and sitting with my tiredness, I gave space and acceptance to simply that this was remnants of my own trauma imprint, from not loving myself enough to directly
And I finally got to the point to say: “Thank you universe for giving me this time, I am going to create a new daily way of being that works for me.” And I did.
As counsellors, we know that we care and want to help others. The irony of this is that we often forget that we also are the caretakers of ourselves. Like many of you, I will be the first to admit that being first on our list when we have more and more people needing our services is not always easy. And coupled with what we see on the daily news about increasing mental health challenges, it can almost appear selfish.
“According to data released by the ListenFirst social analytics agency, engagement and growth around nearly 300 alcoholic beverage brands on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram were 326.51% higher this past March than the one prior. Engagement with health care brands, despite racking up the second-most amount of growth, behind alcohol, rose a mere 131.35%.” “https://www.forbes.com/sites/taranurin/2020/04/11/during-self-isolation-more-people-show-online-interest-in-alcohol-than-healthcare/#7fb32ccc4d40
“Prior to the pandemic, use of antianxiety and anti-insomnia medications were both on the decline from 2015 to 2019, down 12% and 11.3%, respectively. In the time frame examined in the study, new prescriptions for antianxiety medications exhibited a 37.7% increase, stressing the vital need for therapeutic intervention.” https://www.ajmc.com/view/how-has-covid19-affected-mental-health-severity-of-stress-among-employees
The real question is: WHAT is my DISCOMFORT about to give myself the care and space I need to be the best counsellor I can be? How can I be kind and healing to myself?
Being kind and healing is a two-way street, takes time, attunement, and holding ourselves, much like counselling. It takes two to tango, and if both parties are stressed and challenged with being internally focused, where is the attunement? Where is the compassion? Where is the healing? In other words, where is the attention—what external focuses are challenging the relationship, right in front of you, needed for counselling?
We all know that we are counsellors because we decided to be committed to helping others, and in doing so, may not have fully known to what extent we also needed to take care of ourselves. Give yourself the permission you need to take care of yourself and I congratulate you for being grateful when you do.
Now we all know how challenging it is sometimes to stay connected, be present and engage with our clients, all with different levels of disconnection, mental health challenges and impacts from trauma. A teacher of mine, Gabor Mate, speaks about the three different ways some of us choose when working on the front lines of mental health, and is applicable to us as counsellors.
The first way is having no barrier. What that means is we take it all in, no filters. We are 24/7 connected to our clients, personalize the outcomes, and identify with all of it. In a nutshell, this is the way for us to be burned out. And it also may be triggering our own traumas or feeding them. Obviously, this way is not about being an effective counsellor and deep down, we know that it may lead us down the path to harm ourselves and others with ineffectiveness.
Another way is to create an absolute barrier between our clients. We are the professional and our clients need to be fixed. We diagnose, treat, and that is it. We give them the “facts”, our opinions, because we know what is best and they can not see it. And we also know deep down that there is nothing “human” about this relationship, meaning no connection. We all know this way when we recall that time we have been at the hospital and we are given a prognosis, a pill, and then the door. We may know it by remembering a session when we were tired, impatient, and just felt a ‘need” to tell our client the way it is. Now, if we chose this way to be as a counsellor, we will not always be too tired in that most of doing this way is rote, scripted and quite planned, and I would say, can also be boring and unsatisfying if followed all the time.
Now as counsellors, we need to ask, if this is how we are approaching our day and our lives, are we really connecting with the person in front of us? In other words, can we help them heal without any connection taking place?
The third way is to be like a Semi-Permeable Membrane. In my Supervision sounding board group, an idea was explored by the facilitator of the group that as counsellors, we could have a circular connection with our clients. Now with this connection, 90 percent or possibly up to 99 percent of us could be connected at times, but always there would be a piece of us never leaving our core self. In other words, we are connected, and stuff can come and go and move between us and the client AND we are not identified with the client. At all times, their suffering is their suffering. And most importantly, their healing comes from themselves, it is not our responsibility that we must fix them. We are simply there to hold them as they heal.
As counsellors, this third way is the ideal we all strive for and in the end, gives us the ability to help with our hearts, to be healthy by having a balanced, grounded practice, and to be fully our own persons in and out of practice. Most of all, it is the only way to take care of ourselves while doing what we love to do. It answers the question I posed, by giving us the space and care we need to be the best counsellors we can be: to hear, see and feel the truth in front of us.