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Better Together. Lawyers and therapists unite!

It’s a curious job, being a family lawyer. Yes, you need to be a technical expert, meticulous drafter, font of legal knowledge, tenacious advocate. But the demands of the job go way beyond the legal. You’re also required to act as therapist, life coach, parent and best friend all rolled into one (and to think some say family law is just about adding everything up and dividing by two…)

It’s these (in the absence of a better word…) more ‘touchy feely’ elements that make the job so fascinating as well as frustrating. And emotional pressure comes with the territory when you work with clients who routinely become overly dependent on you, may act illogically and go against your advice.

Can therapists help?

Given that family lawyers often do become pseudo-counsellors for their clients, what’s the point of getting an actual therapist involved in the family law process?

Clients usually don’t want an array of people involved – they like having one person that they can trust and pour all their feelings into. That’s why they develop such an intense bond with their lawyer.

But there are some good reasons to involve therapists. And not necessarily the ones you might expect…

Opposites attract

Lawyers need to spend time with people from professions with such a different culture.

People are porous. We’re massively affected by our environment. We pick up on others’ ways of doing things if we’re around them for long enough.

And working alongside therapists can really help lawyers temper the focus on logic and become more feelings-orientated.

Family lawyers are a pretty empathetic bunch generally. But the legal profession still fails to give feelings and emotions the credence it should. Emotions come into every case you work on. But they’re barely mentioned (if at all) in lawyers’ training. And it’s too often seen as good practice to squash your own feelings as a lawyer in order to appear ‘robust’ or as having ‘broad shoulders’ (whatever that means…).

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Photo by Ivan Bertolazzi on Pexels.com

Handing back responsibility

Lawyers are often Mr and Mrs Fix Its. It’s inbuilt in lawyers to want to solve problems for others. Therapists on the other hand tend to take a more reflective approach. That’s useful in cases with complicated and delicate psychological and practical issues (as family matters do). Sometimes there isn’t an immediate solution to a problem. Therapists find it easier to be OK with that than lawyers.

Lawyers are excellent at getting to the heart of issues while therapists tend to be a bit ponderous and not so quick to get to the point. Although this can be impractical, the therapeutic approach does demonstrate an appreciation that feelings are not a linear A to B matter. Emotions need space to breathe for us to have a hope of making sense of them. In contrast, the legal process doesn’t really do ‘space’. Hence why amicable divorces often turn nasty, casualties of a system that funnels them in and churns them out like the machine in the Pink Floyd video ‘Another Brick in the Wall’.

Horses to water…

When bumps in the road appear, lawyers tend to appeal to reason and logic to persuade their clients or counterparts to come round to their way of thinking. Contrast that with your typical therapist. Day 1 at therapy school teaches you that we all sometimes behave in self-defeating ways. it’s part of our make up as humans. So therapists understand that appealing to someone’s logic usually doesn’t work. Effortful or directive efforts to cajole or persuade clients that they should or should not do something often backfire. You can lead a horse to water and all that…

Therapists try to shine a light for clients on such self-defeating or destructive tendencies,  rather than seeking to persuade them one way or another. There’s an element of trusting that the client will take the right road. This approach liberates therapists from the frustrations that lawyers get caught up in. Lawyers might benefit from picking up a little of the spirit of this approach.

‘Do Not Cross’

Boundaries run through therapeutic work like the words on a stick of Blackpool Rock. Like the implicit rule that clients should rarely contact you between sessions. This shows respect for the therapist’s time. Contrast that with the average lawyer who is expected to be available and responsive most of the time.

We therapists are also supported in managing our own feelings with clients, through clinical supervision and our own therapy, making sure that feelings of anger, frustration and annoyance with clients get discharged.

When can therapists help in family law matters?

Ideally well before the start of the legal process. Most couples benefit from attending therapy together, whether separating or not. Those who do so tend to be more communicative and more nuanced in their views about their relationship; less likely to indulge in the ‘blame game’.

There’s also no reason why a suitably experienced couples therapist can’t be involved with aspects of the legal process. Therapy can be a great setting for couples to start to disentangle thorny issues around, say, personal belongings, unreasonable behaviour particulars in a divorce petition, decisions around schooling, holidays, what’s in the best interests of the children.

This is not about taking the place of mediators or lawyers. It’s about the fact that many of these conversations are not actually legal, nor do they require legal knowledge.

The therapist can then encourage the clients to speak to their lawyers and can provide a written summary of discussions of the discussions to the lawyers, with the clients’ consent.

What else?

Therapists can also take a supporting role in mediations, collaborative meetings or negotiations. When I think back to round table meetings I attended as a lawyer which disintegrated into defensiveness and acrimony before breaking down and one person storming out, I wonder how many could have been ‘saved’ with some therapeutic support. Having a therapist present makes clients feel safer – they know they can take time out when needed. This makes them less likely to retreat into defensiveness or lash out and are more likely to stay in the process.

The future

We all know the reality: that family law is a melange of psychology and law.

By therapists and lawyers working in a more integrated way we ensure that our practice fits with that reality. We two professions have complementary skills to share and learn from each other. We do clients a disservice if we fail to reflect that in the way we work.

 

Letting the sunlight in…12 tips for relationships during lockdown

For couples everywhere, spending so much more time together during lockdown is a gift as well as a challenge. Forced proximity = new opportunities. We’ve all found different ways to be together in this Covid-19, safety-first time. However, in the hope that this might help, I’ve drawn together some ideas that will help make things better.

To let some sunlight in. To make life more kind.

1)   Ask open questions when disagreements arise, rather than using statements or even accusations. Gentleness in asking those question is key: “How can I help?” is better than “Why are you banging on about that again?” Obviously.

2)   Check out your own emotions and write them down. Are you feeling frustrated? Scared? Irritated? Jittery? Try to find quiet time for you to lean into your feelings. Write them down: naming feelings is a powerful way to take away their sting and let them go. Feelings are transitory. They will pass and they don’t own you.

3)   Trying to relax into the present, putting aside worries about the future and things outside your control. Time to yourself for a few minutes, using breathing exercises, can be a balm. If you haven’t tried mindfulness yet, do. It’s brilliant.

4)   Find opportunities to do kind things for your partner (even if you don’t feel like it!). We can get caught up in our own worries; it lightens the heart when you think of something to say that makes your partner happy, or when you do something unexpected to please them. Find a poem to read them in the evening, surprise them with some flowers.

5)   Consider sharing the way you feel before the temperature rises between you. It can be helpful just to let your partner know you are feeling tense or unsettled today. It gives them the chance to do something kind for you. And maybe tell you how they’re feeling too.

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6)   Listen calmly and non-judgmentally. Difficult when things are stressful, yet it’s a wonderful skill. Communication problems are made worse if the other person jumps to conclusions, or butts in on what you’re saying, maybe with a hostile or quizzical expression. Be brave and bold. Go first. You can set an example.

7)   Speak calmly so as not to ratchet up the tension. Sarcasm doesn’t help. The aim is to reduce the antagonism, not heighten it. You probably know what doesn’t work with your partner, what riles them. Equally, you may well know what will make things better.

8)   Use physical touch. When it’s the right time, reaching out to touch your partner’s hand can be the most soothing thing in the world: that’s a scientifically proven fact! A hug can make tensions dissolve. You can be the brave one to make the first move.

9)   Call a “time out” if the temperature is rising too high. First find a word or phrase that you can both agree on that acts as a red light, a stop sign. Then if you feel things are about to escalate into a fully-fledged row, one of you has to say the time-out word, which is sacrosanct. You must both agree to stop and move away to a pre-arranged place for an agreed length of time. It’s a chance to reflect, take some deep breaths and resolve to approach things differently.

10) Lighten the mood by playing music, or being playful. It’s amazing how music can raise the spirits – and dancing can be even better. A joke lightens the atmosphere. A genuine smile is wonderful currency.

11) Remember needs: we all have needs, including (especially) a need for connection. “What do you need from me?” is a generous question that offers your partner a chance to open up.

12) Other tips for personal wellbeing: connect with other people where possible and safe, learn new things, donate, give a present or a helping hand to someone. All these are proven to help wellbeing generally. They will take you out of yourself and put you in a more positive frame of mind. And that helps both of you.

Tim Rice

Please note that the above guidance is provided for couples who feel and are safe with each other. If you believe that your safety, or your family’s, is at risk, contact: 0808 2000 247 (Refuge, women); 0808 800 5000 (NSPCC, children); 01823 334244 (ManKind, men) or 0808 8010327 (Respect, men).

 

Sober Lawyers discuss…booze and lockdown

Annmarie: Well, Jo, things have got pretty weird since our last blog haven’t they? Over a month into lockdown now due to Covid 19 and I think we’re all feeling a constant low-level anxiety. How can we cope? There’ve been reports of some people drinking more alcohol in lockdown (reports suggest 1 in 5 people in the UK are drinking more) while others have cut it out completely.

What does this tell us about our relationship with alcohol?

Jo: Well it seems to be all or nothing!  But that’s too simplistic because the relationship with alcohol can be a complicated one, especially now. Alcohol usually helps enhance a social situation and increases conviviality. But there’s not much justification for that in lockdown; in one’s own home, either alone or with immediate family or housemates. There are no parties or trips to the pub.

The reality is that any drinking is plain to see, all those bottles going to the recycling. People may not have been aware of how much they were drinking; when going out with others it is easy to lose count.

Alternatively, people may simply be allowing themselves to drink as they please; not limiting themselves as they usually might. And why not? Furloughed, or quiet or no commute or my goodness having look after and home-school children while working are all justifications. Everything is different, why not have a drink and maybe even more than usual? Twitter is littered with references as to what time it’s acceptable to drink.

What do you think?

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Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

Annmarie: As you say, everything is magnified due to the situation – people are more aware than ever how much they’re drinking. I’ve noticed that the tendency towards compulsive or habitual behaviour we all have (whether it’s in relation to booze, food, exercise, jigsaw puzzles whatever!) are a bit heightened by the current circumstances. It makes sense that that would happen given that we don’t have the usual distractions of the outside world to temper it. Given how scary and uncertain the world is at the moment, I think it’s also natural that we would turn to whatever gives us comfort and these things are usually a great source of comfort, even if they can also harm us.

Have you noticed any behaviour like this yourself since this started?

Jo: I have a tendency to overeat when anxious and be drawn to sweet things or carbs. Read pies and cakes and Cadbury’s Crème Eggs.  In a weak moment, I ordered online 12 gluten free savoury pies and 12 gluten free donuts!  I have decided to allow myself this for now. Wean myself off in time to lose some weight during lockdown or frankly I won’t have any clothes to wear!  You?

Annmarie: Haha, yes, my sweet tooth has definitely come out in force. The other thing I’ve noticed is that my thinking has been a bit more compulsive. I start to hone in on things that I don’t like, whether it’s something about the way I look or something about my life and, without the distractions of day to day life, it’s harder to reverse myself out of the rabbit hole of thinking about it. I also bite my nails when I’m nervous but so far I’ve managed to resist that!

There’s no doubt we all have our coping mechanisms for life, and we need them now more than ever. It’s just a good idea to try and find ones that you can live with and that hopefully don’t harm you or other people! I understand people drinking more at the moment but, given what I remember the general fear is like with a hangover anyway, I wonder if that’s heightened at the moment for people? Alcohol used to suppress my anxiety but then it would come back with force the next morning. What do you reckon?

Jo: Yes, I agree.  I am finding it harder to concentrate at the moment. I have a low level of anxiety pretty much all the time. If I go outside to walk the dogs it’s even worse because I’m worried about the distance people are keeping away from me and vice versa.  So, I’ve taken to getting up very early in the morning, which I won’t be able to sustain for too much longer.

The truth is, deep down, I know that I can’t eat my way out of all of this. So much of it is out of my control.  My powerlessness is plain for me to see. Acceptance is of course the key. What kinds of things do you do that help with accepting the current situation?

Annmarie: I find limiting news and social media intake really helps with acceptance. There’s so much noise out there and opinion about how the situation is being handled. What’s the point of me getting involved with all that when it’s outside of my control? I read an interesting article by a man who’d survived the Syrian War who advised that you focus on how you can live your values during a time of crisis. He described how, once the war broke out, he used his company bus to drive his competitor’s employees around as well as his own employees – doing the right thing rather than being a stickler for the rules. So acts of kindness, getting involved in community efforts, volunteering, thinking twice before cancelling services and subscriptions in an effort to help out other businesses are all good. Reading a lot of fiction helps too as does any form of escapism.

As horrible as this situation is, it is an opportunity to try and train your mind out of unhelpful habits. If you’re a bit of a worrier and a catastrophiser usually (as I am), you’re probably finding that that way of thinking is not good at the moment so you’re having to modify your attitudes in times of crisis. I’m having to do so and I think it’s a useful thing to learn…

Jo: The things that are good for us right now feel counterintuitive and may feel like yet MORE things to do.

Silence: sitting in silence even for 1 minute does wonders to calm the brain.

Meditate: this is sitting in silence and just being aware of your breathing. That’s it. We can all be good at it.

Paint, do a puzzle: anything that helps get you through.

These things help divert the mind long enough from the crisis, from the alcohol or the food or the online shopping or the online gambling to slow it down or stop it.

Actually, since admitting here (this has taken a few days for us to write) that I am waking up early to avoid people whilst walking the dogs I am waking up just a bit later each day!  I think telling you about my anxiety has really helped. I need to try and remember to feel my feelings, acknowledge them and then I’ll be ok.  No need to eat or drink on them.  Any other top tips?

Annmarie: Well, one thing I’m trying is telling myself that, yes this is an exceptional situation but instead of worrying about how I’ll cope with whatever’s going to happen I try to think about the evidence of the past: i.e. I’ve always coped (more or less!) with what life’s thrown at me so far so I choose to believe that I will cope with what’s thrown at me in the future. One day at a time!

Good chatting to you about it. Speak soon.

 

 

 

 

Meaning & Hope – do people turn to God at a time like this?

Since Covid 19 hit our shores, most of us have existed in a state of shock, not quite believing that this is our new reality. Now we’re becoming strangely accustomed to the horrors in the news and the weirdness of the situation.

And all the while we’re trying to make sense of it all.

Why has this happened? Could something have been done something differently? What does our future look like now?

There’s also anger – why weren’t we more prepared? What did we do wrong? Whose fault is it?

We all have a need to at least try to understand why things happen so we can put them into context. And there’s a sense that if we can answer these questions then we’ll find some meaning and learn from it, rather than it just being a random happening after which we will all go back to ‘business as usual’.

Many people find a sense of meaning through religion and spirituality. But what does something like Covid 19 do to people’s belief (or non-belief) in God? Could this pandemic cause people to turn towards God? Or will people reject such ideas given all the hardship?

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Photo by THÁI NHÀN on Pexels.com

Religious feeling and disasters

History offers us clues as to how people respond in the wake of such catastrophes. An annual study of over 12,000 people in Canada between 1995 and 2012[1] found that natural disasters do increase religious feeling in those who already have some sort of belief.  82% of those interviewed already had a pre-existing belief (mostly some form of Christianity) and they indicated that such beliefs became stronger after disasters (such as wildfires, blizzards and avalanches) injuring a significant number of people. Attendance at religious services also tended to increase in the aftermath.

What’s interesting is that the study’s findings suggested that people react differently to serious economic crises/catastrophes. There appeared to be a drop in religious service attendance after such events (by 26% for every 1% increase in such disasters). The author put this down to there often being practical action one can take in response to economic crises (claiming assistance from the government, insurance etc) whereas a death/natural disaster is the ultimate indication of our powerlessness as human beings – there is nothing we can do. And it’s this feeling of powerlessness that makes it more likely that a person will turn to God.

Jeanet Sinding Bentzen also conducted a global study comparing individual’s religiosity with data on natural disasters[2]. Again, she found that people tended to become more religious if an earthquake had recently hit close by. This correlation appeared to have some longevity to it as well; continuing through generations.

What about disasters that aren’t ‘natural’ as such? Following the most memorable terrorist attack of our lifetime; 9/11, a study of 560 Americans found that 90% had ‘turned to religion’ as a way of coping[3]. The answers ranged from ‘a little bit’ to ‘a lot’, presumably ranging from the saying of a quiet prayer to actually participating in religious rituals or services.  The most likely people to turn to their faith were those who had suffered a ‘substantial stress reaction’ to it all, rather than those who had a milder reaction.

Meaning and Covid 19

The term ‘religious coping’ describes the tendency in some people to turn to religion to deal with unpredictable life events that could otherwise seem to be unbearable. Holding a belief that there is something bigger ‘in charge’, some reason for it all can help people to feel safe and find the meaning and purpose in a terrible situation.

The impact of Covid 19 combines both mass illness and death and dire economic consequences for many. We know that there are some practical steps people can take; applying for financial assistance from the government, using food banks and the like. But will people also turn to religion and spirituality?

While Covid 19 isn’t a naturally-occurring event, its sheer scale and the extent of the impact on how many of us have been living our lives has led some to attribute a higher meaning to it already, particularly given the context in which it came along; in a world that was already struggling with many man-made problems. Some believe it is God or Mother Nature or the universe’s way of taking back control (forgive the Brexit-ism) of showing us we’re not the boss and that we need to heed the warnings to respect the environment and slow down our lives.

In her recent speech the Queen also referred to prayer and meditation, indicating that religious rituals play a large part in her the way she copes with such events.  Given that many of those watching had suffered bereavements already her closing words of comfort “we will meet again” were particularly poignant, possibly suggesting a belief in the afterlife as well as to the reunions of living relatives once lockdown is over.

Of course, finding meaning in events like this is not limited to those who have religious beliefs. Many people are taking heart from the reduction in pollution, the slowing down of life and the re-assessment of values that are happy by-products of this pandemic. The community spirit shown by people volunteering to help the most vulnerable, the gratitude shown for the NHS and the number of those volunteering to help have also given people a sense of togetherness, direction and usefulness. This echoes the 9/11 study’s findings that the most popular way of coping, above turning to religion, was talking to other people (98%) while 36% had donated to an organisation to try to help and 60% had participated in some sort of group activity or vigil. It’s that feeling part of a group with shared values that seems to really help people, whether that group is a religious one or not.

Hope

So people find hope through faith, whether that’s faith in a God or faith in the people around them, in kindness and the power of good. Hope for positive changes in the way we live in the future and hope that, ultimately, we will be OK.

But at a time like this, when death is around us in a way most of us haven’t seen in our lifetime, I think many of us will also be saying a quiet prayer or two, for the people we love, for those in our communities, for the world. After all, what have we got to lose?

[1] https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/06/180605172518.htm

https://www.technology.org/2018/06/29/disasters-do-make-people-more-religious-but-only-when-people-are-injured/

[2] https://blog.oup.com/2019/10/natural-disasters-make-people-more-religious/

https://academic.oup.com/ej/article-abstract/129/622/2295/5490325?redirectedFrom=fulltext#supplementary-data

[3] https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/nejm200111153452024

Coping in the time of Corona

It’s bloody horrible at the moment isn’t it?

Over the course of a week or so we’ve gone from a relatively normal existence (albeit with worries about developments in other countries) to total lockdown. And even though we had an inkling that this was coming, the reality has sent many of us into shock. There’s still a part of me when I go to sleep at night that thinks that maybe when I wake up it will all have been a nightmare and we’ll all go back to talking about Brexit. But we know now that it won’t – this thing is here for the long haul and we have to try to learn a way to live in this new reality. So how do we do it?

Living with the fear

There’s certain physical side effects of living in such frightening times. I’ve noticed a growing bubble of fear in my stomach and a hollow legged feeling that reminds me of times of shock or heartbreak I’ve gone through in the past. But previously these feelings have been relatively transient – and gradually lessen the further away I got from the upsetting event. But this feeling now, this yoke of fear round our necks and general sense of foreboding will be here for some time and is society-wide.

Until this point I think we in the West have unconsciously had an impression of having some sort of safety net underneath us. We knew in theory of course that bad things happen ‘over there’, somewhere else in the world. But they didn’t happen too much in our country and not to us. But now that safety net appears to have been whipped away and all bets are off. We feel as if our lives as humans are suddenly precarious when in fact they have always been so – we just hadn’t really known it. Because you can’t really ever know these things in your bones until you or someone you love goes through it.

So the question I’m having to ask myself now (as are many others) is whether my definition of ‘happiness’ is wide enough to encompass the current situation.

Can I find contentment while living with fear as my companion? Until now, I’ve had certain ‘prerequisites for happiness’ – the knowledge that my family and friends are  healthy, well and safe and are likely to stay that way, at least for a while. But now I and we are being called upon to stretch our concept of happiness to accommodate much more fear and uncertainty than we have ever had to live with before.

The signs so far are, I think, that it is possible to do this, provided we find a way to live on a daily basis, enjoying the moment and without projecting into the future. People are finding pockets of contentment and happiness in the freedoms we do have left: the freedom to go for a run, writing and posting a letter to someone we love and miss, walking the dog or FaceTiming with friends and family. And of course there’s the ultimate freedom that Viktor Frankl talked about – the freedom to choose one’s reaction to a situation.

Indeed, there’s an argument to say that this whole experience is like a (very scary) rocket-fuelled course in mindfulness – it’s forcing us into the moment and waking us up to our lives and what’s important.

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Photo by Marta Branco on Pexels.com

Love love love

One of the cruellest element of this illness that its contagiousness means we can’t go and give the people we love who are most vulnerable a cuddle and take care of them.

Previously, I’ve been accustomed to showing love to the people I love in the way I want to – driving across the country to see my parents when I wanted to for example. With that option taken away and with worries for their health and safety setting in, the strength of the love you have for them is highlighted to you. It’s poignant and it’s painful but it’s still beautiful.

Because love is still love even if you can’t channel it in the way you’d like – Viktor Frankl, in his book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ talked about his love for his wife not being dependent on whether she was there or not, whether she was alive or not. The love you have has a force of its own and is independent of whether that person is able to ‘receive’ it and whether one gets to see them.

Are you a human being or a human doing?

I’m also learning to regard the situation as some sort of spiritual training. In life I’ve always been a ‘doer’. I’m not alone in this, particularly living in London where life can be pretty non-stop.  But when you’re forced to sit on your hands for a period of time, all sorts of interesting things happen. Decisions that you’d made and plans that you’d hatched before this all hit now seem a bit less clear cut. Having some of my control taken away from me is enabling me to let go of fixed ideas as to how things should turn out.

Of course, inevitably, I’m still attached to some outcomes, like desperately wanting the people I love to be OK. But other, lesser aspects of my life, wanting to move house for example, that seemed so certain beforehand, have become much looser now. It’s like I’m developing a sense of wonderment or curiosity about what’s going to happen next rather than being certain as to what should happen.

Drown out the noise

One of my mum’s favourite phrases is “don’t make a drama out of a crisis”. I never really knew what she meant when I was a kid but never has it been more pertinent than now.

We’re surrounded by a lot of ‘noise’ about the situation: from the media, the Internet, the people in our lives. And a lot of it isn’t helpful. I must have now received emails from every service provider I’ve ever used in my life referring to these ‘strange’, ‘unprecedented’ and ‘unimaginable times’. Such emails may be necessary (for some reason I don’t understand) but they also serve to heighten the anxiety. There seems to be no escape from the situation.

I’m aware that some people continue to imbibe the news by the bucketload but frankly I haven’t got the stomach for it. Because what I’ve found is that my brain cannot be trusted with the contents of the media. If I read something about numbers of fatalities my brain immediately turns that into an inevitability that I’m going to lose the people I love. That’s not mathematically accurate but there’s where my head goes. And I imagine it’s the same for lots of others. Too much exposure to the media detracts from our ability to take this thing one step at a time, one day at a time or even one hour at a time. If we try to do any more than that at the moment, we’ll be overwhelmed by our feelings.

My litmus test when I start to feel tempted to read a particular article or glance at a newspaper is the following:

  • is it likely to be helpful to me to read this? and
  • is it likely to affect the way I act or don’t act?

If the answer to these two questions is ‘no’ then I won’t read it.

It’s also a good idea to be discerning in your interactions with others. I’m one of those people who tends to ‘end up talking to’ people I barely know in the street. It’s important to be friendly of course, especially at the moment, but I’m learning how to discern quickly which conversations are likely to be helpful. For example, if the other person is a neighbour who knows about a scheme to help the vulnerable in our area, that’s important. Contrast that with a conversation that is likely to create more drama with gossip or speculation about what’s going to happen next, how many people are going to die etc. That, I can live without. There is nothing to be gained here from panic.

This applies to friends as well as acquaintances.  There will be times when friends phone, text or email to offload their fears on to you. Sometimes we will have the emotional resources to handle that. Sometimes we won’t. Our job is to be aware of our own emotional state and our capacity to manage that stuff. If I think it will send me doolally to listen to it at that point in time I won’t respond for a little while or I’ll make an excuse to end the call. We’re all being depleted by the anxiety we’re carrying around so we needn’t feel guilty for stepping back a little from contact on occasion. It’s ok not to answer the phone sometimes or to respond to a text or email at a later point when you’re feeling stronger. Being highly responsive is not the best idea at the moment anyway – that’s how the whirlwind of social contagion is growing.

Find new distractions

If you’re anything like me, you usually intersperse your working day with regularly checking Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, BBC News etc. In normal times it provides a bit of light relief. Not anymore.  We need to find new distractions. Ones that take us away from the reality of the situation. No more walking down the street, eyes glued to i Phones like the zombies in Shaun of the Dead (not that we can really walk down the street anymore anyway). We all need a break from this situation or our brains will explode. Programmes, books and podcasts about nature and wildlife will be our saviours at the moment. So will fiction, comedy (often of the dark kind) and anything that grounds us and gives us a sense of before and after, like history.

I hope that you all keep yourselves safe, physically of course, but also mentally inasmuch as that’s possible. We’re all in this together.