Expectations during a Global Pandemic
And we’ve all just had to get on with it to some degree or the other. But how are you feeling about that, now that we’re one year on from the start of the first lockdown in England?
Have you spent a large part of the last 12 months putting a vast amount of pressure on yourself or feeling that others have been piling that on you too? And how do you feel and react when you’re under pressure? Often we can be snappy, irritable and stressed so we stop sleeping and the irritation snowballs.
Meanwhile, you’re also probably telling yourself that “you have to be strong”; “you have to get on with it”; “we’re all in the same boat” or something similar. Does this sound familiar?
So what expectations have you been experiencing over the last 12 months?
Here’s some examples:
• Stay at home
• Stay socially distanced from older family members and avoid contact with everyone (no matter how much you/they need that support and a hug)
• Shield (everyone is a danger to you)
• Work from home
• Cover for colleagues and take on extra work responsibilities
• Get a new job even though the economy is struggling
• Feel grateful that you’ve been furloughed rather than lost your job
• Understand complex and ever changing rules, guidelines and tiers but don’t watch too much news
• Keep your children at home and educate them well; don’t let them fall too far behind
• Be grateful for more time with those that live with you
• Be okay with a lack of space and solitude or conversely enjoy more space and solitude
• Have regular swab tests done
• Miss birthdays and other special occasions
• Be available for video calls at all times
• Wear a mask
• Join support bubbles
• Be able to grieve your losses on your own and in silence (because everyone is finding this tough).
The list could, quite frankly continue for pages as there’s just so many things that we’ve had to get on with, perhaps because it's what we’ve been instructed to do or maybe because it’s what we expect of ourselves.
Or is that you’re doing what others need you to do? (How often have you stepped in to help others without a second thought even though you know you’re completely exhausted)?
Why this is Difficult
Firstly, a lot of these expectations conflict with how we actually feel. For example, “I feel sad but I’m expected to feel grateful”.
Secondly, I think everyone would agree that this period in time has been stressful but we’re human, and humans aren’t designed to sustain high levels of stress for prolonged periods of time. Particularly when shielding or in isolation and without access to the mechanisms that would usually help us to feel better e.g. being able to chat things over with friends or go to the gym.
Add in the extra pressure/danger to our own lives, the lives of our loved ones as well as our livelihoods and lifestyles that are being severely threatened, it’s no surprise that our resilience is low and our ability to bounce back is compromised.
This can very easily lead to burnout but can also translate into anxiety and/or depression, particularly if you have an internal critical voice that tells you you’re not doing enough. This voice may also be wondering why you were okay fulfilling all these expectations last year, but this year, you find you’re no longer able to.
I believe that this is because of our now lower emotional resilience. Imagine this as a game of Jenga. Last year, we started “the game” on a stable flat surface so we could balance some challenging expectations. The year, you don’t have the same stable footing to build on, so the stability is quickly compromised.
The main reason for the lower resilience for most is the loss of connections and social interactions. As a social species we miss the connections with others and this results in us feeling lonely and isolated.
We also need a connection with the outdoors/nature/natural world and actually lockdown has been good for many of us in this respect as we’ve been encouraged to spend more time outdoors locally. I know I for one, have spent a lot more time listening to birdsong than before.
However there’s one last element of connection most of us forget to give any thought to and that’s our connection with our internal self and inner world. For me, this means knowing what’s important to me and why. In knowing these “whats and whys” we can work towards the things that we know will bring satisfaction, joy and pleasure. This results in us being passionate and focussed in what we’re doing, which in turn increases our levels of resilience.
What you can do
If this fits with your experiences, and you feel like your “resilience battery” needs a bit of a re-charge, here’s some ideas and thoughts that you might find helpful. Counsellors have a tendency to call this self-care but here’s some examples of things you cantry.
All of these suggestions help you to connect with your own emotional world and allow you to move away from the expectations of others and what you “should” be doing, Instead, you can take responsibility for and focus on the things that you want to be doing as we all work our way individually and collectively along the “roadmap” of lockdown restrictions.
My experience to date is that exploring your own expectations as well as what others expect of you, in counselling, has a positive impact. If this is something you'd like to look at, get in touch.
March 23, 2021
Photo credit: Adam Niescioruk
― Charles Dickens, Great Expectations
What I do know is that there have been times when expectations have weighed heavily. They impact the choices we make and how we feel about ourselves. This in turn, has the potential to stop us from voicing our thoughts, feelings, opinions and getting our emotional needs met.
I also know that in order to feel fulfilled, satisfied and to maximise our potential we need to understand and value our own expectations. That means:
Read on to see why looking at where our expectations come from can be helpful in doing just that.
Primary Care Givers
We’ll often inherit our beliefs and priorities from the people who are nearest to us and care for us in our younger years. For example, did your family assume you’d be married to a partner of the opposite sex by a certain age or perhaps they expected you to look or act in a certain way to fulfil a gender stereotype? Buying dolls and dressing in pink for girls and cars and blue clothes for boys is a great example of this.
Whilst family influences us to some degree, I don’t think this always gives the full picture and I believe that there are also other “wider” influences.
The school environment can bring a lot of judgement and expectation. I know it acts as encouragement and helps young people to thrive but it can also have a negative impact.
We often see this when younger children go to the same school as their older siblings. Teachers might have expectations of the second/third child based on the achievements and behaviour of the first. So, as the younger child you might find yourself underachieving to fulfil the low expectation or conversely, feel that you’re not good enough because you’re not achieving as well as your older sibling. Either way, it’s likely that you’ll come away from the school gates feeling resentful for not being treated fairly or being seen for the individual that you are.
But it’s not just siblings that can bring expectations to the school environment, perhaps it’s other background information. I experienced this with racial stereotyping. This created a conflict between my individuality and what I knew to be right for me when it came to subject choices versus what the school felt would be right.
I think we’ve all experienced the pressure of wanting to fit in at some point at the other. Whether it’s the “in crowd” at school or the “on trend” social clique at work; whatever the group there’s a largely superficial expectation to look or behave a certain way in order to belong.
We all fall prey to these expectations at some time, though its often strongest during our teenage years as we figure out who we are and find our own sense of self in the wider world away from families. These expectations can turn into pressure to conform in order to fit in as we try to find our “own tribe”.
Roles and Responsibilities
Adulthood brings lots of changes. We become responsible for our own financial security and social wellbeing and in order to take care of these we take on work, which usually brings a list of expectations e.g. hours, uniform, tasks you’re required to complete.
But the expectations aren’t always clear and this has certainly been the case during the pandemic. Perhaps the expectations have changed if you’re now working from home? Is your workplace low on staff members so you’re being expected to do more?
The clarity that expectations bring can be helpful but it may be that the expectations feel hard to fulfil, particularly right now [read more about this in my next blog].
Aside from work, we also have roles and responsibilities in our private lives as partners, parents, siblings and children. The expectations that all the different roles bring can become conflicting and require some juggling, for example, trying to care of older parents whilst also looking after your own young children.
The consequence is that once again our own voice and sense and of self is either drowned by the need to fulfil the expectations of others or we end up with a sense of conflict within ourselves.
Why This is Important Now
It’s March 2021 and we’re still in the midst of a global pandemic and associated restrictions in social activity. These have brought us a huge heap of uncertainty and we find ourselves having to be more reliant on our own personal resources and resilience.
Black Lives Matter has also brought us a better understanding of the negative impact of judgements made through systemic racism and everyday micro-aggressions.
All of the above may have left our emotional well being and sense of self feeling a little run down, to say the least, but if we’re able to reconnect with our own expectations (rather than feel weighted down by them) and focus on the things that are important to us then we are better placed to manage and if necessary confront the expectations of others and also to face the world, whatever it holds.
This leaves us free to choose to choose our own path and, to quote Dickens, emerge in “better shape”.
Expectations and the negative impacts of judgements or stereotyping are all areas that I work with, in my counselling practice, so get in touch if you’d like to talk about any of these issues. It’d be great to hear from you.
March 8, 2021