When Everything Looks Uphill, Know That You Can Climb It

As we start the new year of 2021, it looks in many ways to be a re-run of what went before. The COVID-19 pandemic is still with us, and continues to shape much of our lives. Tiers and lockdowns mean our activities are restricted, and the virus itself poses as much of a threat as it ever did, if not more.

Add to that the beginning of a new year, the traditional pressures to make and keep resolutions, to start on a programme of self-improvement and generally be a better version of our old selves, well, it can all seem to be a ‘bit much’.

You might be telling yourself that you can’t stand the lockdown, that it’s too limiting and this life is frustrating and unfair. When will things go back to normal, this is unbearable!

Or you might be berating yourself for not making the most of lockdown and the new year by taking up a new challenge, learning a new skill and really taking advantage of your daily exercise allowance. You should be fit as a fiddle and speaking three languages by now. What a failure!

Well let’s take a look at those ideas through the lens of CBT and see how they stand up…

Lockdown is unbearable, when will it end!

One of the most useful skills we learn in CBT is that of disputation. Just how true, sensible and helpful are the things we tell ourselves? Let’s dispute the idea of lockdown being unbearable.

Is it true that you can’t bear the current restrictions on our lives? An honest answer must surely be ‘no’. Of course, it’s uncomfortable and frustrating not to be able to see our families, to go out to work, to enjoy social activities like we used to. But you already ARE bearing it. You are getting through every day and every week, and whilst it’s not the best experience, you are surviving. Plus, you’ve survived nearly a year of restrictions already. You’re already an expert on handling this. You are definitely strong enough to get through this latest test.

Is it a sensible thought to say you can’t stand lockdown? If you examine it, it is not. It’s sensible to say you don’t like it, but it’s not a logical statement to say you absolutely cannot bear it. Saying it does not make it true, nor does it make it any easier. Keeping a logical mindset is very useful when helping us deal with our problems.

And how helpful is it to believe we can’t bear to live in lockdown any longer? Surely not helpful at all. The reality is we must, and in fact that we are living in it, on a daily basis. To tell ourselves we can’t do it leads to frustration, anxiety and anger. If we acknowledge that we can bear it, that we can do it enables us to face each day with fortitude and the emotional balance we need to see us through. It’s tough, but so are we. Try saying ‘I can get through this’ rather than ‘I can’t stand this’. See what happens.

I should be doing and achieving more!

The pressure to use lockdown to write a blockbuster novel (or similar unrealistic task), plus the weight of new year’s resolutions can lead to us telling ourselves we are not doing enough, that we are failing. Well we’re here to tell you to stop right there!

First of all, try applying the three questions above to such a statement: how true, sensible and helpful is it to damn ourselves with too much pressure and thoughts of failure. Go on, try it. Take a piece of paper and give it a go.

Once you’ve done that, we invite you to also treat yourself with some compassion. If a friend came to you and said they felt like a failure because they still hadn’t learned to play the guitar and dry January wasn’t as dry as it could be, what would you say? 

Would you call them a failure? Would you say they were wasting their time and were weak and would never amount to anything? Of course, you wouldn’t. You’d tell them they were doing their best during a global pandemic. That they were managing a house, a family, a job, caring for relatives or any other of the many things we all do each day. You’d tell them that even the smallest steps in the right direction were progress and telling themselves off would simply lead to them feeling worse and probably giving up all together.

So maybe it’s time you spoke to yourself as you would to a friend.

Yes, set goals. Yes, want to improve your life in the ways that mean most to you. But also, be kind. Be encouraging. And be forgiving. We believe you’ll find this makes the hill a lot easier to climb.

Nick Jones 

CBT/REBT Counsellor

January 2021

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