Why we are like boiling frogs under this lockdown

Urban myth has it that if you put a frog in a pan of boiling water it will instantly leap out to save itself. But if you put it in a pan filled with tepid water and gradually heat it, the frog will remain in the water until it boils to death. Allegedly, the frog isn’t able to detect the gradual increase in temperature until it’s too late.

This tale illustrates an aspect of human psychology: we tend to unwittingly accept things that creep up on us slowly but steadily, even when they take control of our lives and are harmful to us. Until one day we wake up and find ourselves in boiling water.

And this seems so relevant to what many of us are currently experiencing. Over the last year we have been asked to not do the very things that most of depend on for our emotional wellbeing. These include connecting with friends and family, taking breaks away from pressure of daily life, and indulging in leisure pursuits that may take place a distance away from home like weekend breaks and holidays.

As we have followed these social distancing rules and denied ourselves some of the key pleasures in our life that serve to replenish and nourish us socially and emotionally, the pressure has been slow but cruelly relentless. What the government is asking from us – although absolutely necessary in the greater scheme of things – is exactly the opposite of what we human beings normally do to seek comfort. Not being able to seek the comfort of others just adds to the level of stress and anxiety already caused by the crisis.

Following the rules last March may have been straightforward and some of us may even have welcomed the changes. But, almost a year later, with the natural rhythm of our lives utterly disrupted, it is becoming harder and harder. The Co-Vid lockdown ‘water’ we frogs are living in has gradually increased in temperature to the point where many of us are finding it unbearable and feel like we’re boiling to death, desperate to escape but unable to.

That is why it’s crucial, in these stressful times that are largely outside of our control, that we try things we may never have considered before in order to look after our emotional wellbeing. One of these things may be talking to a counsellor who can help you develop ways to better cope with your emotional distress. Areas of work could include breathing, grounding and body exercises to handle symptoms of anxiety; how to cope with difficult relationships; making room for difficult emotions that may be overwhelming you and learning new ways to accept the things that are out of your control.

As the well-known psychotherapist Victor Frankl once said, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves”.

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