Counsellor Charlotte Cummings on why what you’re going through during a pandemic is probably 100 percent normal.
Over 100 wellbeing professionals have been contributing to the Thinkladder app during Covid-19 pandemic.
Elly Strang catches up with these contributors, starting with Christchurch-based counsellor Charlotte Cummings.
Covid-19 is proving to be a unifying experience like no other for us humans. Though we may differ in job titles, backgrounds, or what’s in our bank account, many of us are struggling with the same emotions and thought patterns during this pandemic.
“There’s something nice about all of humanity being in the same boat at the moment,” Charlotte Cummings says. “We are all in this, and there is a comfort that comes from that human solidarity.”
“As a counsellor, I wish that people could see we’re all in this and everyone struggles with those deep emotions that are the core of us: ‘Am I a good person? Am I doing enough? Am I being enough? Am I okay? What’s going to happen next? Will I be okay when something bad happens?’ Those fears are human fears, they’re common to all of us. Normalising that for me is really important.”
Charlotte is one of the wellbeing professionals writing content for the Thinkladder app, including content being written during the Covid-19 pandemic. She lives in Christchurch, New Zealand with her husband Jono and three children, Jude, Emmett and Flora and runs a private counselling practice. As part of her job, she helps give people a road map for rebuilding themselves and soothing themselves during challenging times.
“Christchurch has been a really interesting place to be a human in the last 10 years and a particularly interesting place to be a counsellor,” she says. “We’ve had earthquakes, we’ve had mass shootings but now, we are with the rest of the world experiencing a global pandemic.
“It’s a period of time that’s asking a lot of people and one of the things I’m constantly reassuring people of is that you’re really adaptable. It doesn’t matter whether you think you are or not, you are adaptable, and you can change and find ways to meet your needs that are different to the norm.”
While everybody having a collective experience that in some aspects makes us feel closer as a community – New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Arden refers to the nation as “our team of five million” – Charlotte says people’s own unique personal issues can make the pandemic experience particularly painful for them.
She says this time has been a bit of a wake up for some people that their mental health isn’t as great as it could be.
“We take our mental wellbeing for granted and it’s not often we have to sit with our reality and our thoughts,” Charlotte says. “When people’s lives and lifestyles are stripped away and they can’t distract themselves from painful stuff or get their usual ‘quick fix’ to feel good, they can find their mind isn’t a particularly friendly place.
“I think that idea of ruminating when our brains go over and over the same material – that’s a big thing that’s been going on for people, because there aren’t those easy distractions they can reach for.”
Parents may also be concerned that not only their own mental wellbeing is being affected, but their families, too, seeing as children’s normal day-to-day life has also been impacted.
However, Charlotte says the pandemic presents an opportunity to teach our kids some vital life skills.
“The reality is, life is going to throw a lot of stuff at our kids and what better gift can we give them than the ability to survive and feel okay through something difficult?” she says.
“I look at this as a parent and go, ‘Great, this is my moment – this is my chance to teach my children some skills that will be with them for life.’”
Children feed off their parents’ feelings and resilience, she says, so the best thing every parent can do right now is strengthen their own mental and emotional wellbeing.
“Even if that’s put on, fake it till you make it is totally okay as a parent. Some of that messaging can be, ‘It’s a bit hard not knowing when kindy is going back, isn’t it? But I’m alright with that because I know when we are allowed to go back everyone’s really safe.’”
On the Thinkladder app over the past 10 days, people all around the world have explored over 6000 specific limiting beliefs and the numerous negative symptoms associated with those beliefs.
The most common three self-limiting beliefs popping up in New Zealand during the pandemic are ‘I have to be in control of life’, ‘busyness is my best protection against worrying’ and ‘I am a horrible person’.
To those who feel like they need to be in control, Charlotte’s advice is, “It’s okay you like being in control as it’s understandable but being in control isn’t the only way to be.
“Yes, you’re used having life in neat little boxes, but you’re still going to be okay if isn’t. You’re a person beyond your lifestyle and what you do for a job.”
For the people who believe busyness is their best protection against worrying, she says, “Just because you’ve always been busy to feel good doesn’t mean it’s the only way to feel good.
“We can do other things with our worry to feeling good, safe and joyful as a human being. It’s a question of what can we do besides being busy to settle our bodies down, connect with other people and find joy?”
As for those who believe they are a horrible person, Charlotte says, “It’s okay to feel down about yourself right now, but the journey of learning to like ourselves is one we all have to go on.
“One of the things I say to people is a whole lot of humans have done this before you, so if you’re in that place and rebuilding yourself as someone you’d like, ask yourself, what does a nice, good person look like? How do you know when you’ve got there?”
Charlotte says one of the silver linings to come out of the lockdown is it’s shown people that mental and emotional wellbeing is another muscle they need to build.
“What are we doing day to day that builds our mental and emotional capability?
We need to work on our mental wellness and fitness. Just like going to the gym makes us fitter to deal with physical challenges, our mental fitness is really important as well.”
Now, New Zealand is about to move down to a level two in its alert system, relax social distancing protocols and resume normal life, like other countries have started to do.
Charlotte says she’s noticed people are also finding it hard to come to terms with that the habits they’ve created and sense of ‘normal’ they’ve built is once again about to change.
Her advice is to flip the perspective on this and take it as an invitation to reshape themselves.
“When the doors of your home open up again and you’re allowed out in the big wide world, what do you want to do? Are there things we don’t want to pick up again, or people and activities we don’t want to have in our lives anymore?
“It’s a really good chance for people to have a good look at who they are and how they want to rebuild their lives.”