• Confidence Coach Gary Leboff looks at pandemic anxiety and how to cope

    Human beings hate The Unknown.

    In technical terms, psychologists describe the human race as being locked in what we describe as ‘an existential crisis of not knowingness’.

    Or put more simply, people have a burning desire to know how things are going to turn out, that they will be ok.

    Of course, they cannot. And never has this existential crisis been more pronounced than in the era of Covid.

    For children, there is a separate issue. Under the age of 16, the reality is that young people have almost no control over their lives. They are told what to wear, what to eat, when to go to school, when to sleep etc.

    Faced with Covid 19, that sense of an absence of control is heightened dramatically. For parents without the tools to address the problem, solutions and fresh resources are needed.

    Failure to address the problem is in real danger of creating a pandemic of its own – a crisis of anxiety in our young people.

    Entering The Unknown

    This is a time of unprecedented challenge for parents and young people. Parents are charged with the enormous responsibility of trying to retain normality for their fragile charges, of providing reassurance – and a critical sense of safety – despite external circumstances.

    And that’s before we get to the day-to-day struggle – the sheer grind – of home schooling.

    I have been working with young people since 2012. Doing so was a natural extension of the work I was already doing with adults, corporations and elite athletes.

    Although problems vary significantly from one child to the next, some of the issues I handle are stress, low self esteem, self-confidence, overcoming negativity, anger, fear of failure etc.

    Covid has thrown all of these issues squarely into the spotlight. Even the most robust young people are finding themselves becoming anxious and uncertain in ways they have no strategy for tackling.

    Confronting The Issues

    To quote the ancient Chinese curse ‘may you live in interesting times.’

    The fact is that we do. And facing the challenge is non negotiable.

    There is another proverb – but this one I like: It suggests ‘Never let a crisis go to waste’. Or to put it bluntly – when the going gets tough, the tough get going.

    My gift – my privilege – is to help adults and children become more resilient, to provide them with tools that not only deal – quickly and effectively – with current crises but also equip them with skills that last a lifetime.

    Helping children and their parents is by far the most satisfying area of my work. To see young people who have been struggling with anxiety, bullying, exams or social issues not only overcome those problems but flourish in subsequent years – maturing into confident, resourceful and happy human beings – is deeply rewarding.

    Some of the ideas I am providing at present are relatively simple. Stop watching the news, for example. Stay informed by all means but a glut of information is agitating to the nervous system and explains many of the nightmares that are so pervasive across society at present.

    Others are more complex. Isolation presents an opportunity to detach from situations (e.g. certain friendships) that may be dysfunctional. Separation is providing young people with an opportunity to see clearly what may have been hard to spot at close quarters – and make the appropriate, considered, adjustments.

    In conclusion, it is questionable whether life wills truly ever ‘return to normal’ post pandemic. What can be said for certain is that – paradoxically – uncertainty will reign for some while yet.

    While some will remain fearful until Covid subsides, others will use the hiatus to gather fresh information, absorb new skills and strengthen their sense of self. When lockdown is lifted, it will be those who emerge ready to flourish and prosper in the new reality.

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