Dealing with postponement

How to cope with delayed or cancelled plans

During this pandemic, our lives have been brought to a halt with a lot of our plans postponed or even cancelled. We dive into its impact on our mental health and what we can do to stay sane while waiting for normality to resume. By Marta Portocarrero.

The Olympics have been postponed, the Euro 2020 as well, and so has the London Marathon because of coronavirus. But not only sports events have had to be rearranged: weddings, birthday parties, that interview that could lead us to our next job, children’s return to school, summer holidays – the list goes on.

Just this week I read an article about some school children in the US whose spelling competition has been cancelled, but because they were in their senior year it meant they will no longer be able to take part in the following year. Months of practise and enthusiasm suddenly came to nothing, leaving some of them quite distressed. The story gave me the idea to write this piece.

The uncertainty of not knowing when life will finally resume can have an impact on our mental health, as we’re forced to constantly review and reinvent our plans.

We spoke with psychotherapist Denise Ela Maley from Seventh Wave Therapy about this.

She told TMIK that postponement affects us because “we have a limited sense of control or no control at all over our choices” which can lead to anxiety and fear-based responses.

According to the psychotherapist, when routines are involuntarily interrupted, people can feel helpless and stuck, like they’re like losing their sense of purpose or meaning in life. She explained that when people already have mental health issues, the lack of routine can exacerbate their problems. This can also happen to children for whom school is usually an anchor in their lives.

Events being constantly postponed also affects our trust and “our place in broader society”: “Up until now, we’ve had a sense that our trust was being protected, that we were safe”.

This sense of trust now comes from the government or world leaders regarding decision-making, the headmistress of a local school regarding when classes would return or the CEO of our company who will let us know when we can return to work.

Another way it is affecting us is that for many of us our usual patterns of beginning, middle and end are being disrupted.

Maley said that especially when something makes us uncomfortable it is useful to know when it will end, but with lockdown, an endpoint is not yet clear, which can cause us anxiety and stress.

With everything being postponed, it is normal if you have:

🌿 Difficulty concentrating, sleeping or waking up in the morning.

The psychotherapist stresses that it is important to practise self-care, nurture ourselves and take one day at a time.

And what should we do if an event we’re looking forward to is postponed?

Maley shared some useful tips:

🌿 Acknowledge your response to it and don’t suppress any feelings of sadness or frustration.

🌿 Think about what would be useful for you the moment you found out the event has been postponed, ie: go for a walk, talk to a friend.

🌿 Think about what you’re able to control and what you can do to still mark the event. The psychotherapist suggested that we should still organise a birthday party, but do it on Zoom; remember the children’s spelling competition that has been cancelled? Parents could do it at home with real prizes!; Celebrate your wedding online or gather in a remote place with social distancing when larger groups are allowed together.

🌿 Create your own rituals around the event.

You can check Denise Maley’s work here.

Has any event you were looking forward to been postponed? How has that affected you?