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“Welcome to Holland”

By Julie Raymond, LCPC


As a therapist I’m often asked by friends or patients what’s my advice on how to cope with recent world events surrounding our world wide COVID-19 pandemic. I offer up these four main strategies for coping with what is happening in our world right now:

1.“Welcome to Holland” Metaphor

In Lori Gottlieb’s book “Maybe you should talk to Someone” she references this known metaphor written by Emily Peril Kingsley called “Welcome to Holland” and this metaphor could not be more applicable to the situation we are all in today!

It reads:

“Welcome to Holland”

When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like you’re planning a vacation to Italy. You’re all excited. You get a whole bunch of guidebooks, you learn a few phrases so you can get around, and then it comes time to pack your bags and head for the airport.

Only when you land, the stewardess says, “WELCOME TO HOLLAND.”

You look at one another in disbelief and shock, saying, “HOLLAND? WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT? I SIGNED UP FOR ITALY.”

But they explain that there’s been a change of plan, that you’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.

“BUT I DON’T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT HOLLAND!” you say. ‘I DON’T WANT TO STAY!”

But stay you do. You go out and buy some new guidebooks, you learn some new phrases, and you meet people you never knew existed. The important thing is that you are not in a bad place filled with despair. You’re simply in a different place than you had planned. It’s slower paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy, but after you’ve been there a little while and you have a chance to catch your breath, you begin to discover that Holland has windmills. Holland has tulips. Holland has Rembrandts.

But everyone else you know is busy coming and going from Italy. They’re all bragging about what a great time they had there, and for the rest of your life, you’ll say, “YES, THAT’S WHAT I HAD PLANNED.”

The pain of that will never go away. You have to accept that pain, because the loss of that dream, the loss of that plan, is a very, very significant loss. But if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to go to Italy, you will never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things about Holland”.


Welcome to Holland

Like our lives today, this is not what we had planned, maybe you didn’t get to go on a vacation you planned, had to cancel your wedding, lost your job or simply had to adapt to the changes of your everyday life and grieve the small losses that come with this change. I encourage you all to notice with gratitude what is in front of you and identify ways you can make the most out of a situation that is not what was planned or ideal!

2.Practice radical acceptance

Radical acceptance is *not* approval or liking something, rather it is the active choice to recognize when we do not have control over a situation and practicing acceptance of a situation that is our reality.

We can practice radical acceptance through asking ourselves “what would I be doing if I accepted this situation?”, coping ahead (see creating routine or coping strategies for your specific situation), and recognizing there a series of causal factors that lead up to any event as to why it had to occur just this way that you may never know why or have been able to control in the first place. Radical acceptance is to understand that acceptance is not about getting rid of emotions or pain but rather recognizing “pain is inevitable and suffering is optional”. We suffer when we are trying to change a situation that cannot be changed. We can all learn to live with pain and still live a meaningful life.

3. Mindfulness

Mindfulness is simply allowing ourselves to notice thoughts, feelings and distractions and choosing to come back to something in the present. We call whatever it is that we are choosing to come back to our “anchor” and our anchor can be anything like a tv show, a movie, a conversation with a friend, to noticing what is in our immediate surroundings. Ultimately, we do not have a choice in what is happening in our world today or the feelings and thoughts that arise, yet we do have a choice in what we are focusing on. I encourage everyone to allow feelings and thoughts to arise and make a conscious choice to come back to something, whatever that be, in your present.

4. Create a routine

With the loss of our normalcy of everyday lives, comes the loss of the familiarity of our routines. Studies have consistently shown that having a routine is correlated with higher life satisfaction.

Create a new routine to adjust to your temporary yet necessary shift in life. Here are some ideas for creating a routine:

- Wake up around the same time (it’s tempting to oversleep or not set your alarm but I encourage you to still get up at a reasonable time!)

- Have breakfast, maybe add a morning tea or coffee

- Read a book or something that sparks joy in the morning (*helpful to find something on the internet to read that doesn’t relate to world events!)

- If you are still working, create a separate work space and take breaks while working like going for a walk, playing with your dog, or simply just stressing/listening to music.

- Add an on demand workout of your choice

- Make sure to have three meals

- Make dinner

- Go for a walk after work or a later part in your day

- Schedule a ritual for connection with friends and loved ones. For example: every Wednesday have a call with your friend at 7:00pm

- Connect with a value and get creative of how you can live by this value

- Create a bedtime routine: brushing teeth, washing face, no screens 30 minutes before bed etc.

Cityscape Counseling provides in-person/in-office AND online therapy in Chicago to individuals with a range of mental health concerns.

Email: nicoleb@cityscapecounseling.com our intake director to set up an online therapy or in-person/office session at our Chicago location.


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