The world has been a strange place over the past year and a bit, and the sense of disorientation hasn’t shifted fully yet.
Even as people in some countries now begin to return to offices, restaurants, sports stadiums and, yes, poker rooms, some are finding it difficult to transition back to what was once called normality.
A year living in fear about going out, or being close to other people — for many, under government-imposed orders not to — has had a lasting effect. It means that even in regions with advanced vaccination programs, or where rates of infection have eased considerably, there is still a degree of uncertainty about doing many of the things that we once all took for granted.
“It’s still a difficult time for lots of people,” said Nia Charpentier, a UK-based counsellor who specialises in working with young people in college and workplace settings. “Many people have spent more than a year dealing with really difficult circumstances or, at least, having their daily routines changed a lot. And just ‘going back’ is not always easy.”
Mental health professionals have seen a significant surge in demand for their services over the course of the coronavirus pandemic. In addition to working with professionals from front-line medical services, for whom the levels of stress and trauma have escalated dramatically, Charpentier has also been contacted by clients in all walks of life who have struggled since their regular lives have been upended.
Students have been separated from their peers at an age when social bonds are most valuable. Difficult workplace dynamics have become more strained under unfamiliar remote working arrangements. Thousands of people have lost regular sources of income, increasing stress levels. Meanwhile, domestic relationships have become even more intense as the home has needed to double for the office, classroom and playground all at once.
But more recently, this other topic has arisen in some client conversations: a kind of post-pandemic nervousness, fuelled by ongoing fears over safety and apprehension towards readjustment. It’s something that poker players might fear too as the tournament circuit gradually starts up again. A return to an environment that once felt so normal might well now fuel anxiety — and it’s all perfectly understandable, Charpentier says.
“People should do whatever they can to look after their mental health, whatever it is that they’re feeling,” she says. “There are a few things that often come up with clients and often talking them through can help a lot.”
Charpentier shared a few tips to help with general wellbeing for anyone experiencing apprehension during these difficult times.
Even the most mundane tasks — going to the supermarket; getting on a bus or train — has felt risky over the past year. It’s been dangerous to stand too close to anybody, let alone talk with them, and it’s no surprise that for some people the return to regular social interaction, and increasingly busy public spaces, has felt bizarrely threatening. There might still seem to be danger lurking around every corner.
But Charpentier says it’s worth remembering that we’ve always had to live with a certain amount of risk. It’s all priced into life in the modern world, even before Covid.
“All daily life contains risks, it’s just that we’ve grown to know how to manage them,” she says. “You cross a road or pass hundreds of strangers every day, and that’s just normal. It might now feel like everything is more threatening, but as humans we always learn how to be aware of what is really dangerous and what isn’t. You can’t eliminate all risk. That’s a part of living.”
Poker players perhaps know this better than most. Even before sitting down at the table, it frequently involves international travel, visiting unfamiliar settings, and accepting the risks that that brings. Then game is defined by situations in which one must go out on a limb, prepared that things might not always go as planned. Everyone is innately equipped with the ability to manage risk. That’s a true now as it ever has been.
You might be forgiven for thinking you’re the only one feeling a little nervous about stepping out into the world again. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Although your Twitter or Instagram feed might seem to be like a promotional gallery for pub gardens and picnics, there are many, many other people equally trepidatious about throwing themselves back into a social whirl.
“It’s OK to take things slowly,” Charpentier says. “There are lots of people feeling quite anxious still at the moment. It might feel like there is pressure to go back immediately to doing whatever you did before, but it’s OK to take your time.”
In the poker world, the caution is shared by many other players and tournament organisers. It’s true that some poker rooms have now re-opened, particularly in the United States, but plenty of major operators — including all PokerStars circuits such as the EPT — remain on hiatus. There’s clearly no hurry to return to the live arena, and there’s still no real need. Online poker remains in a very healthy state, with games always running to suit all bankrolls. Just take it slowly.
Following on from the above point, most businesses have spent the long, hard months of the pandemic preparing themselves for their reopening. Most establishments on the high street provide hand sanitiser, for example, and require customers to wear face-coverings. The plexiglass screen industry has done a roaring trade installing dividers in areas where strangers often find themselves face to face. Meanwhile social distancing measures remain in places where people used to crowd together, such as on public transportation.
With higher proportions of many populations now vaccinated, and these measures in place, community transmission of viruses has been reduced significantly from the early days of the pandemic. Obviously it pays to be cautious, but businesses are taking matters seriously as they hope to be able to reopen fully.
According to Charpentier, it can be common among people struggling with their mental health to feel guilty about what they are experiencing. They sometimes say they feel selfish if they are feeling anxious or low when they know “other people have it worse”. In the current era, when millions of people have been bereaved, people have reported feeling guilty if “all” they have suffered is some personal disruption. They say their issues feel trivial.
But people should not ignore any feelings of depression or anxiety, no matter how minor they might appear. “There shouldn’t be a hierarchy of suffering,” Charpentier says. “You have a right to feel how you feel.” She adds that just because someone else might apparently “have it worse”, it doesn’t make your feelings any less real, nor is it any less important to address them.
“It’s always worth talking to someone, if anyone is feeling low,” Charpentier says. “That could be a trusted friend, relative or a professional like a counsellor or psychotherapist.”
Peer pressure affects everyone, of all ages, and it can sometimes feel very difficult to go against the grain. This can definitely be the case at the poker table, where we’ve surely all felt the pressure to join the seven-two game when we don’t want to, or put on the straddle because “everyone else is doing it”.
But people should not feel bullied into doing something they don’t want to, particularly when their health is at stake, Charpentier says. She reports hearing of people who find it uncomfortable to wear a face mask, for instance, when they will be the only person in a room doing so, or finding it hard to say no to a party invitation, when they simply feel uncomfortable attending.
“It’s OK to say ‘No’,” Charpentier says. “Sometimes people just need to hear that…Everyone can make up their own mind what they want to do and they shouldn’t feel bullied into doing anything by anyone else.”
Mental health non-profits have numerous resources for people affected by any issues related to the coronavirus pandemic. See dedicated information from:
The World Health Organization (WHO) collates global data related to the pandemic.
Nia Charpentier (www.niacharpentier.com) is registered with the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BOAP), which maintains a directory of therapists across the country. With most sessions taking place online over Zoom, Skype or telephone, you can find a counsellor very easily in the BACP directory.