These are intense and unique times for so many of us. The Coronavirus pandemic is revealing the weaknesses of our healthcare system as well as the deep care and resilience of many communities. This is a time when we are being asked to hold our own fear and panic while also contributing to the wellbeing of those around us. Here are a few things you can do to get through this time without adding unnecessary stress or overwhelm to the unavoidable stress and overwhelm that already exists.
Some of you reading this may not be directly impacted by this virus (yet).
Some of you may be sick or have sick or vulnerable loved ones.
Some of you are already feeling the financial impact.
Some of you are able to isolate yourselves while others cannot for various reasons.
We all have different vulnerabilities and resources at this time. We are also all in this together and are having different experiences based on many factors. So, whether you are already dealing with the negative impact of this virus or you are anticipating what may lay ahead, we can all find ways of coping during this time.
1. Stay Grounded
One of the best things we can each do during this stressful time is to keep our nervous system regulated. By this I mean feeling grounded and centered in our body, mind, and heart. There’s so much we cannot control; focusing on what we CAN control can be helpful. Ultimately, the more we are able to be with discomfort without being overwhelmed, the more stable we can feel during this uncertain time.
Being grounded doesn’t necessarily mean feeling good. Instead it means we feel like we are able to be with what is difficult or uncomfortable. The goal is to stay out of overwhelm and immobility. Simply asking yourself, “can I be with this right now?” can help. Sometimes when we are feeling afraid or sad, our automatic response is to want the feeling to go away. This only adds to the intensity of our suffering, though. When we are able to stay with the feeling, it can lower the volume of intensity.
2. Be Kind to Yourself
This moment may not be bringing out the best in you. You may be irritable and cranky, scared and immobilized. You might look back on some of the choices you made in the last few days and regret them (“I shouldn’t have gone out”or “I forgot to wash my hands as much as I should have”). If so, be kind. Take a breath and check in with yourself. Remember that you’re doing your best. What’s beneath your irritability? What are you feeling deep down inside? When we can get to the core of what is going on, things can often settle. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed. It’s normal to want to shut-down or lash-out. It’s normal that fears you have about other things (like health, control, and support) may be ignited.
3. Be Kind to Others
Whether you are in direct contact with others or in virtual contact, remember: everyone, everyone, is dealing with this in their own way.
Some of us are do-ers, or what I call “ON” people. We respond to stress by needing to do something about it. I, for example, have re-organized all cupboards & cabinets, cleaned the house from top-to-bottom, and created a detailed schedule for my family for the week. I can’t sit still. It can make my family a little anxious when I’m not grounded because I’m constantly telling them what to do! Some of us “ON” people can get immobilized by this energy and not actually do anything, but rather we just get overwhelmed by anxiety and panic.
Some of you are the opposite. I call you “OFF” people. Stress makes you slow down and shut down. You may be stuck on your couch binge-watching Netflix. Or you may feel lethargic or depressed, like you can’t get motivated to do all you should do. You may also simply be slowing down a bit and this helps you manage all the chaos.
“ON” people and “OFF” people can learn a lot from each other. If we’re not aware of this, however, we will totally annoy each other. When we can realize that people deal with stress in different ways, we can be more patient with one another.
4. Curate Your Media Exposure
The 24/7 news cycle is a gift because we can get information as it evolves, moment-by-moment. It’s also a curse because it means we can flood ourselves with things to worry about. One news commentator suggested we practice “media hygiene” during this time. This means we only watch or listen to reputable news sources and that we curate how often we look at the news. As a general guideline, don’t look at the news right before bed or first thing when you wake up. Turn off news alerts if you are not absolutely needing them; this way you can designate when you want to be exposed to the news, or not. We all want to remain informed and up-to-date, but just be intentional about how you do this. These days our phones seem to have control over us rather than us having control over them.
5. Humanize the Headlines
Another thing to consider when you’re learning about virus outbreaks and people falling ill (even dying) is to remember that the news is delivered in a way that removes the humanity and the nuance behind the information.
For each person who got sick there is a story. Many are stories of hardship and triumph. The majority of people are falling ill and getting better. They may have experienced some learning and growth along the way. They may have had people show up for them in a way they never have. They may have had moments of laughter and humor amidst it. One woman who contracted the virus on the Diamond Cruise ship in Japan and survived said: “I never felt any fear. I was well taken care of. Nobody spoke English. None of the doctors or nurses spoke English. It was all Google Translate. It was interesting. We got really good at charades.”
Some may have had the opposite experience and faced deep disappointment and despair. Many people didn’t and will not have access to the care they need. Some will find a way to survive and others won’t.
The point is this: when we humanize the story, it lives in our body differently than a sterile headline that lacks any depth or soul. Even the tragic stories, when humanized, are easier to be with. I’m not suggesting we bypass the seriousness of this moment. I’m suggesting we also hold hope and possibility. Both are real.
6. Get Good at Not Knowing
All of us are having to sit with the fact that we don’t know what lies ahead. We are told things will get worse before they get better. Many of us are gripping in anticipation of what’s to come. Here’s something to think about: when we are in a stress response, our thoughts become very black and white … either everything will be OK or nothing will be OK. There’s no in between. The fact is that most of what we will have to face is somewhere in between those two extremes. Most of us will be given something that we can handle. This doesn’t mean it won’t be hard or traumatic, and it doesn’t mean there won’t be fear and loss. People are incredibly resilient. They survive and thrive despite the most terrorizing situations.
So if you find yourself imagining the worst, try to shift and imagine all the bad stuff you could handle, if that’s realistic for you. And for those who are inevitably facing a dire situation, whether because of seriously compromised immunity or no economic cushion or support, we hold you in our awareness as well.
7. Self-Care & Community Care
This is the time to practice being with the complexity of this situation – for some, this means the ways that we will likely be OK while fearing that that may not be the case while for others, this means the reality that they may not be OK and there’s no way around that. For all of us as a collective, may we let this experience make us more kind and caring. May it teach us, as a community, how to value the wellbeing of everyone. We are learning more than ever right now that we cannot be well until everyone is well. Until the most vulnerable of us is cared for, no one will be OK.