The first phase is panic. So, during Covid, we might call that the 'toilet paper' phase. The second phase is the honeymoon phase. During this pandemic that was when people were having fun working in their pjs and baking cinnamon buns and bread. People were enjoying the novelty of this strange, new time and learning how to Zoom or play cards online. However, now we're in the third phase where people are feeling truly lonely, they are missing meaningful events like birthdays, proms and funerals. There are more conflicts about how to manage social isolation bubbles. The drudgery of it is making people sluggish mentally and testy emotionally. And for people who have had really difficult, abusive childhoods, it is triggering memories of horrific times when they felt trapped and they didn't think it would end.
Here is Chris Hadfield talking about how he suggests people handle isolation:
It's a hard time and it's bringing up all kinds of difficult family and work dynamics. Remember, you are having a normal response to an abnormal situation. These are uncertain times. We need to radically accept the situation and radically accept ourselves. Don't watch Facebook or Tic Toc and think that the people in the photos and videos aren't having their own little eruptions on the home front. Everyone is. And everyone has just learned to talk about the 'good stuff'. We've been taught to 'brand' ourselves instead of being authentic. And I'm not going to clump us into categories of 'us' and 'them'. I'm functioning well and then tripping into stuff with my partner or my own overwhelm from time to time too. It's like we've all joined the 12 Step program. We need to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, forgive ourselves for having tripped up and move forward with intention. Hence the saying "God (which could represent Good Orderly Direction) grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference." Having awareness about what you can control and what you can't control is helpful for focusing yourself in ways that will help you to get through. If you find yourself agitating about how this is being handled by the politicians, for example, then decide if you want to write a letter or take action. If not, then give yourself a strategy about what you want your mind to be thinking about instead. Something that you DO have control of and that will make you feel better about your life.
Here's an exercise to do to help with this. Draw a medium sized circle on a blank piece of paper. Write all of the things that you don't have control of on the outside of the circle. Write all of the things that you do have control of on the inside of the circle. Write clear goals about what you will stop doing re: focusing on the things on the outside of the circle and what you will start doing to increase your attention about the things inside the circle. For example, I will stop reading the news constantly and I will start watching it only once a day and increasing my fitness and joy quotient by getting outside every day and calling my friends/family more often.
So, it's important for all of us to remember that mental health in all of it's forms and labels comes down to some basic principles. Mindfulness. Be embodied in the moment and take one day at a time. Get out of your head and stop overthinking issues that are outside of your control. Focus, instead, on what you do have control of.....in THIS moment. That's all that we can really control. Lead with forgiveness and compassion towards yourself and others. Everyone is doing their best and people will probably be a more extreme version of who they tend to be right now. The yellers will yell, the disorganized ones will be a little more disorganized, the criers will cry more, the avoiders will avoid.....etc. Give yourself and them some grace. If you've had a blow up with someone. Try noticing it without judgement. Try to forgive both yourself and the other person for not knowing how to do it better. Start again with a new strategy. For parents who are tearing their hair out re: homeschooling your kids, here is a good article that might give you some ideas you haven't thought of re: how to cope and help your kids cope. https://youtu.be/1f7OwFqTnco It's Day One as per the 12 Step programs every day right now. Practice gratitude. Exercise. Reach out to those you love. We will get through this. We are in the Third Quarter. It's like when people hit the wall in a marathon. Once we know dates that society will be opening up and when we will be moving back to the 'new normal', it will get easier. It's kinda like being able to see the finish line.
However, we need to mentally prepare and make peace with the fact that we will never be going back to 'how it was'. We will be shifting to a 'new normal'. This is concept where, if you have had a chronic illness in your family or a tragedy or trauma, there was a 'before' and, after the crisis, there is an 'after'. However it was, things are never going to be the same again. We will need to grieve how it was and then collectively decide, through healthy conversations with each other, how we would like it to be. As families. As a community. As a country. And as a world. We have to decide how we want to prioritize, physical, mental, spiritual, economic and environmental health as a world wide interdependent web as we continue to fight against this common enemy. And, who knows, there might be some pleasant surprises in that.....
We'll see. In the meantime, let's focus on today and how we can keep our spirits up so we can get to the finish line when things start to open up again.
So, in that vein, and to finish off with a laugh and some validation about how you might be feeling, I leave you with this song about Covid. It's by a lovely young music teacher who wrote it for her students.
Externalizing the problem helps people to not blame each other for how Covid is changing our lives. Trusting neuroplasticity, learning to talk about our feelings and having faith helps us move more easily into the 'new normal'
Heartbreak and Healing as we move into our 'new normal' re: Covid.
So here's what I'm noticing this week. Everyone is internalizing that we're in this pandemic for the long haul. Covid is not going away in just a few weeks. For the first few weeks people were busy moving their work and children home and dealing with all of the learning curves and decision making that comprised that shift. The massive number of changes included parenting issues, zoom meetings, schooling and how to stay connected to friends and family while living apart. In the midst of that level of crisis some people shift into a mode of 'must do is a good thing' vs. collapsing into their feelings or freezing. Now it seems, the focus has shifted to fear about how long this pandemic will go on for, the grief and loss of 'normal' and wondering how seriously the economy will be impacted by all of the losses and change. We've lost our normal. And there are a huge number of losses within the loss of 'normal'. Believe it or not, even having to shop at a social distance is a loss of the normal we were used to. At a deep subconscious level we are changing the boundary re: proximity of friends vs. family vs strangers in our culture. We are redefining these boundaries and having to integrate a feeling of being loved in ways that are different than hugging and touching or coming closer than 6' apart.
It's important to understand that this is a lot of information for your brain to be synthesizing as we go about our daily lives. It looks on the surface like people aren't doing much because we are mostly staying home and are social distancing if we need to go out for things. However, EVERYTHING from how we shop at the grocery store and the hardware store to how we visit with friends and family, to how we work is different. Our rhythms are different. You might remember, if you've travelled abroad, having to learn how to flush toilets or use public transit in ways that are different from here. It's the same principal. It's more learning than we're used to as adults and it's learning that we didn't choose and comes at a time when we are feeling collectively more powerless than we had been. So we are developing what is called new 'movement signatures'. The new ways of behaving have to encode themselves at a kinesthetic level before it becomes less stressful for your brain. Think about having a conversation when you are cooking dinner in your home vs if you try to have that same conversation in a new apartment or a rented cottage. You will have to focus more and think harder to remember or find where everything is. That is what we are all doing in small ways about how the processes about everything are changing. So that is why people are generally not functioning to their optimum. Give yourself grace and know that NO ONE is functioning to their max right now. And it will get better. Your brain has something called 'neuroplasticity' and is capable of learning and adapting throughout your lifetime. You will notice as the weeks go on how your brain is shifting and integrating the changes. If you want a giggle, here's a funny video that explains this concept:
So that's what's happening to our brains these days. Now, emotionally, people are struggling with grief and loss; frustration about being cooped up with family; not being able to see their friends; anger that they are powerless around so much of this; and worry about the ways that this will impact on them longterm. And here's the thing.....we aren't so good as a culture about 'feeling our feelings' and knowing how to have conversations about them in a healthy way. We are a fairly illiterate society at a feeling level. Most people report on their feelings and just say that they are 'fine', 'frustrated', 'sad', 'angry' or 'pissed' . It might be helpful if you find ways for family members to talk about the impact Covid is having on each of you by 'externalizing the problem'. It's like Covid has moved into everyone's family system and plunked itself in the middle of all of the dynamics and taken up more space than anything or anyone else! So find an object that can represent Covid and pass the object around the dinner table (and a feelings sheet if you have people in the family that have a hard time naming what they are feeling)
Then ask the question "How is Covid impacting on you today?" Talking about it and letting everyone have their varied experiences of it will help it not come out in other dynamics. And you might use this as a learning opportunity for you and your kids to express those feelings in a healthy way. It's good for everyone to learn that they will have feelings their whole lives. The skill is either learning to calm them down or express them without hurting themselves, someone else or damaging property. This can be a time that you learn as a family how to name what you are feeling and express those feelings in a healthy ways.
And if you want to listen to an excellent podcast about having permission to feel and how it will improve our culture as a whole, including how we run businesses, then have a listen to Brene Brown's interview with Dr Marc Brackett, Director of the Yale Centre for Emotional Literacy and Professor in the Child Study Center at Yale University. https://brenebrown.com/podcast/dr-marc-brackett-and-brene-on-permission-to-feel/
And finally, I think we all need to have a faith. And I'm not talking about religion, although faith can include religion too.
The faith I'm talking about is " deep-rooted in the expectation of good things to come. It goes beyond hope. While much of hope lives in the mind, faith is steeped in the heart and the spirit. ... While life can be hard at the best of times, faith is the knowledge, deep down inside, that things will get better."
I have faith that we will come together. That we will dig deep and be resilient. And that we will get through this.
And just for fun here's a parody called 'A Very Poppins Quarantine' and Jimmy Fallon's "I'm Cracking Up CovidSong"
Ground yourself into a sense of safety using your senses of sight, smell, taste, touch and sound. Being mindful of grounding yourself into the moment will help to calm you out of your overactive mind and make this pandemic situation more survivable.
Resilience in the Face of Covid 19
Well, here we are......sent to our rooms for over a month now. And from my experience of talking to people, it's starting to sink in that this is not going to be over quickly. So, let's remember our resilience and focus more specifically on how you might be coping to help you get through this time. And we WILL get through this. Life will be different and there will have been losses, and yet, never lose sight of the fact that, as a world, we have survived the Spanish flu in 1918, World Wars, Depressions, Recessions, the Swine flu in 2009 and many more things that I've missed but would probably become overwhelming as a reader. We are resilient by nature. Now is when we need to remember that. And our resilience lies in our ability to come together as people with our ideas about how to cope, to use our creativity for new inventions and a vaccine, to adapt and pivot towards this 'new normal', and to be mindful of what helps us in the moment to get through this period of time.
So this week, as I have been working with people, we have been doing a lot of work in the nervous system, tracking where the stress is held and finding ways to release the energy or calm it down. So what does that look/sound like? It means that as someone is talking about how trapped they feel (a common trigger these days) I will ask them what is happening in their body as they talk about that. They might tell me that they have a racing heart or butterflies. So I will recommend that they put their hand on that spot and breathe into that part of their body and remind themselves that they are safe and that they have choices within the constraints. They might also focus on a calming sensation such as looking at a picture that brings them joy or holding a precious mug full of warm tea to orient them towards the reality that they are safe. That danger or a feeling of being trapped may have been true for them in the past but IN THIS MOMENT they are safe. To focus on the danger or fear without taking action to calm yourself or focus on what IS happening in the moment and is within your control is like a deer looking into the headlights of an oncoming car and not getting off the road.
Alternatively, for people who are focusing on the fact that this is 'just the way it is', and are doing things that keep their attention engaged in the present moment, they are reporting that they are not experiencing the same level of stress. Some ideas I've heard from people who have told me that they are fairing pretty well include: making focaccia with their kids; making signs in the windows and on the sidewalks thanking frontline workers; renovating their basement; building a backyard fire pit; recording music and sharing it online; making masks, gowns and scrub caps for the frontline workers; learning how to use jackbox, worldofcardgames.com or one of the million other online game sites. Anything that grabs your interest and attention away from the doomsday reporting of the news.
Unfortunately there is only one thing that we will all be successful at.....without even trying!....and that is dying. However, up until a month ago there was an unwritten agreement that we didn't talk about it every day and the news certainly steered away from reporting it. Now we hearing DAILY about how many deaths there have been in every community, city and country AROUND THE WORLD. With the news being this skewed towards those that are dying it is no wonder that people's nerves are frayed and that people are having a hard time staying socially distant but spiritually connected. Remember, we are doing the distancing so that we can flatten the curve of infections and protect the vulnerable from dying unnecessarily and protect the hospital systems from being overwhelmed. And we're doing a good job!! We aren't staying away from each other because being close is going to kill most of us. 35-70% of us will get this eventually ......and 96% of those people will survive according to the World Health Organization. And of the 4% that pass away, half of them will be seniors in long term care residences. This is important data to keep at the forefront of your mind because people's fear response when someone walks into their 'bubble' (my husband likes to think of everyone having as having a Pigpen aura these days!) is anger like someone has just given them a death sentence!
So here are a few things that I've compiled that might help you. One is a yoga class. I'm teaching online yoga for the Y at 7:30 on Thursday nights. You can find it on Facebook under YMCA's of Cambridge, Kitchener & Waterloo. At the beginning of class I try to add in tips about the nervous system and coping in healthy ways. Please join me if you're free. And there are lots of people doing this so if you can't join mine then find any type of exercise that you can to move the stress out of your nervous system.
The other is a meditation exercise that you can try. I tried to upload the meditation to YouTube but ....well.....maybe next time!!! lol
Anyways, gather things that you can see, smell, taste, touch and hear that you enjoy and that bring you a sense of gratitude. Then sit quietly and breathe deeply while you take in that thing with your senses. I used a candle for the sight because we light a chalice every week at church and talk about how having been to church and being surrounded by community that supports us keeps the flame lit within us. As you look at your object, take deep breaths and count bringing your thumb and fingers together and repeating the breathing 3 times. Touching your fingers together to count helps you to be mindful and gives you another sensory experience to pay attention to. Then repeat with the other objects. I used the tea I drink for both the smell and taste. A favourite sweater for the touch. And the sound of a campfire for what is calming to hear. You can use photos or rocks or anything that brings you comfort and joy.
My office in Waterloo is located at the Fearless Heart Yoga Studio. I think their tag line is very apt. You don't have to be FEARLESS. But you have permission to FEAR LESS.
Try being mindful and calming yourself into the moment and let me know how it goes!