by Debbie Gross, LCSW
For many of you who deal with anxiety on a daily basis, the new stress of COVID-19 feels a lot like the rest of your life has been; always thinking about what’s coming, not able to be in the moment without flashes of ‘what’s next’ dancing in your head, along with sleepless nights and restless days. For the rest of the world, they have keen awareness that this new reality is tipping their lives upside down, with feelings they have maybe heard about or felt on occasion tripping them up frequently throughout the day. This post is to help everyone understand how to help yourself manage the inner turmoil so you can make the most of each day and find positivity, excitement, and laughter amidst crisis.
1. Give yourself permission to feel stressed, then give yourself permission to cheer yourself up! “How can I feel good when people are dying?” “How can I make jokes while front-line workers are overwhelmed?” “How can I feel happy when I can’t see an end to this crazy?” Those are normal questions in this abnormal time. Life is about balance. We can acknowledge the hardships, we can grieve our losses, but we can also heal, continue on, and feel pleasure.
2. When will life return to normal? We don’t have a crystal ball answer for this. We do know that there are going to be stages to the rebirth of normal. First, we will slowly begin to ease the restrictions, testing how well we maintain stability of cases. Just like we eased into the stay-at-home order, from no groups over 100, to gatherings of 25 or less, to 10 or less, to stay-at-home, these will reopen in a tiered way. We need to trust our medical and science professionals to keep us updated on data and trends so that as we reopen our society, we are prepared for all outcomes.
3. What about my events I have schedule in the summer? Or fall? When clients are beginning to date, I remind them to plan their relationship at the beginning for no further out than the length that the person has been dating. So if you’ve been seeing someone for a month, don’t plan a concert for three months from now! Same for COVID-19. We have been at this for about 5 weeks, so keep your focus on the next five weeks at most. Of course, if you need to prepare big events that are upcoming, do so, but with the understanding that everything right now needs to be done with flexibility and acceptance that we don’t have all the answers and can’t plan that far out with certainty. Try to stay focused on today, and the most immediate future if you need to look forward.
4. Will our children’s education suffer from online schooling that seems toned down from typical curriculum, or is not being managed as well by parents as classroom teachers would do with the children in their classrooms? First of all, that is as it should be! Educators are trained on teaching standards, techniques, and classroom management. They get to focus solely on students (along with differing abilities and behavioral challenges), and get most get planning time during their typical school day. Parents are multitasking all day long between work, household tasks, each child’s grade-specific needs, and extended family concerns, to name just a few things. Parents SHOULD NOT be expecting the level of success that a classroom teacher can give to your children! That said, children are the most resilient! They will come out of this just fine if they see us managing it just fine. If we let them know we will get through this, if we support their needs, if we share the frustrations but overwhelm them with activities that are engaging and fun, this will be just a hiccup in the entirety of their lives. And remember, education comes in so many forms. When they help you bake a cake, learning about order of adding ingredients, measuring, observing the process of what heat does when baking, and helping clean up, we are teaching them about math, science and home economics. When they write messages of positivity in chalk on the sidewalk for their neighbors passing by, we are teaching them empathy and kindness. When they cry because they cannot hug their grandparent, but learn to visit from a six-foot distance, we are teaching them respect for rules and that sometimes, a little of something we like can be good enough.
5. How can my life be ok right now when I cannot work, my business is collapsing, or my retirement savings is shrinking daily? Each one of us has a unique story to tell. These stories typically have generations of family who have endured suffering, hardship, grief and loss. Many tell of individuals leaving their homes, countries, family behind to come to the United States for a better future. Life is not easy right now. There are so many reasons to feel hopeless, helpless, and defeated. But there are more reasons to push through and remain hopeful. Just as a pendulum swings from one extreme to the other, so will this. We will come out of this on the other side and resume our lives, work, and livelihood. It will take time, and we will feel the bumps in the road more now than ever. But it will smooth out. If you can believe in yourself, if you can believe in your neighbor, friends, and family, we will push through this together. Ask for help if you are in need. If you are able, reach out to those around you that might be suffering and assist. One of the most blessed things that has come out of the pandemic is the number of people volunteering to help others. Whether making masks, providing meals, sending money, or giving time to others, record number of volunteers have brightened our world.
6. Take the time to notice the beauty around you. This is the number one way to relieve your stress. I look for symbols around me that represent things that make me feel good. Cardinals remind me of my father-in-law who passed last year. Hawks signal me to call my dad. Rainbows bring a smile to my face and hope in my heart. Flowers blooming on trees refresh my feelings of winter gloom with upcoming summer warmth. Seeing anything purple brings me joy. Think about what you can look for to feel happiness. I have friends who see pennies or butterflies and think of loved ones who have passed. When you go outside or take a walk, notice those things, pause, breathe, and feel gratitude. You are alive. You are valued. You are loved.
To quote one of my favorite characters, Winnie the Pooh, “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” We are in this together, and we will get through this together, one day at a time.