March 27, 2020

A Strange Time

Mental Health & Wellbeing

This is a strange time that we are living in! Social distancing, restaurant and businesses temporarily closed, and clorox wipes that are nowhere to be seen has left me singing to myself “It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fineee.” The moment that those words hit my brain brings a second of levity, and then my chest starts to tighten, my breathing becomes shallow, and before I know it, I’m needing to pull out all my therapy tools to help myself.

What about you?

What about you? What tools or coping strategies are you clinging to? If it’s difficult for you to think of something, no worries. I’d love to offer a couple of quick tips from my own experience that I hope will lead to greater peace and hope during this time.

Grieving Disappointment & Naming Your Fears

First, it’s okay to mourn or grieve the disappointments that have come from social distancing. Many students weren’t able to finish their semesters, and won’t be able to walk in graduation or adequately say goodbye to their friendships. That is jarring, was completely out of your control, and not even something that you were able to plan for. Grieve that loss! Maybe you were about to start a new job, only to find that the employer no longer has enough clients for you to meet with due to social distancing. Or you are a part of the service industry and you were laid off. It’s okay to be disappointed, mad and fearful of the financial bind it puts you in.

Perhaps you were looking forward to a vacation, anniversary, birthday, conference, wedding, or starting another round of fertility treatment and everything had to be postponed or cancelled. There is so much that is different than we thought it would be. Maybe you were making progress in your personal growth and now social distancing is requiring you to put some dreams to the side. We all have lost something. We are all collectively grieving and experiencing sadness and fear. It’s okay, to feel all the feelings. Lastly, there are those of you who will feel particularly vulnerable to the virus due to your physical health conditions, the type of work that you do (helping professionals, CTA drivers), or the medical treatments you are currently undergoing. Your worries are valid and deserve an appropriate response (like wearing masks, or given paid sick leave off).

Temporary Rhythm

Once you’ve grieved these disappointments and named your fear, it’s important to start establishing a new temporary rhythm. I struggle to call this a “new normal” because I don’t think what we are experiencing is normal. However in any transition that I have experienced, establishing a daily rhythm was instrumental.

So create a schedule for yourself, whether you are working or have little ones at home. What are your daily practices that you would like to do? What tasks can you do daily to give you a sense of accomplishment? For me, prayer, exercise and connection with my husband are top of my list. Consider creating the schedule with others in your family. If both spouses are working from home and caring for a young one, maybe you take shifts with caring for your kids. Once you have those ideas, write them out for all to see.

Maintain Connection

For some of us, having forced time apart sounds like a dream come true. You thrive with quiet, less commitments, and the feeling of performance. For others, this time will usher in a new wave of loneliness. For each of these situations, I want to encourage you to reach out to one another still. The joys of technology is that we are now only a text, email, phone, chat, DM, Zoom away from staying connected to one another. Even when we are outside with the 6 foot recommended distancing we can still look people in the eyes as we pass them, smile, or even wave if it’s not creepy.

Recognition of the other person still matters and I confess, is much harder for me to do when I am afraid they may be a carrier of a virus. But let me just say that fear does not have to separate us, it can lead us to greater kindness, greater compassion, and greater empathy for one another. In the Bible, it says “don’t give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing.” Don’t give up on humanity and the work that you have done to build greater connections with one another.

Be Creative: Explore What You Haven’t Explored Before

As I was typing this last part there’s a phrase from Star Trek Next Generation- To boldly go where no man has gone before. I don’t mean to literally go somewhere different, but what new opportunities have arisen as a result of social distancing? You may feel that you have more time to try a different recipe for cooking, or to develop a new skill that you haven’t had time to focus on (we are thinking about ballroom dancing), or to reconnect with family/friends or God if that is important to you. Go try that new thing!

Look For Hope, Peace, and Joy

That moment that I referenced earlier, ya know the one with the “end of the world” song took me on a nose dive of anxiety. This was UNTIL I actively pursued hope and peace. I pulled out Morgan Harper Nichols Book of poetry, All Along You Were Blooming, and read this line, “So take heart when fear is raging, Seek courage over control. Learn to let go into the wild of things, learn to grow as things unfold.” Then, I put on my headphones and listened to music that was uplifting and encouraging to me. What do you need to find hope & peace? Maybe you need to go outside, take a walk, see what’s going on in nature. Maybe you need to watch something light on TV and turn off the news? Maybe limit your time on social media or your email if you can’t get away from talking about the state of the world that we are in. Read stories of bravery and courage in the midst of difficult times. If you need other ideas, feel free to check out this blog for more tips!

As many more of us are impacted by this strange time we are living in, I want you to know that you are not alone. Optimum Joy is able to provide video sessions to those who would like to chat further about their worries, sadness, and fear. Call today.

Written by therapist Pamela Larkin

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