Finding Calm in the Whirlwind (Today’s Moment of Gratitude)

Well, my life turned upside down in the last 24 hours. My job is moving online for two months, a situation which requires a tremendous amount of planning and action all at once. I have over a hundred students depending on me to get it right, so no pressure!

I feel empowered rather than defeated, as I can finally channel my excessive energy into something productive. At the same time, the human element is what scares me in terms of having to navigate competing interests and balance my time. The potential implications for a total lockdown of my area is creeping into my consciousness as well.

As I was thinking of all of this, I ran into a neighbor (from a safe distance!) that I haven’t seen in a while. She offered to help me if I get sick. Having someone who lives so close offer this meant the world to me; I really needed to know that I’m not alone. Again and again, I keep coming to the truth that, as long as I feel connected to a community, my personality and inner world is created for a time like this. I feel galvanized to a degree I thought I’d lost. What’s been your moment of peace today?

Tips for Coping with Social Distancing Measures

There is evidence of community spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 near where I live, and daily life is rapidly changing. Events have been cancelled, my job may be moving to e-learning and social distancing is the buzzword on everyone’s lips. I wanted to share a few ideas I have about how to cope.

Action and acceptance

I wrote about this topic yesterday. In terms of steps to take, what I want to share is to encourage you to take steps to deal with the situation at hand that are measured, within your means and accessible to you. I’ve been stocking up on basics since January, so I’m now in the stage where my anxiety is fueling me to want to purchase, for example, a 3K generator. It can be really difficult to discern between what is rational and what is panic-based; if at all possible, for larger purchases, I try to wait 24 hours before making a final decision.

In terms of acceptance, there may come a point for each of us where we reach the end of our capacity to prepare or to respond to the crisis. I won’t provoke your anxiety by laying out examples as, if you are as skilled at freaking out as I am, your mind has no trouble delivering these to you. This is the place where I think practices of spirituality and faith in humanity have to come to bear. My hope is that something greater than myself will guide me and someone kind will meet me if I arrive at the end of my means. The groundwork for this response, for me, has been years of inner work and (much less successfully) attempts to build a social support network. Each of us might have more at our disposal than our scared inner children let on.

Self-Compassion

Give yourself permission to be only as active as you need to be to maintain your health and responsibilities. I’m seeing a lot of posts about learning a new hobby, finishing the book you were writing or completing a home repair project if you are asked to stay home. Although these suggestions are well-meaning and perfect for people who need to stay busy, they can be overwhelming to those of us with workaholic tendencies who may feel that we are not being as productive as we should be.

I do encourage you to develop a daily schedule with as much time as you are able to devote to self-care and reflection. It is healthy, in my opinion, to pause from time to time to check in with yourself and your loved ones and to see how you are coping. Mindfulness and other practices can help get us out of the past or the future into the present moment.

To the extent that you are able to do so, be present with your emotions. It is okay to feel angry, scared or sadness. I’m struggling with an angry “I told you so” after my concerns as to what was coming were dismissed and mocked by several people IRL. Rather than stuff down what feels like smugness, I’m sitting with it and asking myself how I might respond differently in the future when someone ignores my advice. Our feelings are excellent, in most situations, at helping us identify our underlying needs.

Community Connections

As I shared above, social support is key to making it to the other side of the pandemic in a way that tends to our mental health needs. This is the time to get creative and to find ways to connect with loved ones, even if it has to be through virtual settings. A monthly meeting I enjoy attending has been cancelled, so we are considering hosting it virtually if the quarantine continues next month.

Take a mental headcount of the people in your neighborhood or local community with whom you might partner to meet basic needs. I’m learning about so many agencies that exist on a city and county level that I did not know were there to support the community. If it suits you, determine whether there are ways to support healthcare workers who might be highly affected by this crisis.

What are you doing to cope with social distancing if it has been implemented in your area? If it hasn’t been yet, what can you do to prepare?

Action and Acceptance

In my graduate school education in psychology, I was taught to treat questions of “but what if” with a healthy dose of skepticism, to then ask, “what is the likelihood of that happening in real life?” I would then typically challenge my client to see how improbable it was that the fear would be realized. Sometimes, though, the unlikely occurs and we have to move through our disbelief into action and acceptance.

Psychologists frame action as a coping mechanism that stands in opposition to acceptance–namely, that we try to problem-solve. When our problem-solving fails at finding a solution, we move to a place of tending our emotions. We are also different culturally and constitutionally as to which strategy we tend to employ.

I wonder, though, if there is ample room for both. We can take steps to control what can be controlled as well as to make our peace with our fate. I cannot with people who try to placate me with telling me horrible outcomes could never happen, who discount the need for any type of coping. They already have for me as a small child, so I experience “don’t worry” as “I can’t hear or see your fear as legitimate.”

To me, acceptance is the antidote to denial; it is a coming to rest at a crossroads, knowing that I do not know which paths will remain open to me and that I do not control the maintenance of the roads. None of us can predict the future and none of us can preemptively problem-solve for all eventualities. All I ask of my future self is that, if tragedy awaits, I do my best to keep my dignity and self-respect intact.

My worst fear, the “but what if” that keeps me up at night, is losing my autonomy–my ability to choose for myself where I tread through my own solution-generation. I know there are monsters who prey on the vulnerable. But there are kind souls as well and, whether it is rational or not, I attempt to believe they are in the majority. I think that is what I will focus on finding in this trying time–examples of human compassion that existed even when it seemed like all the roads were blocked with boulders. In my own timeline, I do not know who I will meet if all my ways forward collapse into one, but what if they were trustworthy and brave? What if you or I are that person for someone else?

An image of a puppy with white and red fur sleeping on a grey blanket with sunlight from a window landing on it.

Enjoying Nature from Home (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

Many of us, myself included, take the ability to go to a park or forest nearby to enjoy nature in the spring and summertime for granted. Even sitting by a window can allow access to these experiences for those with mobility concerns. Today, however, I wanted to share a way to enjoy at least the sights and sounds of nature for any times when we may be stuck indoors by bad weather, health conditions and so on: live streaming!

When the pandemic was sweeping through China, I’d read a story about botanists filming the cherry blossoms opening so that viewers could enjoy them. It struck me as something I hope will continue even after the health crisis passes; there are so many people who cannot easily get out and about who deserve to have a way to appreciate nature. At least one study has shown that even looking at a photograph of nature can lower stress, although I do think there are added benefits to direct participation in outdoor settings to whatever extent possible.

The website I found that feels like a treasure box is explore.org, which is filled with nature cams from around the world. I think my favorite so far has been the puppy cam, which, during the time I’ve watched, has consisted entirely of the puppies sleeping. I can feel my blood pressure dropping after a few seconds as I relax seeing how calm and snugly they are.

Overall, my anxiety has been spiking to the point that I think I would have a hard time sitting outside for an extended period of time, because my hyper-vigilance wouldn’t let me concentrate on my breathing and my senses fully. As soon as it fully warms up, I am going to try to go out and see how it goes, and I have been really liking going for short runs with my dog, where my anxiety gets worked out through physical exertion. Even though the great outdoors remain open to me, I consider observation through live-streaming as another tool in my self-care toolbox. What is your favorite live-stream of nature?