Perhaps the title should be how I am coping with COVID-19. My current state is that I’m working mostly remotely but I can still go into my office, my boyfriend Roy is still coming to stay with me on the weekends, and most retail stores are open with limited hours. Most importantly, no one I know is ill or quarantined with anyone who is ill. We are all just working to flatten the curve and keep the surge down for all the healthcare workers out there. I have my moments of catastrophizing as both my adult children are unemployed as I write this. It’s so easy to get caught up in the whole whirlwind of “what ifs” but I’m trying to step back from the edge of the cliff and come back to the present moment.
I think the main underlying theme I have felt over the last few weeks is that as we face all this uncertainty, we all just want some semblance of control. To know that we are sovereign over the country of “me”. There are so many directives coming at us rapid-fire, every day and ever-iterating, it comes down to knowing that we can have control over something, sometimes ANYTHING, to bring us back to self-efficacy.
Here are some ideas on coping with COVID-19:
It is amazing to come back to your own breath. I had the occasion to remind a few co-workers and my daughter this week about breathing. I could hear the angst in their voice. The piling on of all the obligations and possibilities as something else came down from some known or unknown authority. A new directive, order or policy. I said, “Can we take a minute?” With relief, “YES.” I said calmly, “Let’s sit down, put your feet flat on the floor and close your eyes. Pause. Now take a deep breath in. Hold for three, one, two three. Now let it out.” We took three deep breaths. I have to say that everyone I did this with in the last few weeks has thanked me. For me, having control over my breath is one of the most empowering things I can do. Give it a try.
The other thing that I can get wrapped around the axel for is focusing on everything that is wrong right now. “My vacation is scrapped, my court date is moved indefinitely, I can’t visit my children, my mother is quarantined, and what happens if my favorite restaurant never reopens!” Easy to fall in that hole and it’s not very comforting. So what is the opposite of all this catastrophizing? Gratitude. After I breathed with my daughter and my co-workers, I asked them to name 5 things they were grateful for. It wasn’t very hard to do and it brings about a whole new perspective. I’m grateful for my home, my loving (somewhat neurotic) dog, my toilet paper-bearing boyfriend Roy, my 86-year-old mother’s health and all the wonderful azaleas that are in bloom! Gratitude points to everything that’s right with the world.
It’s so great to get outside. This may or may not be possible, depending on your current situation. If you can get out and keep your social distance, do it. There is nothing more grounding than to walk outside. At this point, in Eastern North Carolina, there are hundreds of birds migrating, nesting and singing to each other. The trees are leafing out and the thousands of flowers are starting to bloom. Nature and being outdoors restores me. I think that being able to walk and move unencumbered by the walls of an apartment or home is emboldening. It makes me feel free to go where I please (even if I can’t).
I try to be selective in turning on my hose of information. I quit watching the news several years ago and I have never regretted it. Even today, as each new bulletin from this state or that county or some foreign land comes out, I am selective about reading the headlines or article. I’ll focus on just my county or state’s latest mandate and try to tune everything else out. It makes me feel helpless, when I am overwhelmed by all the news that is available. There is nothing that makes me feel more out of control than when I am being bombarded by information. I’m not suggesting that you shut down. I’m suggesting that you curate what information you are receiving, and then move forward as needed.
It was Brene Brown who first posited that: “All I know is that my life is better when I assume that people are doing their best.” I’ve seen several disagreements and run-ins with several folks the past few weeks. I said to one coworker, “Do you think that maybe we are all pretty stressed about the current situation? We all just want a little control in all this uncertainty.” She agreed. She wasn’t as mad at her coworker. I had one coworker say that they swept off their front porch and that gave him a sense of control. It’s easy to blame others for our state of mind. I try to take back control by doing one thing at a time and giving others the benefit of the doubt. We are just doing our best.
Coping comes down to having a sense of control in the midst of all this uncertainty. Wash the dishes, water the plants, play your clarinet, feed the dog, bake a cake or write a blog post. Bring sovereignty back to your life. One small act at a time. Be here now. Remain present.