Most people find it surreal that we’re living in a pandemic. Every day we hear the bleak statistics about where the diagnosed “positive” cases as well as the deaths are ramping up, especially as we face a Fall surge in contagion.
Things we’ve previously taken for granted, like stress-free grocery shopping, visiting friends and family, getting a haircut, going to the movies, boarding a plane for a far away trip, working at our offices, having our children safely at school, etc. are now all matters of life and death. Making these decisions is now more like playing Russian Roulette with our survival.
Many of the couples I see in my practice are driving each other crazy with the lack of personal space, the intrusions into personal time, the increased dependency on each other’s judgment, and the loss of their usual distractions and pleasures, like going out to eat, attending concerts, or going to the gym. My caseload is exploding, even with the uncertainty so many people face about the sustainability of their incomes. Many people are now, eight months into the pandemic, experiencing “Covid Fatigue” and getting riskier with their choices, loosening their vigilance about contagion danger, thinking “What the hell, we’ve gotta live!” Apparently, as people experience these losses the rates of depression and anxiety are up. As many people experience a frightening lack of leadership or governmental truth related to the pandemic, feelings of helplessness, rage and nihilism are prevalent.
So, how can one not only stay alive until hopefully there’s a vaccine widely available, but actually thrive in this dystopian environment? Here are some strategies I’d recommend, finding them personally useful, and observing how my family, friends and clients also benefit from them:
Pick your battles. Be conscious and selective about where you direct your outrage and frustration. Early on, I found myself confronting mask-less shoppers about their socially irresponsible behavior. I soon realized I was not only fighting a useless fight which might end in injury, but also inviting a full scale stress response in myself. Eventually, before the masks were mandated, I’d contact store managers with either praise for their policies about social distancing and masks, or complaints for their lack of diligence and courage. Also, good or bad reviews on store websites are more powerful than confronting individuals. So, be intentional about where and how you express your frustrations, being mindful about how it might backfire.
Respect other people’s choices about “safety.” Try to take a more empathic, non judgmental stance about the way others manage their lives amidst Covid. Most people take some calculated risks, like seeing their grandchildren in person rather than via Zoom for possibly years. Other people choose to expand their “pods” to include close friends and extended family. Parents of young children are now generally sending them back to pre-schools. More often now, people are traveling, using AirB&B or even select hotels, knowing there is risk associated with that choice, but finding confinement at home worse. There are many daily decisions we all face about staying alive and managing, so recognize that these choices are personal and not for you to judge. Criticism, voiced or silent, only divides and alienates people.
Limit your exposure to the news, especially on TV where the visual content can be particularly triggering. If you want to know what’s going on in the world be selective about which programs might be more or less sensationalized, or more focused on solutions. Do not watch the news at night before bedtime. Not only does the blue TV light inhibit melatonin production, which is required for ample sleep, but details about the horrors of the pandemic won’t benefit the purpose of relaxation and calm needed for a restful night. Instead, read a non-arousing book on a device with a “night shade” adjustment, or listen to soothing music, or listen to some guided imagery, like the ones on free apps like “Calm” or “Headspace.” You need proper sleep to face this new Normal with resilience.
Lean into the pleasures and joys of your relationships. Even if right now you can’t see some of your loved ones in person, stay connected with Zoom, FaceTime, phone calls, photos, texts, and emails. Even snail mail right now is better than losing touch. Avoid isolation as the solution to the constraints of Covid. Explore new things with a partner or spouse. Make it an antidote to the temptation to target them with your Covid issues. Go for walks together, learn a new way of cooking. Be conscious and intentional about expanding your relationship with each other. Remember, your closest connections are your lifeline, especially now, so lean in.
Do some service for those in need or for some meaningful cause. Go shopping or do errands for an elderly shut-in neighbor. Walk a dog for friends who are overwhelmed with young kids at home. Volunteer at an animal shelter. Mow your neighbor’s lawn. Offer emotional support to someone you know who has lost a loved one to Covid. Get involved with some political action you feel strongly about so you become part of the solution. Get outside your own experience, participate and help others. It will soothe your heart at a time of such uncertainty and loss. You will also experience a sense of “agency” so needed now, making a difference with your effective actions.
Take up a new hobby. Expand yourself with creativity, especially as you experience so many shrinking options now in Covid life. Learn a new instrument with online lessons. (I’m currently taking guitar lessons, and online ukulele and harmonica lessons!) It will fill your brain with new challenges and pleasures. Take up knitting or woodworking or painting, things that usually require you to be more still at home. Try to create a dedicated space to this new hobby and make it your sanctuary. Create a psychological and physical space for positivity and growth.
Spend some time each day focusing on what Covid has ironically given you – more time with your kids? More appreciation for those you love? Appreciation for your health or your life? Gratitude for your job? Appreciation for the safety and solace of your home? Less mindless spending? As we now all face death in such a direct and immediate way it can be transformational to be more present in our lives while we have them.
As Mike, a beloved carpenter we’ve recently re-hired says, “I’m just really happy to be on the right side of the grass at this point!”
I’m sharing this beautifully written blogpost with you from Cindy Giovagnoli about expanding our definitions of “productivity.” This is a subject I find personally and professionally very relevant, and one that I think you may too, so I’m delighted that she gave me permission to reprint it here to share with you, my readers.
Cindy is a gifted photographer, artist, writer, podcaster, website developer, adventurer and nature lover whom I did a podcast with a few years ago about “Noticing.” She’s a funny, honest, wise old soul whose thoughts and ideas can be found at: StayCurious@CindyGiovagnoli.com.
A few days ago, I took Chili Dog over to my favorite local running trails so that he and I could both stretch our legs and breathe in some wild air away from the sounds of cars and people and busy-ness.
It was drizzly and a little raw (Seattle winter, anyone?), but I actually love the woods in that weather- it feels extra quiet and mysterious and there tends to be fewer people on the trails.
As Chili and I began, I ran through my mental list of things “to do” while I was out there. I wanted to brainstorm a writing project and some website tweaks I’m making behind the scenes. I wanted to think about possible applications for some advice I’d heard on a podcast episode. Think through the structure of a class I’ll be offering locally in 2020.
I pulled up the “notes” app on my phone, ready to jot down what came to me. As I was looking down at my screen, a bigleaf maple leaf fell from the tree above me and landed across my phone.
How’s that for a sign from the universe?
As I peeled the enormous damp leaf from my phone, I realized that I’d fallen into a mindset trap that can sneak up on us without our noticing: the idea that “being productive” is the highest value on our time. It was a Tuesday in the middle of the day- didn’t I have to justify my hours in the woods with some kind of work product?
There are two big problems with that idea:
(1) It defines “productive” as relating solely to work product, to tangible, measurable outcomes related to how I make my living. That’s a pretty narrow definition.
What about how I do my living? As in, the quality of my life? Of my days? They’re numbered, after all. Such is the reality of mortality.
So why wouldn’t my definition of “productive” include things that bring health, wellness, wonder, awe, peace, or simple joy to my days?
Walking in the woods, reading a novel, meeting a friend for great conversation over coffee, sketching in my journal, taking in an exhibit…even binge-watching Netflix in the right circumstances- these can all qualify as “productive” tasks when we broaden the definition to include the things that make our lives richer and more enjoyable.
(2) If we’ve decided that being “productive” (even in it’s broadened definition) is the absolute highest value we can place on our time, we’ve disregarded the power of blank space in our lives. And blank space is where a lot of magic happens.
Part of what led me to a “to do” list of brainstorming ideas while on a walk in the woods is the fact that I often have breakthroughs and game-changing ideas when I’m out on such an excursion.
The reason that those breakthroughs and ideas happen is usually due to the fact that I’ve allowed my mind free time. I’ve allowed boredom and daydreaming and for my thoughts to wander where they will at random.
It’s amazing what can pop up when we allow our brains to do their own thing for a bit. It’s why so many ideas land on people while they’re in the shower.
Connections are made. Problems are solved. Ideas take shape.
But there’s no way to force this. There’s no way to prompt it.
We simply have to leave some blank space and then see what happens.
Sometimes that space will result in ideas or breakthroughs and sometimes it won’t. You never know.
At worst, we end up with a brain that got a bit of rest. Not such a bad deal, really.
So I invite you to broaden your definition of “productive” to include the things that add richness and meaning and joy to your life, regardless of whether they have a measurable outcome that makes money or not. And also to allow for some blank space for boredom and daydreaming and letting your mind wander at will.
I’d like to hear what that looks like for you, so hit reply and tell me- how do you define productive and where do you find some space in your days?
Don’t miss this next BlogTalk Radio podcast! In this 20 minute episode I’ll share my insights about some of the common sources of holiday related anxiety and stress, and how being proactive and intentional can transform the season.
If you have a history of some really negative experiences related to the holidays, and struggle with how to make it all more manageable, even magical, then this episode is for you! I’ll help you see how some simple planning, realism, and clear boundaries can make all the difference. You’ll see how you alone, or you and your spouse may have the power to turn it all around to meaning, connection and joy.
Call in live with questions or comments at 877-497-9046. If you can’t make this (first ever) Sunday night podcast while it’s happening, you can stream it at your convenience anytime at www.BlogTalkRadio.com/SusanLager.
If you’re a follower of this blog you may have been wondering where I was all summer – why no posts?? Where’s the new material, any new tools or resources, even just thoughts?
The answer is: I’ve been having too much fun practicing what I preach to clients: nourishing connection with self, family and friends, mostly outside, nowhere near a computer! I’ve put away the devices, as we all should do with some intentionality, and practiced more face-to-face experiences. How can a cell phone or a laptop compete with a glorious, sunny 80 degree day on the lake with beloved family or friends? How can researching and posting about all the new resources for creating joy and meaning compete with the meaning derived by loving up the local shelter dogs each Monday? And what “work-related” activity on Earth can compete with days at the beach or the park with our irrepressible two year old granddaughter Anna and Old Soul grand-dog Barley? What thoughtful article or diligent new podcast could possibly compete with immersion in the magnificence of our coast, our mountains, our rivers and forests here in the Northeast for the measly three months of friendly weather? None!!!
Then, there’s the other knee with it’s own torn meniscus, amplifying a sense of needing to “make hay while the sun shines”, knowing the inevitable surgery is around the corner (successfully completed today), bringing with it mandatory vegging out on the couch and a perfect opportunity to get back together with all my devices, my writing, my internal world.
So, there you have it – iced knee on pillows, hoping for crappy weather to avoid FOMO, and lots to share once again with you, my gentle readers whom I hope will forgive my incognito, hedonistic summer and know that I’m finally back…
(Here’s the second very good question Parenting NH magazine asked me recently):
What are some practical tips and ways for parents to prioritize their relationship as spouses/partners?
Most people know about the importance of setting aside quality time together through things like “date night.”
Having a planned, ritualized time alone with your partner amplifies your “couple-ness” through shared experiences, reminding you about your reasons for choosing and staying with each other. I encourage couples to ramp it up a notch by taking turns with the planning, each putting energy into the “work” of connection.
Sometimes surprise experiences can expand a sense of fun, and even ramp up friendly competition. Anticipating and later reminiscing about these events can actually build happy neural pathways in your brains!
Novelty and a shared sense of discovery by doing new things together also generates excitement and joy, which are important antidotes to the doldrums which often plague long term relationships.
Equally as important, build mini “pockets of connection” into your everyday life as a couple. Don’t overload date nights with too much expectation, especially if you can’t manage to have them regularly and frequently. Instead, look for small, subtle moments of sharing by being intentional about them:
– If you’re getting dinner ready, create a shared experience with some conversation and a glass of wine while you prepare the meal.
– If the kids are in bed sit on the deck or the porch and watch the stars come out together. Talk about your dreams and passions, not just who aced it at your kid’s soccer game.
– If you’re watching a TV program sit next to each other and use the commercial breaks to have a snack and share your thoughts about the program.
– “Kill two birds with one stone” and have some lively conversation while you walk your dog.
However brief your time together may be, protect it from outside intrusion. Get more comfortable saying “No, thank you” to invitations that might cut in on the two of you too often. Set boundaries and prioritize your time together, even if it’s not a Hallmark moment.
Whatever you do together, be intentional about it, be present, and put down your cellphones! Texts, Facebook, and Instagram can wait, unless they’re shared activities you both enjoy. Here again, remember that one way or the other, your kids are watching, and you’re giving them a template for either a loving, respectful partnership, or
an empty one.
I am a licensed, board certified pyschotherapist and relationship coach in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Through my psychotherapy or coaching services, I can provide you with
skills and tools to transform your life.