If your experience of 2020 and early 2021 feels like the above image, you’re not alone! No matter what side of the political fence you’ve embraced it has been a year of loss, constraints, hopelessness, helplessness, hatred, anxieties and extreme division, often among members of the same family, or among friends. Not only have most of us faced differences which have felt toxic and relationship-breaking, but a daily onslaught of information and news about catastrophic events, happening now, or about to unfold. I think there has been a collective experience of trauma in this country, and probably in many places around the world. Covid 19 illnesses and deaths, loss of income, loss of faith in the System, violence, racism, uncertainty.
To that point I’m encouraging everyone to pause and reflect on a few things:
How have you been coping and how well has it served you?
- Over-drinking or drugging?
- Reviewing the horrors frequently with peers who get it?
- Over-eating or over-indulging in comfort foods or sugar?
- Targeting your loved ones with rage-outs?
- Overspending on Amazon?
- Denying anything unusual is happening and proceeding without any cautions or adjustments?
- Over-working and sacrificing sleep / self care rituals?
- Over-thinking and going to catastrophic conclusions?
In my psychotherapy practice I’ve seen how people’s responses to the trauma either exacerbate or alleviate some of the stress, bring people together for support and meaningful action or tear them apart. Depression and anxiety are off the charts now as people struggle with feelings and thoughts that can become runaway trains in response to such triggering events.
So, instead of going through a long list of more functional coping mechanisms I’m encouraging you all to begin by examining the strategies you’re already using and taking an honest look at how well these strategies are serving you. If they calm and energize you, at what cost to yourself or others? If they provide relief, how momentary or enduring is it? Do your coping mechanisms give you any sense of meaning, agency, or connection to others whom you respect and trust? Are you finding any joy amidst all this madness? Are you protecting your mental and physical health, or has that been one price of how you’ve tried to manage?
All meaningful change begins with Contemplation, so give that it’s due. Then, if you decide to seek out different coping tools you’ll be readier to use them intentionally, creatively and effectively.
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!”
If you missed the live podcast, you can listen to it at: www.BlogTalkRadio.com/SusanLager.
I’ve shared 16 key attitudes and behaviors for not only surviving, but thriving during this pandemic. I’ll think you’ll find them so helpful that you may want a copy of the printed list! If so, call me at The Couples Center voicemail 603-431-7131, and simply leave a message asking for The List. Several listeners have already requested it so they can have it on hand as a reminder for how to stay sane through this crisis.
Most everyone in the world, for some time now, has been experiencing the anxiety, losses, uncertainty, and constraints of social distancing related to Coronavirus. We know we’re living in an apocalyptic scenario, we hear all the gory details on the news and from each other every day. The people who seem to be surviving best in this new “normal” are the hard-core introverts, and even they are weirded out. I am not a cryer, but have done my share in the last few weeks, so I get the trauma in all this.
However, there are also some pretty bizarre and funny things going on which I think it would be therapeutic to notice and share. We’ve gotta find some humor amidst this crisis, so I will be doing my part here to spread the word about what’s laughable and inspiring in our current reality.
“Big Night Out – Suicidal Grocery Shopping at BJ’s”
After a few weeks of this self quarantining my husband and I noticed a serious lack of freezer paper, cheese and Half and Half. We could deal with staying at home 24/7, being online 24/7 for all work and social contacts, the losses, the ongoing experience of Russian Roulette about who would die next, but no freezer paper? No cheese? No Half and Half for the gallons of coffee we’ve been drinking? No way! Besides, it was Friday night, and time to go out!
I’d heard from a few clients who are high up on the medical chain that yes, we should be wearing face masks to protect each other, but my idea to strap a huge towel around my head wasn’t so great – too much possible absorption of respiratory droplets for me while being socially altruistic. They both were adamant that glass or plastic face shields are what docs use in certain surgeries and risky situations. And yes, a motorcycle helmet would be fine. So, here I am above, following medical wisdom, preparing for our Friday night foray to get “desperately needed” supplies at BJ’s Wholesale Club.
Imagine Darth Vader walking around in front of you in a store. It was the perfect setup for social distancing! People around me probably thought I was either a psycho or someone about to rob the place, so nobody came near, even the customer service people who ordinarily assist when you’re useless at the Self Check Out line, as I generally am. It didn’t help that I was also wearing a giant scarf to seal the bottom opening of the helmet, so my hair was plastered down with sweat and the plastic shield was all fogged up from the heat condensation. Then at BJ’s you have to look for half boxes to pack your groceries in – uh oh, cardboard! More Coronavirus droplets about to pounce! My solution was to get this Big Night Out over and done with at top speed so my immune- compromised husband who was waiting in the car, wouldn’t worry that I’d succumbed to evil Covid-19. Of course it was pouring outside, and he’d parked right in front of the store, way too close to other people who were loading up their cars. He was less than 6 feet away from them, ready to help me! Of course I starting shrieking warnings at him from inside my Darth Vader getup, now soaked from the rain as well, so those people also backed off. (Handy)……….
I think the “insanity posture” may be very effective for our Covid-19 existence. It certainly worked when I lived in Manhattan, would be coming home from work on the deserted subway late at night, and approached by some menacing creep. I’ve never carried any weapon except the ability to appear totally crazy, loudly shouting out psychotic rants, which I’d witnessed at Bronx State Hospital where I’d worked on the ward with folks who were in a different state of reality. Nobody wants to screw with an insane person, so in my later middle-of-the-night homeward bound subway rides I never got mugged or attacked. Shady characters would always back off. It was my perfect New York defense. If you’re not too self conscious I’d highly recommend it when clueless people get within 6 feet of you nowadays, especially the friendly ones.
The good news is that we had our Big Night Out and now have lots of freezer paper, cheese and Half and Half. Hallelujah!