These are unprecedented times in our nation’s history as well as our own individual worlds where COVID-19 is on everyone’s televisions, social media pages, hearts, and minds. Regardless of belief systems of the validity of the illness, the impact on people’s personal and professional lives is profound. The challenge for each one of us, individually, is how to cope with the ever-evolving feelings and thoughts that may change day to day or even minute to minute.
Our brains are very unique and complicated and one of its favorite tasks is to find patterns. For many people, their histories of trauma may be returning as the feelings of lack of control and grief are being activated by this experience. This may also lead to our brains going back to old patterns of coping that may not be productive such as “stuffing” feelings or engaging in negative self-talk. This is a time to remember the differences and the skills one has learned around dealing with big emotions and reactions and those skills can be applied here.
Some basic ideas around using our minds to deal with COVID-19 involve controlling our thoughts to propel us into a more positive or adjusted state.
- PRACTICAL: Do you have patterns that have worked in the past or you to ease tension or current feelings such as stress and worry? Like doing a favorite work out. Arrange furniture in your house to the way it was before during a calmer time. Carry out family traditions such as decorating balloons for birthday parties or dressing up for date night but this time at home. When you engage in activities that have worked before, you are soothing your mind with the feeling of familiarity and stability.
- ASK YOURSELF: “Is this helpful or hurtful?” This is a question I ask myself on a continual basis to assist with giving myself grace or pushing myself, if needed. When considering social media, news programs, or even family members providing information, I ask myself “Is this helpful?” or “Do I need to take a break from information right now?” Another example would be when considering whether I need to push my kids to do homework, “Is this helpful?” and depending on the moment, it may be yes or it may be no. We may need to take a break with a dance party, or blowing bubbles, or taking a walk.
- NO “SHOULDING”: This is a time where our minds are overloaded with ideas of what we “should” be doing when in reality, there is no frame of reference on how to deal with a pandemic. This is probably the first time you are experiencing one. Shifting our thoughts with “I should be doing…..” or “Why can’t I be more like ______________?” can assist with the anxiety produced by unrealistic expectations and the feelings of failure when we realize we do not have control over all we hoped.
- “FINDING SOMETHING POSITIVE”: to change your mind’s focus. Do you have something to look forward to? Maybe it is that your family plans to eat out once a week and that feels positive. Perhaps it involves adopting a senior or donating to someone in need. It could also look like writing a letter to a loved one or using your faith to pray for those you know are struggling. Altruism is able to shift thought patterns and provide a deep sense of connectedness in our minds despite having to maintain social distancing.
I know many people who are afraid to reach out if they are having a hard time but your act of reaching out can encourage others to feel connected to you, especially if they are struggling as well. Calling a friend to support them and also find ways to support yourself through that person is one of the purposes of community. Not every day is perfect. However, shifting the focus of our mind to authentic positivity is an incredibly useful tool to combating all of these normal overwhelming emotions.