The world has changed. In a matter of a few days, we went from living life as usual and completing our daily routines while our kids completed theirs… to a loss of our sense of routine and grounding. We keep hearing phrases like “abundance of caution” and “unprecedented times”. We may feel anxiety, anger, frustration, and fatigue as the world around us comes to a halt. For many of us who have children, there is also the pressure to maintain their routine while finding ways to keep a paycheck coming in, as childcare options close around us.
What are we supposed to do with all of this? How do we cope and stay calm when the grocery stores are being emptied out and some of our friends and family are buying guns as they prophesize about the coming pandemonium?
1. Take some deep, slow breaths… really… take a few right now. Zaccaro et al. in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, How Breath-Control Can Change Your Life: A Systematic Review on Psycho-Physiological Correlates of Slow Breathing, tell us that slow breathing improves our emotional control and psychological well-being in a number of measurable ways. Breathe and be still… the anxiety and stress will challenge us and sometimes tip us… recenter… and breathe… and be still.
2. Focus on good enough. Listening to your children’s teachers, peeking in on social media, or taking in the popular advice about routines can leave you feeling overwhelmed by all the “shoulds”. Zoom out. Remember that balancing everything well means not doing anything great right now. Let go and aim for “good enough”. This means making sure you know what the basic requirements are for continued survival, so to speak. It also means focusing on the here and now, day by day decisions. No long term planning can happen until we get to the other side of this crisis. Focus, instead, on:
3. Live in the grey… our natural tendency is to move toward black and white thinking when we are anxious. We need answers to help us make sense of what we can do. “Flattening the curve” is a good example of this - social media pictures would have us believe that complete shut-down and avoidance of contact is the best solution. Going too far in that direction, however, could mean that we see the same problem play out again in a few months, requiring another shut down. Read Flattening the Coronavirus Curve is not Enough to better understand some of the grey area we need to consider when making these decisions.
4. Naturally, these points lead to the next… expect that your partner, children, family and friends are going to be more anxious, stressed, and irritable.
5. As you’re taking care to be mindful of the anxiety others are feeling and how that may spill onto you, take care to also note when you begin turning to your less heathy coping mechanisms. Alcohol, drugs, overeating, oversleeping, excessive shopping, etc can all make us feel better momentarily, but they ultimately wear us down more and leave us more vulnerable to the impacts of intense social anxiety. If you are using these outlets to cope, ask for help before it goes too far.
At the end of the day, we are ultimately working to understand and then lead from the grey, middle ground. To do so, we need to:
There is troubling news about this virus everywhere we look… and there is also good news about the successful work that our scientific community is doing to combat the virus and save lives. Take in both… in reasonable doses.