Life teaches us to stop talking in absolutes. 2020 perfectly illustrated this as every time I said it couldn’t possibly get any worse, a text popped up announcing yet another thing, another shooting, hate filled speech, loss, another fire, another flood, more loss, separation of people from their children, a pandemic, loss. If I were a literalist I’d wonder if the Book of Revelations was revealing itself. And 2021 is acting like it wants to leave its own mark. But, even in the midst of all of this, there are ways to sustain ourselves, ways to restore, to move through.
Here are a few things I’ve found helpful when it feels the load can’t get any heavier and then life hits you with one more thing.
- Be informed, not inundated
- Channel the emotion
- Use your energy wisely
- Where possible, reframe
- Find your calm
- Over everything, gratefulness
Be informed, not inundated
Ever notice how your mood might shift depending on what information you’re absorbing? There are times, usually following a serious incident, that I find myself watching the news at nauseam or looking at social media posts until my eyes grow tired. Maybe I’m hungry for information that might make sense of what’s happened or I’m looking for someone to validate what I’m feeling. They all tell the same story, and after hours and hours of this, I recognize I don’t feel comforted, being THIS informed has not provided any piece or peace of mind. I’ve started paying attention to when this shift occurs. Sometimes it’s subtle… tension in my body, a hopelessness or resigned feeling in my spirit. Sometimes, like with the murder of George Floyd, it’s not a shift at all… instead a pain that’s intense and immediate. Now, I watch or read long enough to get the facts and then step away or turn towards comedy where a little levity prevails despite the horror in the latest story. What I wasn’t prepared for, the guilt…Looking away felt like a luxury. I’ve shifted my thinking around this though. The need to take space exist because apathy doesn’t. How do you find the balance?
Channel the Emotion
Once I’ve already been taken there, i’m THERE. That’s right, stepping away from the source of stress alone isn’t enough. It’s easy to feel helpless in the face of circumstances that we have little control over. There’s value in honoring the feelings, they exist whether given voice or not. Taking those feelings, that energy, and channeling it in a concrete way, no matter how small, can help. I saw this when the pandemic hit, there was a sense of helplessness as the number of deaths grew. Medical students began to raise money for PPE, health care workers volunteered their time at other facilities, people began delivering meals to the elderly or making mask. Now, I don’t sew, would struggle to make a mask with a step by step guide. But I have found other positive ways to engage and in doing so, that sense of helplessness and frustration is managed. I can share music that gives me a sense of peace, a good recipe, a funny quote, support local businesses, I can hold space for others and listen. Healing often lies in giving. We’re reminded we aren’t alone. How have you channeled your emotion during these stressful times?
Use your Energy Wisely
This year especially, the sociopolitical climate has shed a glaring light on unexpected differences. Folks I had easy exchanges with in the past, have expressed amazing callousness, assumptions, blame. As a therapist, I’m aware that behavior has a function and can usually contextualize. But, I no longer take it upon myself to try and engage in ways that aren’t beneficial. The beauty of healthy exchange is that it fosters growth and understanding. I want my energy to go there. I want to learn from and with others. I don’t want early stress wrinkles talking with someone who doesn’t believe covid is real. Does this mean I’ve given up on humanity? Nah, it means I get to choose where I place my energy. In other words, healthy boundaries, and boundaries, despite the sound of the word, create space.
Where Possible, Reframe
Here’s where an understanding of internal vs external control becomes important. For example, the fatigue that comes when someone says there’s going to be another zoom meeting. Oh, it’s real, but I can shift this from “not again” to “it’s pretty nice that despite having to be physically separate, there are ways to see each other and still feel connected”.
Find your Calm
Sometimes, I’m stuck, I think about all that’s happened in 2020 and all that continues, and the weight of it, paralyzing. I don’t try to move out of this space right away anymore. I normalize this reaction and allow for the stillness. In doing so, I find a sense of calm or at least a willingness to try to get some. Music, for me, is restorative. It provides a space for what I’m feeling and a way to release it. When I start feeling restless in my space, I change the environment somehow, a cheap bundle of wildflowers, move pillows around, provides a surprising boost. Other things, singing, baking, a long bath, a walk, talking with a friend, losing myself in a good book, writing or just dancing around. Why mention so many? Because the funny thing about ways to find calm and to cope, is that right when I think I’ve found the “perfect” thing, that thing decides it doesn’t feel like working quite as well, thus the list! What are some of yours?
Over Everything, Gratefulness
Even in the midst of the unthinkable, isolation, loss…I have found grace in gratefulness. It’s a lesson I learn over and over again, a practice I have to repeat throughout my day, an intention. Before I can get there, I have to be aware of what I’m actually thinking, acknowledge what I’m feeling and throw in that all important word “and”. I can feel sad, miss my loved ones, be struck by all the suffering AND remind myself that I’m trying. Maybe, in that moment, it’s my breath, and in breathing, I remind myself to turn my attention towards little graces I might have otherwise missed, the changing color of a leaf, a hummingbird that’s slowed down, a smile that reaches someone’s eyes, a kind act, a memory. They are everywhere, even in the midst, but when I can’t get there, I’ve learned to give myself space and forgiveness. And I’ll keep relearning this too.