In Quarantine, “Just Be” Is the New “Just Do It”

How to sit with our most uncomfortable emotions.

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Photo by: Natsuki Takada
Photo by: Natsuki Takada

There’s no avoiding our emotions these days. The frustrations, the fears, and the numbing effects of devastating headlines. As human beings, we skirt discomfort at all costs. We’re literally programmed to minimize pain. We buy, scroll, drink, eat, numb, smoke and run. We do anything to avoid the void. As we sit alone and together in this quarantine, we’re quickly realizing that discomfort can be delayed but it cannot be avoided. Maybe we can’t “do” our way out of this.

In our pre-COVID-19 lives, we were so good at avoiding the bad. Through travel, planning, appointments and errands, we pushed away pain through momentum. Everywhere we looked our behavior was reinforced by marketers delivering a message of “buy this to feel that.” We were bombarded in our feeds, on our walks to work, in our shows and on our podcasts. 

But things are changing. Companies and agencies are beginning to understand that to be of value in a COVID-19 world, they have to provide a different role with a different message. Now advertising is shifting to enable connection over selling a solution for depravity. It’s a good time to ask ourselves how we can be more mindful consumers. How can we help ourselves move through this discomfort and come out on the other side as better human beings?

Become Your Own Advocate

It’s time to shift our focus from doing to being. We can start by becoming our own advocates. We can choose self-care over splurging. We can suggest hot showers overs shots. We can breathe rather than “buy now.” We can show up and sit with our difficult emotions. Our mental health and our relationships won’t make it out of isolation unscathed, so let’s ride the wave. Perhaps we’ll feel less lonely if we stop to feel how lonely we really are.

Don’t Avoid Discomfort

I’m sure you’re already feeling the cravings of avoidance. The yearning for a glass of Pinot after another day home with the kids, reaching for the phone to become a scroll zombie on a mission to find new yoga pants. You “need” the spaghetti, meatballs and ice cream every night in this new normal. We’re usually not conscious of these behaviors and that gives them more power. Before we know it, we’re unable to separate ourselves from our habits and we become fragile. Small things can set us off. Those little discomforts grow into arguments with our partners and a difficulty falling asleep.

Feel Your Emotions

So let’s stop. Let’s sit here together in the unknown for a while. We can pay attention to the signs our bodies are giving (and sometimes screaming) at us. We can listen to and validate our own emotions. It’s not easy. We’ll fidget, we’ll get quiet and the tears will suddenly stream down our faces like from an unexpected Barbara Walters interview. Why are we crying? We don’t know. Now we’re angry. And surprised. Where did that come from? And then we’ll wait. And we’ll sit with it some more. And finally, it will all flood in and it will hurt. But then. But then!

Connect Through Presence

A shift occurs, as if we’re walking through the fire. This is when transformation happens. Emotions pour out and they lose their hold. We can take the power away from the all-encompassing fear, pain and sadness.  The dust will settle and the storm will pass and there we will be, hearts beating, with dried up salty faces, looking one another in the eye. Even if it is through an interface.

Pause Before You Act

We now have an opportunity to connect with ourselves and with one another. Purchases, phones, and alcohol are all surrogates. They lead to an emptiness that drives us to numb even further. It’s a vicious cycle but it can be stopped.  We can put down the phone and breathe. We can go for a walk instead of rushing to that next zoom meeting. In the same way we are encouraged to think before we speak, we can pause before we act. In a world that promotes a “just do it” approach to life, we can learn to just be.

It’s a process. The connection we seek will be found in the silences and the spaces in between. Less searching. Less doing. More presence.

And yet, as I write this I stop to scroll through posts and bite my nail, trying to soothe some latent fear. It never ends. But then we come back again.

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