I’ll admit, when I first started hearing of people struggling while being quarantined at home, I didn’t get it. You see, for the past couple of years due to one illness or another, I have found myself spending a lot of time at home. While most of the time it was due to fatigue and being too tired to venture out into the world often, this past year I was consciously choosing not to go out because I had strong physical reactions to chemicals found in cleaners and artificial fragrances. A trip out could leave me with brain fog, fatigue, hives, or an emotional breakdown all triggered from simply smelling something. Getting close to people who used these products was taking a toll on my physical well-being so, I started to keep my distance. Before I knew it, I was hardly going out. So when this virus situation came about, my life hadn’t changed at all and I didn’t understand why people were having such a hard time with it. After listening to stories from friends around the world, I get it. You aren’t used to this life. It’s a shock to completely change the way you do everything.
Social distancing is not ideal. We know that human connection is necessary to create a thriving life and as a certified applied positive psychology practitioner, this knowledge weighed on me as I had fewer in-person interactions. Was the health I gained from not being exposed to chemicals worth sacrificing the benefits that come from connecting? My goal is to cultivate a thriving life and to help others do the same. While there are strategic steps to take to navigate this new world of social distancing, I think the mindset we have is even more important. Cultivating a framework to see the world as it currently is while also moving towards the future has given me something to rely on when my feelings about the situation fluctuate.
Here are the two thoughts that are central to this framework:
Thought # 1: This is not a permanent situation.
I want to be clear that this framework does not negate the fact that the current situation is hard because, it is. It can be frustrating and overwhelming at times to keep going about each day not knowing when things will change. We want so desperately for everything to be normal and it’s the uncertainty of when that normal will return that can feel like a dark cloud over our lives. I used this framework not to minimize the current situation but to remind myself that this is temporary and to continue moving forward with my life. I know that as I heal, my body can tolerate the chemical burden better. I’ll have the physical energy to go out more and be around people who use those products. It’s not very different for you, either. One day, you will be able to go out again and interact with people as normal. Yes, it’s still challenging because we don’t know when that ‘one day’ will be but, this thought can keep us from catastrophizing and thinking that it will always be like this.
Thought #2: This is a choice.
I’m a stickler for language and the words I use to talk to myself and describe my experiences. I think the words we use have more power than we give them credit for and they can easily empower or disempower us. This is something I maintained my awareness of when I began staying home more to reduce reactions I had to chemicals out in the world. At first, I was saying things like “I can’t go there because the smell is too strong and I’ll get sick.” What feelings does the word “can’t” evoke? Using “can’t” makes me feel stuck, disempowered, sad, and frustrated.
The reality of the situation is that I’m choosing not to go out because I don’t want to have a reaction. When I frame it this way, I get to see the big picture. I am choosing not to go out for my health and well-being. I want to have the mental clarity to serve others so, I choose not to expose myself to chemicals that will have a negative impact on me physically. It can still be frustrating that this is my experience but, looking at it this way reminds me of what’s actually important to me. It’s important to me to have physical health and to be able to show up to help others. I could choose more social interactions at the cost of feeling bad but, I don’t.
Where ever you are in this experience, you are choosing to stay home now. Even though there are government recommendations or mandates in place, you still have a choice. You are choosing to stay home now because you believe it’s safer or because you’re choosing to be a responsible citizen. The fact is you could go out, even with social and governmental consequences, but you’re choosing not to.
How do I implement this mindset?
Journaling and coaching have been instrumental for me in adopting this mindset. Whenever I was upset, sad, or frustrated about the situation, I could write about it and get the feelings out onto paper. This let me feel them and acknowledge what I was going through and the more I wrote, the better I felt. As the heaviness of those emotions left me, I was more open and could remind myself in writing that this situation is temporary and that I’m choosing to interact less frequently because I value my health.
Coaching has gotten me so much further than I would have been able to get on my own. I had a wonderful coach who knew what my goals were and could not only hold me accountable to working on them but also encourage me when I needed it. She would reflect back to me my strengths and how I was growing. Sometimes I would show up to a session and say, “I’m feeling overwhelmed. I’m frustrated by how long it’s taking me to get better and I’d really like to not feel like this.” And that’s what I’d get coaching on, moving from feeling stuck and overwhelmed to however I wanted to feel – usually peaceful and more joyous. Even though I had “bigger” goals that I was working on, having a coach who could help me through these emotional road bumps, reminded me of the mindset that I wanted to have. This is temporary and I have a choice.
Maintaining this mindset by reminding myself that this is not permanent and I have a choice has been essential to cultivating well-being while social distancing. It has enabled me to create a thriving life and not wallow in sadness and frustration. While I believe, and research shows, that it is important, necessary, and completely normal to experience the full range of human emotions, this mindset has enabled me to stay focused on what I want and continue to move towards it.
I have many other strategies for how I’ve structured my life to thrive while social distancing that I’ll share with you in the future. This mindset piece is the foundation I’ve built those strategies on and I hope it empowers you as much as it has me.