The COVID-19 crisis has a multitude of psychological stressors. People are worried about getting sick, financial consequences, anxiety over friends and family and apocalyptic scenarios, both real and imagined. Anger, tension, frustration, grief and sadness are very close to the surface. Factor in fatigue and forced closeness without distractions and no toilet paper… voilá, that is our current environment. It is not a recipe for enjoying “stay at home” breaks from responsibilities, but rather one for conflict and fighting, boredom, all encompassing anxiety and panic. It is incumbent upon all of us to help cease the spread of fear. We need to calm ourselves and not impart the contagion of anxiety which has become its own virus. Obsessive ruminating to “trauma bond” by getting others worked up, only worsens the panic.
Although we don’t have control over many things in life, we do have a choice about how we react. Who is our best self and how do we rise to that? Discover who in your world is aspirational and hitch your horse to that. Seriously go inside, close your eyes and decide who you want to be in this time and make a commitment to it. You have a choice! Anger, aggression panic, fear, sadness, depression are natural emotions. Feel them, express them, grieve them, talk about them, get support and don’t get stuck. Stick with the elevated version of your best self and be accountable when you slip, which of course will happen.
We all need to download a new operating system to stay calm and safe in this time.
Spending forced time in close proximity under stress can spike arguments and get in the way of much needed affection and intimacy. The petri dish of anxiety is certainly not an ideal environment to grow intimacy. Popular advice about staying safe from COVID-19 has been to “act as if” you already have it, therefore taking space so as not to infect others. In this same regard, “act as if” the person you are living with is someone you want to protect and love… hold this close and treat him or her as such. Having this mindset helps to nurture connection and intimacy. When disagreements arise, if there is no alignment with the present moment, make a decision to put that argument on hold. Recycling a bunch of old pain doesn’t really help anyone, especially in times of stress. Ask questions instead of making accusations and assumptions. Asking a question potentially inspires discovery; an accusation will usually create a defense. With levels of panic so high, give people the benefit of the doubt and double down on compassion.
Take time for yourself even if the quarters are close. Create some alone time to contemplate, breathe, read, meditate and pray. Learn something new. This is also a good moment to tackle chores and projects put off, resulting in a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. Carve out time by setting an actual time to do this. Astronauts advise that keeping a schedule in confinement helps keep them sane Even in captivity time can get away, so making an appointment with yourself will create a level of accountability.
Share emotions in a vulnerable and honest way and try to notice if fears and anxiety are projections into the future. The future has not happened yet… an acknowledgement of that can usually provide some relief. If focus is on the future, make sure it is proactive and not just unfocused projected anxiety about what lies ahead. Keep in mind that the confinement is temporary and that we are in it together.
Try not to ruminate on the inconvenience and negativity of confinement. Instead, try to see it as an opportunity to bond and create closer relationships with loved ones, or even a time to mend broken relationships. Most people have more time on their hands… use it to strengthen connections and share stories, fears, joys and hopefully find humor. Activating your social network, even if virtual, can create a sense of togetherness. People in confinement are coming together in new ways creating a new sense of community. Focus on the positive whenever you possibly can. Look for uplifting stories and humor wherever you can find it, and find ways to create some of your own. Create a gratitude list each morning. To the best of your ability, try to find activities that provide you with a sense of meaning and beauty. Eat healthy food, exercise, have sex, take baths, laugh, hug from a distance. Make sure to have “virus-free” conversations. Limit the news and take a break from your phone. Take one day at a time and remember that helping others is a powerful antidote to depression.
Let’s all hope that skills and discoveries learned in captivity will create greater compassion towards our fellow humans and our shared planet. Let’s make kindness and healing go viral!
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