Coping with the COVID-19 Pandemic
Well, we're in it. If you were like me, you might not have wanted to believe it was coming or could even imagine it might be this bad. I told myself, we've lived through loads of flu seasons, SARS, SWINE Flu, Bird Flu, we could manage right? We've done it before. But not this. It's not like those. And it's here. Then suddenly it's everywhere. Countries are taken over, overwhelmed and closed. And as if overnight, the World was put on pause.
So how do we cope? How do we cope with the anxiety? Anxiety that our loved ones or ourselves may get sick and not recover. Anxiety that we might not be able to earn a living, see the ones we love maybe for months? Anxiety about the supermarket sweeps that's taken hold. How do we cope with doing nothing when there is so much that needs to be done? So many people who need help. So many hospitals in desperate need of PPE and ventilators. So many key workers who need to keep going, while we watch and wait. We stay in to save lives.
How do we sit doing nothing? Our daily distractions have been closed. We can't see friends, go shopping, eat out, watch movies together, go to parks - gather in our typical way of strangers being together, sharing in a collective experience. This is most definitely a collective experience, but one which must keep us apart, at least for the time being. Sitting with uncertainty about what the future may hold - sadly sitting alone for some. Sitting as the distractions go silent. The mind is a funny old place when there's nothing to distract it. Ever woken up at 2am when everything is silent and your brain decides now might be a good time to remind you of anything cringy you might have done in the last 20 years? You're not alone.
We often use distractions to cope with uncomfortable feelings or thoughts. But now we must sit with them.
It's a different world right now and I wonder if we can use this as an opportunity to maybe learn how to sit in the space of uncertainty and anxiety without distractions. What can we learn? What would it be like to go for a social distancing walk and just notice what's around us, not plugged into music, just us and nature? What does the air feel like on our skin? What sounds can we hear? What do we see? My friends have noticed that the Deer are coming back locally now we've gone inside. How magical!
If you're socially isolating and can't take a walk, there's excellent mindfulness resources on YouTube that are really good for coping with stress and anxiety. Or is now the time, to finally do that home workout? (I'm really talking to myself with that one!) What about getting out that old art set or learning a new language? Or if you want to get really fancy, you might want to try seeing how long you can sit in silence, whilst just noticing your natural breathing style. Notice any thoughts you have without judgement, then bring your attention back to your breathing. Let me know how you get on! Keep at it, it takes practice. Every mental health professional tries to teach clients self-care, but alas, the distractions. Now might be the time we can all practice a little self-care.
I don't need to launch into the researched links between social isolation and low mood, it's well documented elsewhere. So how can we connect whilst staying apart? Who haven't you spoken to in a long time? Who have you spoken to, but haven't really listened to for a long time? This was the moment FaceTime, Skype, and Zoom seem to have been made for. For those of us lucky enough to be with our families, dust off those family games, bring back family dinners, play, do those funny dance competitions I've been seeing, learn to cook together. Protect yourselves and the kids from too much media 'noise' and focus on the here and now. When finding yourself in a sea of uncertainty, cling to the here and now and look for pockets of safety. Reach out, ask for help, be the help where you can.
For parents, if you haven't already, you might even want to introduce the idea of self-directed play to kids. It's a great skill to have and this is a wonderful opportunity for them to learn to self-entertain and discover that they are OK with down time when the music stops.
Lastly I want to say something about gratitude. Gratitude is a big protector against the blues and has always helped me sit with feelings of uncertainty and fear. What are we thankful for today, in the here and now - rather than what we want - what do we have? As a society, we have an amazing NHS with 11,000+ superheros coming out of retirement to help us, we have other amazing key workers (grocery workers, delivery drivers, teachers, garbage collectors and many more) keeping our society going, we have amazing community spirit and the majority of us are doing the right thing, we have some of the best minds working together to help defeat this thing. For all of that and for them, I am incredibly grateful. We do have each other, maybe not in person, but we're in this together and we will get through it together.
Stay safe. We will be ok.