I feel like I have been unconsciously preparing for the coronavirus for months. It felt as if 2020 wanted to kill me as soon as it arrived. I am no stranger to challenges, but, what 2020 brought for me made all previous seem like amateur hour. And then came Corona.
Personal struggles feel self-absorbed now.
It’s important to say that our individual heartbreak and challenges aren’t less valid or any less deserving of space because of the global trauma. It’s easy to trivialize and feel guilty for still feeling heartache for our personal stuff when the magnitude of suffering right now is unlike anything we have ever lived through.
I am fortunate to be resilient, driven, skilled and have a sense of humor that allows me to make jokes even in the darkest times. I also have the best dog on the planet to spend my quarantine time with and I have family and friends that I talk to daily.
Even with these things, anxiety and depression show up sometimes.
By January 6th this year, I had three major things happen. Two of which did not allow me the time or space to go fetal for long because I had to be sharp enough to make decisions with information coming in fast and changing even faster. For a highly-sensitive type like myself, the quickly changing landscape can be very hard to catch up to.
I don’t usually like to share my internal world, but, my best friend lost her job of almost 30 years via Skype by two people in her company that she did not know this past week. She is a single mother. She was told pay and everything including medical benefits would cease at the end of the week. She is not alone.
I found myself coaching her through like I had been coaching myself before. It seemed to be helpful and I realized I have tools that could potentially help a lot of people right now.
After trauma, you know that feeling you wake up with? The one that you feel in your center. You feel it in your gut, heart, and throat. The one that tells you the nightmare you went to bed with is still true. For me, that is my signal that I’m probably going to get to an irrational place or I might even start getting a little more existential than is comfortable for most people. Self-isolation is nothing new to me.
I made this list January 8. I chose the tools I needed for this very uncertain time in my life. Mind you, I had no idea how uncertain it was going to get because this was pre-corona in our country. I had some grieving to do and I made the decision to follow this no matter what for ninety days. I did this with a rational mind.
It’s true what they say. This too shall pass. The calm rational feelings can quickly be replaced with fear and catastrophizing. It’s important to find tools while you are rational that help you when anxiety, worry or despair kicks in.
Take what resonates with you. Leave anything that doesn’t feel good.
- You are not running out of time. Live your own timeline. Not your bosses, not your partner’s and not Corona’s. This is first for a reason. Almost all of my anxiety stems from the feeling of running out of time. The outside pressures and agendas projected upon us with the added pressure of the expectations we place on ourselves generally cannot be met and the more we don’t meet deadlines and expectations, the more we have to add to our fears. When you feel the pressure of time whether it be reaching out or responding to someone, completing a task or making a decision ask your self who’s timeline are you reacting to. Stop and pause throughout your day and ask yourself if you are on a timeline that feels like it’s coming from an outside source.
- Don’t do things when you feel like time is running out. Yes. I sound like a broken record already. When you feel like you need to act because of time pressures, don’t. Some of the best action I have taken in my life is waiting. If you are doing something because you feel like you are running out of time, you are just reacting out of fear. I am not giving you a reason to avoid things. I want you to find your timeline and make decisions and actions, not reactions. Oftentimes it only takes a pause and your perspective shifts from feeling like you have all of these outside pressures (and sometimes the internal critic) to a choice you are making. Anxiety arises out of a lack of autonomy.
- There are no absolutes. Zero. None. Nothing is etched in stone in life. There were so many uncertainties happening in my life all at once. I was paralyzed and afraid to make decisions about anything. My mind was working in such absolutes that making a decision for anything made me feel like I would be married to the decision forever. Even in uncertain times where you feel like you have no power, you have the power to make a decision and change your mind later. Which leads us into the next tool.
- Change your mind. Because nothing is absolute, you are free to change your mind. If you make a decision today, you can change your mind tomorrow. I used to freak out about making set schedules for appointments with clients because I had the mindset I was going to have to adhere to the schedule for the rest of my life whether it felt good or not. It may not be easy to change everyone’s times and it’s not something I want to do, but, I can change whatever I want, whenever I want. If I buy a house and after a month it doesn’t feel good anymore, I can sell it. If you agree to do something with someone, you can change your mind. You should be kind, respectful and communicate with people.
- Also, don’t wait to feel like it. In anxiety-provoking times that are set-up for depression to be rampant, it is important to have some non-negotiables you do every single day whether you feel like it or not. Non-negotiable means you do not have an internal dialogue about them, you just do them. If you want to slide back into bed and go fetal after you do them, fine, but you have to make a deal with yourself that you will do them no matter what. These need to be set while you are thinking rationally and they should be things that support your mental and emotional health. These things will be different for everyone. I kept mine the same for the first 90 days of this year, but, I am currently setting them each night. I have a list of about 50 things that I know if I have not done in a while, my mental capacity for a challenge is compromised greatly. I choose three things off of that list. For example: walking the dog, working out, rehab exercises, drink a glass of water upon rising, mediate on an acupressure mat, drink tea, journal, hiking, etc.
- But, follow what feels good. Times like these are not times to power through and constantly make yourself produce. I do believe it is important to get out of bed when the alarm goes off, but, I don’t think it is good to get to grinding before you check in to see how it feels to do certain things. For me, I have learned that following what feels good almost always leads me in the right direction. When I am forcing stuff to happen or smiling through pain, the outcome is never positive. Ask yourself what is the next right thing and then do that.
- And also, don’t avoid shitty feelings. Yes, I want you to follow what feels good, but, that does not mean pretending or trying to be something you aren’t. We are meant to feel it all. Feelings aren’t good or bad. Sure, we don’t enjoy sadness, grief or anger, but, that does not mean they are bad. The sooner you feel that shit, the sooner it will move on through and make some room for the stuff that feels better. That doesn’t mean you won’t feel darkness again. Recognize it for what it is and remember; this too shall pass. While you’re at it, remind yourself of that when you are happy too so that you will appreciate it that much more.
- Know your non-negotiables and don’t give yourself the option for internal debate. Non-negotiables need to be set when you are feeling optimistic or hopeful. Choose very doable things that make you feel more grounded. Do them before you do anything else for the day.
- Nobody knows better than you. We all look for validation outside of ourselves to some degree. It’s comforting to have someone else’s opinion validate what we feel. The thing that is really important to know is that nobody can know what you know about yourself or your situation even if they have been there. Nobody has been exactly where you are. Nobody is exactly like you. I hardly ever ask for opinions or read up on things anymore and I make much better decisions for myself. If I have been slacking on my non-negotiables, I notice I am looking for outside validation more often. Erratic emotions are a signal you are too far outside and not finding what you need out there.
- On ruminating thoughts: Most of us believe negative headlines more than we believe positive headlines. It’s no different with your thoughts. It is really important to know that when you are trying to work stuff out in your head, the negative possibilities you think could happen are not more valid than positive no matter what facts you have.
- Just see. No matter how many times you wake up feeling like you are living the same bad dream, you do not know what is going to happen. Remind yourself to be curious. Allow people to surprise you. Believe in the possibility of something you have never thought of before. Some days will surprise you, but, only if you are open to it.
I hope a piece of my toolbox resonates and helps you today. Hang in there. This too shall pass.