Coming to Grips
Updated: Jun 24
The world has changed. We all know that. Some of it is good; some of it not. How are you dealing with the changes? How are you “coming to grips” with where we are and where we are headed?
Like the baby Eastern Bluebird, above, leaving the nest for the first time, life can seem a bit scary these days. Dealing with COVID-19 and its impact on our daily existence, our work, our life, and our children happened in March and April. We adjusted. We said “I can do this for another month or two…” But here we are almost at the beginning of July, still making adjustments, and still not sure of where, exactly, we are headed.
Much has been written about the emotional toll this pandemic is having on us and on our loved ones. Many experts think they have the answer to how we can best cope. But the fact is that everyone copes in their own way. Not all of us can turn on our mindfulness gene and assume the attitude of living only in the present moment, being non-attached to our hoped-for future, or our prescient past. Not all of us can easily adopt the attitude of “what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” Not all of us can see the blessing or benefit in every obstacle.
Why is that?
Because doing all those things doesn’t come naturally to us. Because when we are threatened, as we are by not only the pandemic, but also by the economic fragility of our materialistic world, and the increasing tension regarding diversity and our failure to be an inclusive community, our defenses go up, our “fight-or-flight” system is activated.
We want to run away, or we defend ourselves and our loved ones from the perceived threat. Or, maybe we feel SO THREATENED that we believe our very existence is at risk, and we shut down, or “freeze.”
These reactions are the ones that we have learned through evolution. And our ancestors were pretty good at doing these things, because those who didn’t have excellent fight, flight or freeze mechanisms were almost invariably caught and killed by the tiger or the invading tribe, and didn’t have the chance to pass on their genes. We are survivors.
So, it does neither you nor me any good for me to simply tell you to “take a deep breath and relax,” or “let go of your fear,” or “stop trying to control what you cannot control.”
Because you already KNOW what you are supposed to do, and yet, as hard as you try, you can’t do it. You are defensive, you are protecting yourself and your loved ones from a threat that may be larger than the wild tiger, because it could wipe out your entire tribe in one swipe.
So, what do we do when we are consumed with fear and confusion? What do we do when we feel like crawling into the furthermost back end of our cave, and hiding there until the danger is gone? How do we continue to function despite the fear, despite the uncertainty, despite our feeling of complete helplessness?
Over the past few months, I have seen in most of my clients a deep, positive resilience, that they didn’t initially know was there. We have explored the complexities and uncertainties of the current world situation and little by little they have been able to see the good. They have been able to ask themselves every day—“what is something good that I have witnessed?”—“What has been the best part of my day?”—“What am I most looking forward to tomorrow?” And they have been able to answer those questions even when I have not been with them. They have reveled in seeing new buds on their favorite flower bushes. They have enjoyed being able to work while sitting outside in the sun and breathing the fresh air. They have been able to be grateful for the small things. And they have been learning—learning more about what makes them tick. Learning more about who they are, and what they value most in life—and committing to living their lives, each day in accordance to those values. Is there still fear? Of course. The threat hasn’t gone away. Every day brings new battles, new contradictions, new uncertainties.
For my clients who are healthcare providers, there are many areas where they feel helpless. They may not be able to provide the same level of care they used to, or that they feel they need to. They may not be able to give their patients or clients the same services they used to give them. But they have found new ways to serve, new ways to bring some goodness to the world. If they can use their position in our system to combat healthcare disparities that are derived from systemic racism, they are able to feel just a little bit better about the world and their role in it.
So here is some advice for you, dear reader (although you know that as a coach I don’t like to give advice)
1. Find some good in each day. Note it, write it down, express gratitude for it. Remember it. You will want to have some good memories of this time; not just memories of the challenges.
2. Ask your loved ones or friends to describe “the best part of their day” when you are ready to sit down to dinner, or lunch, or a zoom call. Once you or your friend have identified ONE good thing, other good things become more visible.
3. Acknowledge the challenges. There are plenty. Some are harder than others. Don’t try to hide them from yourself. But see them as they are (not as your internal critic is trying to make you see them). Take them out. Look at them. Know that you can not control most of them. Know that most likely you can find a way to work through the challenging times.
4. Ask for help. Everyone is hurting. You have nothing to be embarrassed about. If you are hurting so much that you have trouble getting out of bed, or trouble finding restful sleep, or you are not eating, or you are eating constantly, or you cannot think clearly, or you are crying all the time, please reach out. Even during quarantine, help is available. Virtual visits with psychologists or other healthcare professionals are possible. In an emergency call 911, your local mental health hot-line or 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
5. Develop a routine; depend upon some rituals. I ALWAYS do my laundry on Saturday. Now I could do it any day, but I have chosen to stay with my Saturday schedule. Why? It provides a little bit of stability. Remember when we talked about the importance of rituals? They are even more important now. Whether it is saying grace before a meal, or luxuriating in a warm bath, rituals let you know that not everything has changed.
6. Related to rituals is the need for self-care. How are you engaging in self-care? Reading a fiction book? Writing poetry? Keeping a journal? Meditating every day? Enjoying a creative hobby? Sometimes we could use a little help convincing our heads to let us relax and be healthy and happy. For a while I was leading a live meditation to enhance wellness and immunity. Now I have decided to share with you the recording of that meditation in case you might find it useful. Enjoy!
7. Do something for others. Most of us need to feel useful; and with our current self-isolation, it can be difficult to feel like we are truly making a difference. Can you volunteer to help a local non-profit? What skills do you have that could be useful in your community? Can you donate food or money or supplies? Can you bring food to an elderly neighbor?
What are you doing that helps? Leave me a comment below so others may benefit from what you have found that works, or doesn't