I prepared to stay at home during the COVID-19 crisis March 13, 2020. It was a few days before the California Stay at Home Order. I was growing concerned by how hard COVID was hitting Italy and the growing problems in New York. I'm one of the “at risk.” I may not be old, but my middle age years are well past their middle age. I'm also a type 2 diabetic who has had pneumonia twice as well as Valley Fever.
So in mid March, I laid in 4-6 weeks of food for myself and my dogs and got set to be a temporary hermit. I expected to miss running errands, teaching classes, talking to friends and other people in person as well as enjoying fast food with any regularity, but figured I'd be OK since I've worked from home for over 20 years. As I'm writing this, I'm now just over 2 months in. I'm doing fairly OK. I haven't gone too stir crazy, yet. A handful of trips through various drive-throughs and few careful early morning trips to the grocery store and pharmacy have helped I'm sure.
From what I'm seeing and hearing quite a few of us aren't doing quite as well. A lot of people are getting restless. Some are quite anxious about jobs and paying bills with good reason. More of us are now unemployed than during the Great Depression of the 30's. Some of us are getting loud and would like to be threatening about our Constitutional or God given rights to behave as poorly or foolishly as we'd like. It also seems we have some who think we can, or have to, “save the economy” immediately and who also want to just ignore the risks of tanking it further by jumping the gun.
The Washington Post published an article May 4, 2020 on our collective mental health struggles. They cite a
Kaiser Family Foundation poll that found nearly half of Americans saying that the coronavirus crisis is harming their mental health. They also reported that a federal emergency hotline for people in emotional distress registered a more than tenfold increase in contacts this April over last, and that about 20,000 people texted the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Talkspace, an online therapy company, reported a 65% jump in clients since mid-February with coronavirus-related anxieties being the biggest reason.
So, how do you stay OK when things really aren't OK? It starts with paying more attention to how you're thinking and feeling, rebalancing your energy and priorities and doing more of the things you know, or suspect, will help you.
Paying More Attention
What tells you you aren't OK right now? First, what are the more obvious signs that you're struggling? You may know this from a lifetime of experience with yourself. Are you more easily irritated, frustrated or annoyed? Are you ruminating about things? Are you more ready to be hostile and blame others, life or the government for everything that's wrong? Do you feel wound up, on edge or stressed out? Have you lost interest in or energy for the things that usually make you happy or focused? Are you more negative? Are you making more simple or stupid mistakes? Are you more easily distracted? Are you trying to find something you can change, control or be in charge of? Are you busy being bossy? Are you cleaning or tidying up everything in sight? Or, maybe you've become more apathetic, resigned and depressed and have just let things go.
Rebalancing Energy and Priorities
Once you have a clearer idea of where you're at and what you're doing, take some time to adjust your priorities and how you're expending your mental and emotional energy. You might need to back off your current “projects” or “goals” a bit. It's a good time to do a little more self-care and pay attention to staying in a good or healthier place mentally and emotionally. This isn't about being self-indulgent. It's about managing your inner resources when you know they're under fire. You only have so much you to work with at any given time, so use it a little better or a little more wisely. Keep a little more in the tank for later in the day. So, what do you really have to do today or right now? What can you leave until a little later?
If you're finding yourself overwhelmed, it's probably time to sit down and get some of it out of your head and on paper in front of you. What do you really need to do? What's important to you, not somebody else, right now? Make a list. Make some choices. Decide on today and down the road. You won't get anything done by burning yourself out, wearing yourself down, worrying yourself to death or depressing yourself even further.
Even if the only things you do today are take care of yourself physically, mentally and emotionally, you've done quite a bit. If you have little ones or others who legitimately or realistically need some help from you and you meet their needs, but not their greeds, you've done enough. This isn't the time to optimize everything or be perfectionistic. Feel free to take care of the things you honestly have the time and energy for and let the “optional” or less important stuff go for the moment.
Doing Things that Help
There are a few things you know will help you feel better and have more energy and interest. The basics are: eat a little better, be a little more physically active and get the right amount of sleep. Other things many people find helpful include: meditation, yoga, working out, music, reading, journaling and talking to quality friends and family.
You can probably remember a few things that have helped you many times off the top of your head. So, do what you know works for you. If someone suggest something new, consider it briefly, but do prioritize what you already know works, especially if it's really hard right now.
It's also important to realize that the stuff that works in one situation might not be as helpful in another. If you're exhausted and running on fumes, cleaning and decluttering your personal spaces might not help. If your feeling overwhelmed, decluttering might help make your environment more peaceful, so might making a list and getting a few things out of your head and on paper.
What's working for me right now? I've been taking the time to enjoy beautiful spring weather. I listen to, and sleep to, the sound of peaceful running water, rain or the surf. I have hours of Gregorian Chant and Polyphony. I've found a few good new books. Several are just fun reads. I'm cooking more and eating better. I'm taking more time to practice gratitude. I'm reminding myself that this is temporary and that soon enough life will be more everyday normal and active, and that I might even miss this respite and the opportunity I've had to focus on what counts for me the way I can at the moment.