I woke up today in a different world—and not A Different World where Denise Huxstable goes to college and meets a smooth-talker with flip sunglasses. I’m talking about the difference COVID-19 has wrought over the past twenty-four hours: a world of panic, fear, and uncertainty. Plans that seemed so logical and doable a week ago are now cancelled, called off. Disappointment and frustration are at an all-time high.
Though I am a mental health provider, I am not immune to a tug of war in my heart between fear and wisdom. Anxiety has tip-toed up and sucker punched me—just as it has you. The pandemic has implications for every facet of our life: physical, emotional, relational, financial. How can life go on as normal when nothing feels normal today?
This post is not meant to minimize the situation or your complex emotional response. With good reason, our emotions are signaling, “All is not okay!” While that looks different for each individual, we are in unchartered territory, “the end of the world as we know it,” and it doesn’t feel fine.
While I have no inside information that will allay all fear, I would like to share a few perspectives and tools that might help you adjust to a new normal. Don’t panic about Coronavirus in Woodstock.
Identify and Allow Your Emotion
First, emotions come and go. The panic, fear, or dread you feel today will pass—if you let it. When we deny or minimize or suppress our emotions, they tend to get stuck. When we push them far down inside and numb with food, wine, exercise, or Netflix, we slow down the process and live longer with a vague feeling that something is off.
Emotions are good indicators of what is going on in our inner world. We are wise to listen. In this mandated break from running here and there, can you set aside time to listen to your emotion? Can you acknowledge it, identify it, and accept it?
Treat your emotions with care, with respect. Every emotion is just one in the full range of feelings God created. He made all emotions of every variety. Though more pleasant, joy is not superior to sadness. Life is filled with both, and each is okay for a season. Read Psalms if you think “nice people” don’t feel anger or despair.
Second, don’t judge your emotions. Don’t tell yourself, “I should not feel this way.” Just like denial, judgement hampers our ability to work through and process emotion. Welcome your emotion, even those you have previously labeled as “bad.” Welcome fear, regret, guilt, and hurt as clues to how you are experiencing something we’ve never experienced before.
This global event will hit us each in a different way. And we may hear lots of data and statistics that we can grasp on a cognitive level. But I urge you to also tune in to hear what your heart is making of it all. Odds are, your heart and your head are in two different places.
Act on Your Emotion
Once you’ve identified and allowed your emotion, it’s time to do something with it, to act. The act doesn’t have to be big or even noticeable to others, but you must allow the emotion to move you.
Do you know the root word for emotion? It’s the Latin emovere, & quot “to move out, remove, agitate.” (Twenty years later, those three years of Latin class are paying off big.) Emotion is a passion that wells up in us and urges us to act. Will your act be comfort eating Oreos, stockpiling toilet paper, or wringing your hands? Or might it be something more productive? Consider the following suggestions.
Have you promised yourself for years that you’ll start journaling or resume journaling? How many half-filled journals do you have at home? Or you might not see yourself as a journaler at all. You might think, “I don’t like to write. Why give myself one more thing to do?”
The slow act of writing out what’s on your mind calms racing thoughts and helps you home in on exactly what you are experiencing. As you choose your words, you are refining your life story. And research shows that “sequential hand movements, like those used in handwriting, activate large regions of the brain responsible for thinking, language, healing, and working
Did you catch that? (I added bold so you wouldn’t miss it.) Writing out your feelings and thoughts can be healing. I’m having a mini-therapy session myself as I write this out for you.
You can write what’s on your heart when you wake up each morning or use journaling as a worry dump right before bed: write it all down and then let it go so you can sleep. Or, use the journal to record thoughts of gratitude. We would all do well to remember the things that are
still incredible about our lives today, right now, amidst the global concerns.
Brené Brown, author and researcher, says that the practice of gratitude—not merely the much- touted attitude of gratitude—is crucial in experiencing joy. We must practice gratitude over and over to make it a habit because, “It’s not joy that makes us grateful, but gratitude that makes us joyful.” So why not write out your gratitude by recording a few blessings each day?
And, if the cancellations and quarantine measures mean you have time on your hands, you really can’t go wrong using the time to read any of Brown’s books. I particularly love Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. It’s an homage to vulnerability that is particularly apt for this uncertain time.
It’s a little known fact that the iPhone has a function whereby one person can speak audibly to another. While this has been part of its purpose all along, we’ve long forgotten dialing and talking in favor of short texts and funny gifs.
While face-to-face closeness is my favorite, a phone call is an excellent idea for the next few weeks. “Social distancing” doesn’t negate our innate human need to know and be known by others. We have to feel connected, or we perish. Really. Love and belonging matter almost as much as food and shelter. This is no time to become a relational hermit. Stay connected with your friends and family. Hear their voice; have long conversations. You won’t solve the world’s problems—that’s a tall order right now—but you can connect, empathize, and be known.
A common technique in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) calls for reframing negative thoughts to improve your mental outlook.
How many times have you dreamed—when your calendar was full and work was stressful—Boy, I’d love a day where I didn’t have to leave the house? Or, maybe you have sighed and thought, When will I ever get to all these extra projects at home? I can barely keep the laundry clean.
Well, wish granted. We now have ample time at home to rest, to relax, to spend time together. I am actually cooking real food tonight. No Wendy’s drive through, no Costco pre-made meal—for the first time in longer than I want to admit.
No one likes how these days at home were granted, but we can all reframe how we view them going forward. Reframing fits well with all we’ve talked about before: first identify and acknowledge your feelings and thoughts (perhaps by journaling) and then you can determine
what is negative or unhelpful and needs to be reframed. Once you see the patterns of pessimism running through your mind, you can formulate and repeat alternate thoughts (like a calming mantra or a powerful verse of scripture).
For example, you may have the thought, These kids are going to drive me crazy. I will be miserable without my routine. You can reframe the circumstance and replace the negative thought with a more positive frame: The school year is really flying by. What a gift to have down time together. Or, negative thought: I’ll be so behind at work/in revenue. Reframe: How can I use this time to recharge so I’ll be ready to jump back in with gusto when the time is right?
I’ll not belabor an obvious point, but one of the most therapeutic ways to act on your feeling is to get moving. Whether yoga, running, or walking, the mental benefits to movement well documented.
The body and mind are connected in intricate ways. The lateral movement of walking—left, right, left, right—helps us process feeling and emotion as both the left and right hemisphere of the brain hold memory and reaction. The deep breathing of yoga engages your parasympathetic nervous system, which puts he brake on anxious arousal. Running when stressed satisfies our caveman urge to outrun the lion, the threat.
God designed our bodies to handle stress, and when we use them and move them, we activate
the systems He put in place.
Serve and Extend Love
We’re all feeling the effects of COVID-19, whether in lost wages, childcare headaches, or actual illness. Yet, we can probably still identify those in the community who stand to fare worse.
Maybe you stocked up and spent an extra $500 on groceries this week. Are there others in your community who won’t have groceries to last them through this time?
Live with the end in mind—and I’m not referring to the apocalyptic end of time. I mean, live by envisioning how you’ll want to remember this period once the scare passes. Do you want to be the one who panicked and put his own good first? Or do you want to remember that you met
the call to serve and love others in a hard time?
I often tell my clients that finding someone to love and serve is a powerful way to rise above our own trying circumstances. It’s hard to wallow in self-pity when you are looking up and out, working to become more aware of those who could use your help.
It’s an interesting time, to say the least. While we were never truly in control of our life and destiny, that truth is in day-glow neon today. We see so clearly that nothing is guaranteed—and that’s unsettling. It can hit you in many different ways, and you will likely cycle through a few different feelings before it’s all over. And that’s okay. Befriend your feelings. Make room for them. Welcome them and then, when appropriate, act and do something to discharge the feeling.
And if you need help navigating this uncertain time, I’d love to talk. I offer counseling services for individuals and couples in Woodstock. I’ll not literally hold your hand right now—let’s all be cautious—but I can sit with you and help you name, sort, and act on your feelings. What a long, strange trip it’s been—and we’re just a few days in. Lets do what we can to contain the Coronavirus in Woodstock.
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