What’s Been On My Mind?

Coping with the “New Normal”: Living Under the Specter of COVID-19

These are unprecedented times in our history where we are living with a serious pandemic that is especially lethal to older adults and people with immune deficiencies.  We hear on the news each day hundreds and thousands of people who are dying from this virus.  We have been asked to shelter in place and distance ourselves socially.  We have been instructed to wash our hands frequently, don’t touch our faces, and be mindful of everything we touch as we might come in contact with the virus.  Fear has overwhelmed our country and the world.  People are storming the stores and stockpiling things like toilet paper and cleaning supplies, for fear they will become scarce in the near future.  We watch helplessly as the stock market plunges and people lose their jobs as businesses close.  We fear for ourselves and for our loved ones.  Our lives have changed drastically overnight.  We are feeling grief for what we have lost – a sense of security, future plans, familiar routines, maybe even a loved one — many things we have taken for granted. 

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wrote about the Five Stages of Grief

Some of what you may be feeling is grief – the loss of a sense of security, work, income, social contact, etc. If so, you might identify with some of the feelings shown in the chart below.  These are all normal parts of the process of grief.  These are not really linear “stages” but more “states” of grief.  Those feelings come in waves.  You start to think you are doing much better, and another wave hits you.  There is no timetable for grief.  Some people seem to move through the states quickly.  Others take longer.  Be patient with this process – it will get better.

Virginia Satir had another way of looking at it in her Change Model.

Satir talked about living in Status Quo.  Then something happens to disturb that status quo.  That Foreign Element (coronavirus in this case) throws us into a period of Chaos where things are confusing and very uncomfortable.  That is where most of us are at this moment – in Chaos.  We don’t know what the future holds for us.  Maybe we don’t know how to navigate this unfamiliar terrain.  We are afraid we won’t survive.  If we can sit with these uncomfortable feelings for a time, recognize that this is a natural part of the process of change, and draw on our spiritual beliefs, eventually we find our way out (that “Ah hah!” moment when it starts to come together).  We begin Integrating into a new way of being.  In Integration, we learn new skills, a new way of seeing and understanding.  We feel stronger, knowing we have survived that Chaos, and are moving forward.  Eventually, we establish a New Status Quo.

Eckhart Tolle, in his book, The Power of Now, talks about depression and anxiety.

He says that when we ruminate about the past, we can become depressed.  When we obsess about the future, we can become anxious.  Both living in the past or obsessing about the future robs us of our peace of mind in the present.  And the present is all we are really certain to have.  We can’t change the past.  We can’t predict the future.  By living in the present, we make the most of every moment we have right now.  In working with dying patients, what they often told me was that they weren’t afraid of death, but afraid of not having lived.  They taught me to appreciate every moment and live life to the fullest so there are no regrets at the end. 

FOCUS ON THE PAST                  NOW              FOCUS ON THE FUTURE

     Depression                         Peace                       Anxiety                

(Woulda, coulda, shoulda )        (Ahhhh)                (What if?)  

Some Suggestions to Help You Get Through Times of Chaos and Fear

  • B R E A T H E !  Take a few deep breaths, hold them, and blow them out slowly as you relax your body.
  • Allow yourself to grieve. Feel the feelings and express them to someone who is supportive (a friend, clergy, a counselor, God, an online support group), or write the feelings in a journal.  By expressing them, you are releasing that negative energy that holds you in the past.
  • Work on accepting your current situation. If you can’t change it, then how can you make the most of what you have?
  • Limit how much time you spend listening to news programs.  They tend to sensationalize circumstances to boost their ratings.  When you listen to them all day long, they can affect how you think and make you feel even more anxious. 
  • Focus on one day at a time.  If you catch yourself worrying about the future, bring your thoughts back to the present.  “How can I make today a good day?”

“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

Elbert Hubbard
  • Be gentle with yourself.  These are stressful times and stress can lower your immunity and make you susceptible to illness or accidents.
    • Get plenty of rest
    • Eat healthy meals – junk foods might be comforting while you are eating them, but are usually high in carbohydrates and fats which can make you feel sluggish and depressed later
    • Exercise (it calms the mind as well as the body) – go for walks, watch exercise videos, dance around the house to energizing music, lift weights, chop wood
    • Establish a daily routine.  Putting some predictability back into your chaotic circumstances – try to go to bed and get up the same time each day
    • Avoid too much caffeine or stimulants which can increase a feeling of anxiety
  • Call on your Higher Power.
    • Meditate or pray daily
    • Find meditation and mindfulness apps on your smart phone or CD’s
    • Read inspirational materials
    • Watch inspirational movies
    • Start a gratitude journal, reminding yourself of the things you have to be grateful for each day
  • Create some affirmations to change your negative thinking.  Write down on cards or post-its sayings such as, “I am strong!”, “I am a survivor”, “I am creative and will find solutions to my problems”, “Adversity is an opportunity for change”…  Repeat those affirmations several times a day until you believe them!
  • Reach out to friends and family.  You may be socially distancing, but you can still call, write, text, or video chat with them.  Don’t wait for them to call you.  They feel just as isolated as you do!
  • Reach outside yourself and help those in need. Helping others gets your mind off your own problems and feels empowering.  Is there something you could do from home –  making something special for homebound people, delivering groceries to those who are homebound, calling someone who lives alone and has little support, planting a garden for the food bank, donating to a charity….
  • Engage in pleasurable activities.  Play games, read, watch videos, do art or craft projects, go for a hike or picnic or take a ride in the country, work in the garden, do home improvement projects, bake or cook your favorite things, listen to music, write, have a bubble bath, host a virtual party, laugh…?
  • Keep your mind active.  Learn something new, do word puzzles or Sudoku, take an online class, learn a new language, improve your computer skills….

“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.”     

Albert Camus