Finding the Happy in Fearful Times (Coping During COVID-19)
The world is going a little nuts right now. The news is full of anxiety inducing headline after headline. The fear mongering is real. To the point watching just eight minutes of news earlier this week sent me into a near anxiety attack.
Our social media feeds are full of lighthearted or ironic memes, complicated but informative infographics, and desperate or angry statuses with images of empty store shelves. A local food bank was recently broken into and cleared out. People are buying big box stores out of necessity items and either hoarding them or planning to resell at a higher price to make a cruel, advantageous profit.
It’s freaking nuts.
At the end of the day, what many of us are afraid of is not getting sick and dying. (Although that can be a real, and valid fear.) Instead we experience anxiety over finding food and toilet paper. The swirling what ifs that are only further perpetuated by dramatic over reactions, or simply any lack of action at all. Is there a balance to all of this? Where is the silver lining? If there even is one?
There is. And that’s what I want to chat about this week.
When faced with difficult emotions, whether it comes to a global event such as COVID-19 or a more personal focused issue like losing a job, moving house, or handling stress that goes into something 'simple' like car shopping, the first step to thriving is to be mindful of the inner voice(s) in our head. And identifying what our emotions are, and their origins.
STEP One: Find acceptance and label with however you are feeling. It is not the wrong emotion. It's just simply the emotion you are feeling right now. Give it, and yourself a big hug. Let yourself know that whatever you are feeling, you are okay. You are having an emotion- you are not the emotion. And you are not trapped feeling like this forever.
STEP Two: Ask yourself WHY you are feeling this way. Dig deep. Are these emotions you are currently experiencing your own? Are they influenced by others opinions?
What actionable steps can you take to help you feel better? We are not always able to control our emotions, especially during times of stress. So what instead CAN we control?
Are we consuming too much negative media? There is such a thing as too much information. It is important to be informed, but we should not be CONSUMED and OBSESSED with the bad. Are we engaging in too many fear focused discussions? Set boundaries with yourself and other people.
REMEMBER: when someone expresses their big emotions to us, we are not required to take their problems onto us. We are not required to 'fix them'. We should be willing to help if we are able, but if we are not, that is okay. Often times a person just needs someone to listen. Say "Do you need help of any kind? Or do you just need a friend to listen?" Another simple statement like "I wish to talk about something else." is often enough. We may not be able to control another person, but we can control our bodies. What we see and hear. So shamelessly step away if need be.
STEP Three: Figure out what you can control, and start there. Even if thats just filling a glass and drinking some water. Taking seven deep breaths. (Yes seven.) Then move up, step by step until you feel calm and brave enough to handle the bigger problems. But always start with yourself first. With the basics. Water. Food. Sunlight. Fresh air. Then move to the important people in your life, that live in your home. Spouse. Kids. Pets.
And finally, the backyard, neighbourhood IF YOU CAN. Help others if you have the resources to do so. Often times supporting others and focusing on service is exactly what we need in times of trial, but only after aligning our priorities and ensuring that you are taken care of. For if you are not at 100%, you are not going to be able to help anyone else.
Another cause for concern and sadness during the COVID-19 crisis is the numerous closures and cancellations that have been announced. It seems like everyday there is yet another building or resource closing its doors temporarily. It is not hard to take the mental and emotional leap into feeling fearful of what this means. Of being trapped in our homes. Especially when there are people around the world quarantined, either by personal choice or following recommendations.
The truth is, 'something' terrible could happen anytime. And it is best to be prepared for the what if's and the just in cases. But we must be smart about it. Choose being PROACTIVE over REACTIVE. Feeling prepared can often help ease fears and anxiety.
Now, I'm not saying go out and clear the store shelves, do not be THAT guy. But have the basics. Not just in the case of a COVID-19 related event, but for any potential issues. The importance of this was never made more clear to me than a few months after Baby Bear was born.
It was any other regular morning. I woke up, snuck out of bed as she slept on peacefully in bed.
I began working on something important and making breakfast. I hadn't even bothered getting dressed. Then all of a sudden, the fire alarm went off in the building. It wasn't the smoke alarm. It was the literal fire alarm. I could hear people talking in the halls, their footsteps trampling down and doors opening and closing. My heart fell to the floor and I panicked as I raced for my daughter. She was screaming, obviously terrified by the noise and being awoken abruptly by it. It was the dead of winter outside and I couldn't just run either of us out there in little to no clothing and no shoes. I raced around - seriously i have never moved that fast in my entire life- and found clothes for both of us. I grabbed the diaper bag and felt like crying as I closed the door on our kitty. I could not carry both of them down four flights of stairs. I had no idea if this was an actual fire or not, I just knew I had to do what I could with what I had. Which was very little.
We made it down the four flights of stairs, surrounded by other sleepy eyed, scared people. Papa Bear had already left for work and naturally had taken the jeep with him. Another mama saw us standing outside and was kind enough to let us stay warm in her vehicle while we waited. The fire trucks arrived, and though I am sure it was only a few minutes, it felt like forever. Papa Bear came home from work because I called him to let him know what was going on. He was there by the time the firemen came out and told us that it was a false alarm. Apparently some kid had pulled the alarm on his way downstairs to the bus as a practical joke...
While I was obviously relieved we were all safe, I couldn't shake for weeks the feeling of panic from that morning. I had mild PTSD for a few months and if it was too quiet my body would react like I was waiting for the alarm to sound. It was exhausting. I felt disgusted with myself for being so unprepared. For not being stronger than I had been. For not being smarter. So slowly, I began doing research for the 'next time'. For the 'in case'.
We moved our kitty’s carrier from deep in the storage room, to the closet next to the door and attached a container of food and a cup for water. That alone was a huge comfort to me. We also purchased a binder with a handle and pockets to hold our important papers and documents. Both of which would be easy for me to grab in case of a fire or any kind of evacuation need. Just those two small things helped me get back to sleep at night.
Prepared is key. And I highly recommend doing things like this, if only to give you peace of mind.
Here's a quick little list of things you can do today.
-Chat with your kids and spouse and have a 'what if' plan in place. Have a meeting location set incase you are separate when something bad happens.
-Meet your neighbours. Get to know who you will be closest to in the event you (or they) may need help.
If our neighbour had not offered to let us sit with her in her car, both of us would have been freezing outside.
-Stay fit and healthy. This is more of a long term goal and not exactly a five minute fix, but you can start today making healthier choices to improve your stamina and strengthen your mind. You never know when you need to run from zombies... jk
Oh! And boost that immune system! Take your vitamins, wash your hands. Eat fruit and veggies, all that good stuff.
-Stock up on supplies. If you rely on medication, make sure you have enough on hand. If you can't afford everything you may need right now, or are like us and maybe don't have the space to store days of food, etc- you can get a group together (friends, family, neighbours) and team up.
-Fill up your vehicle with fuel. This is one of those easy things that can take a huge weight off your mind and shoulders.
-Have cash on hand. But not like your entire life savings. In the event of something overly crazy happening (like the zombie apocalypse), money will become useless. Things like alcohol and cigarettes will become currency. So, keep that in the far back of your mind.
-Get some seeds.
-Begin switching your products over to reusable ones rather than single use items. Not only is it better for the planet, it's incredibly smart as you will not need a big stock of things. Think washable wipes/ cloth diapers, etc instead of disposable ones.
The final suggestion I am going to leave you with today is a coping mechanism I have used for years. Whenever I have been afraid of something, I have taken the worst case scenario and imagined all the good things that could come from it. For example, as a child with abandonment issues, I was often afraid that my step-father would leave my mother and I. To the point I emotionally held him at a distance, despite how much he loved me and tried his hardest to be close to me.
Looking back, it breaks my heart, but I was doing what I could with what I had. One night, my mother told me to imagine what life would be like IF he did leave. Yes, it would be sad, but in the end, life would just go back to the way it was when it was the two of us. And in certain ways, wouldn't that be kind of nice? By the end of the conversation I was giggling and talking about crafts we could make and eating food my dad didn't like. It didn't heal my abandonment issues, and it didn't make me want him to leave us, of course.
But it did help me realize that even the bad things, have a silver lining of some kind.
So, if you are feeling afraid of potential quarantine, or you are experiencing it to some degree, take a few moments to make a list of all things you could do if you didn't have to go to work. If your kids didn't have to go to school, if your spouse was home all day with you. What are the things that you always wish you had time to do, that you struggle to find the time for before you are always so busy. This is it, this is your chance!
Yes some buildings and businesses are closed, events are being cancelled to prevent the spread of infection. It can feel scary, but it is not the end of the world. It is a means to prevent hospitals and their staff from being so full that they cannot cope and care for the sick.
It is a PROACTIVE measure to give ourselves a fighting chance to beat this thing so it does not get worse. Not a fear based, hysterical one. It's actually an amazing act of support and solidarity for our planet and our people.
Museums may be closed. Disneyland may be closed. But you have YouTube. Take a virtual tour. Gather the family and pretend to be on a ride.
And we can still go outside. We can go for walks and hikes. We just can't be coughing or sneezing or breathing into peoples mouths. We can't be spreading germs to door handles that are touched multiple times a day by hundreds of people.
We can still listen to music. Make music. We can still dance.
We can still read. We can still listen to those podcasts we never seem to have time to listen to. We can still write and paint.
(I know I am going to be taking the opportunity to work on my novel.)
We can enjoy Netflix and Disney+ and all those streaming services we pay so much for.
We can still laugh and share and hope and dream. we can have Harry Potter movie marathons.
We still have each other. And if we cannot meet with certain people in person, we do have technology available like FaceTime and Skype. Call that friend you never have time to. Play a board game with your family.
Take a darn bubble bath if thats your jam.
Look into something like Skillshare and sharpen your mind.
Rather than focus on the current and temporary limitations. Lean in and recognize all the things that still remain.
Do that thing you always say you will do when you have the time.
We're going to be okay. We are okay.
Nothing lasts forever, so put your feet up while you can.
-Mama Bear 🐻