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The transition from winter to spring is one that many of us look forward to. As the days get longer and the weather gets warmer, a feeling of endless opportunity arises. All of the free weekends in our calendar fill with trips to concert festivals, theme parks, and sporting events, and our weekdays fly by as we eagerly anticipate the plans that the weekend will bring.
This year, the transition has looked a lot different. Multiple countries including Italy, France, and Spain are on lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And here in the United States, the situation has evolved rapidly. Stay-at-home orders have already been enacted in counties throughout Texas, California, Colorado, Georgia, and Idaho — with more to come. The NBA, MLS, NHL, and MLB have all suspended their seasons with the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers pushing back their opening days. Even South by Southwest, a massive music festival in nearby Austin, TX, has been canceled.
Without a shadow of a doubt, these are trying and unprecedented times. Feelings of fear and anxiety are filling in the now-empty gaps in our calendars as we sit around struggling with the uncertainty of our future.
If the past few weeks have taught us anything, it’s that this level of disruption to our daily lives can rapidly deteriorate our mental health.
So we decided to ask Jolene Conway, licensed Mental Health Therapist and Senior Manager of Community Development here at SonderMind, how she suggests coping with unexpected changes during this novel crisis. Here is what she had to say...
Name it to Tame it
There is immense power in identifying the emotion we are experiencing. Sometimes the most important thing we can ask of ourselves is the simple, yet not always easy, task of acknowledgement. During this current state of crisis, it may be common to describe the core emotion as grief, resentment, or fear. The labeling of a feeling can be that initial step to coping more successfully. With this newly identified emotion, we are able to reflect on what has worked most effectively with coping in the past when that similar emotion was felt. An example may be the emotion of grief for the loss of the life you thought you would be living during this time. Ask yourself “How did I cope with my grief when my pet passed away? Or when I got that lay off?”
Find Control in the Uncontrollable
The unknown. The uncontrollable. These types of uncertainty thoughts have been all-consuming for many of us these past few weeks. There is truth in those thoughts and there is also truth in that we do have control in many areas of our lives right now. A helpful strategy is to take inventory of where you do have a say in the outcome. The foundation of our behaviors can be stronger than our fears. Maybe that is your sleep hygiene practice knowing that sleep more than ever is essential right now. And our movement creates a positive ripple effect for all aspects of physical, emotional, and mental health. Staying hydrated brings more concentration and energy into our day. Feel empowered to make the changes that are within your control and help you more effectively deal with the pain of this scenario without adding layers of suffering.
Write it Down
Unexpected, and even expected, changes in life provide an opportunity to consider where your priorities are. Find a comfortable place in your home that you might be able to be relatively undisturbed for 10 minutes. Set an alarm for 5 minutes and during that time write down your top 10 values or priorities (i.e. family, physical health, financial security, etc.). Then circling the 5 that you currently hold closest to heart. Once you have that narrowed list, set the alarm for another 5 minutes this time writing down activities in your control that might fall into each of those 5 priorities. This is your “lean on” resource for this challenging time.
Tools are only helpful when we use them. The “lean on” list is to turn to when you feel lost in the raw emotions that might come up. It is a lot harder to get to the internal and external resources that we have when we are in those darker emotional moments. So having this created for those times will make it that much easier to move towards empowered behaviors. This list is also just as important for our proactive steps to be more resilient to those more extreme moments. How can you set up a structure in your day to attend to at least one activity in each of your 5 value categories? Maybe it is writing down a daily or weekly schedule. Maybe it is setting reminders on your phone. Maybe it is finding an accountability partner. The beauty is there is no right choice, there is just a choice. One empowered decision that feeds your values.