“Mama said there’d be days like this,” sang The Shirelles in 1961. While no one could possibly have predicted the mass emergency declarations, corporate policy changes, and major event cancellations that we’ve seen nationwide this week, those words do ring true. Times of major change and uncertainty do, and will, continue to come upon us. While the breadth and depth of all of these changes at once may have us in unchartered waters, dealing with change itself is not new territory. In fact, there are learnings we can apply from the seas of change we’ve sailed before. Here are a few strategies to keep your physical and mental health boat afloat as we head into some choppy and sometimes scary - though not completely unchartered - seas.
1. When you can't do something about the situation, do something with it.
Let’s face it – there’s a significant feeling of loss of control in this situation, and that drives most of us a little nuts. And it’s human nature for discord to break out over decisions made for the situations in which there is some small element of control. “Why on earth did they handle it that way???” When the decisions aren’t easy, there’s always a compelling case for the other side. So what can one do with the situation? Recognize the challenges at hand and choose to deal with ourselves and others with an extra dose of grace, empathy, and compassion. Many are making decisions they’ve never faced before. We can use this time to really listen and understand one another’s concerns and reasons behind the decisions they’re facing. Lend an ear, a heart, or a sounding board to let them talk out potential solutions, and then be there to help them adjust if the winds change. Oh, and don’t forget to extend the same to ourselves about now. As stress rises, our decision-making ability shifts, so a little extra benefit of the doubt toward ourselves goes a long way right now. Being better to ourselves is a perfect way to do something with a situation we can do so little about.
2. Keep a close eye on your thinking patterns.
Do you know what you normally do during uncertain or stressful times that relieves the pressure? If those things don’t sound as appealing right now, that’s evidence for the significance of the situation. But don’t lose sight of the fact that it’s the situation around us that’ changing, not the benefit we receive from the things we do to take good care of ourselves. We need to maintain our healthy routines even when we don’t “feel” like it. Additionally, are there thinking traps that you are prone to when life heats up that can have an adverse effect upon matters? What do you tell yourself (and possibly others) that helps you keep going in the face of uncertainty? Uncertain times are a definite breeding ground for this kind of internal conflict. The Cherokee fable of the two wolves applies here. When asked by his grandson about the battle that goes on inside us to be good or bad, positive or negative, helpful or hurtful, the grandfather explained through the tale of the two wolves. One is filled with fear, anger, greed, jealousy, hatred, and shame. The other is filled with optimism, love, generosity, compassion, gratitude, and grace. These two wolves battle within us for position, and the wide-eyed boy asked, “But Grandpa, how do we know which wolf will win?” “It’s the one you feed that will always win,” his grandfather responded. When better than times like these to throw some extra kibble to the wolf inside us that we want – no, need – to win?
3. Be growth- and gratitude-focused.
The surge of information and data points in just the last few days has been a tsunami for the psyche – new cases, deaths reported, travel bans, supply shortages, market fluctuations – and on and on and on. How to hold back the storm surge? Two things: 1) Don’t stand on the shore when there’s a storm warning! Each of us has our own limitations when it comes to exposure to alarming data. Repeated exposure to information like this will drive anxiety, depression, irritability, irrational thinking, and a loss of hope in anyone, though the extent varies person by person. Not only do we need to know our own limits during times like these, but we need to not live right on that edge of maximum exposure. We need to turn off the noise long before we can hear the waves crashing with fears of doom and gloom. 2) Stay informed, and for the data points we do allow in, run everything through the filters of growth and gratitude. What lessons can be learned from this? What would I do differently with what I know now? With all that’s going on, what in this situation am I thankful for? How am I better for this? Running information through these two lenses will not only help us survive the storm when it eventually passes, but leave us feeling stronger and more content with what we have than we were going in.
4. Focus on what you CAN do.
Right now there’s a whole lot of CAN’T getting thrown at us, that can include everything from going to my workplace, taking that planned vacation, attending a concert, hosting a meeting or event, watching my favorite live sports, or even watching my kids participate in the sports they love. CAN’T. CAN’T. CAN’T. What if we flip the question and focus on what we CAN do? Game night and a picnic-style supper in the living room with the kids. Spending time with retired parents and family members in their homes -- perhaps bringing a new jigsaw puzzle over to work on together. Maybe this is the year for your best garden ever. And how about the family dog(s)? I can just imagine the glee of mine over the idea of how much more time we may be spending together – to take walks, play fetch, etc. While there are many things we can’t do for a time, there are many more that would gladly step into that space. What are yours?
5. Maintain healthy routines.
Hopefully, we’re all placing extra focus on health-related behaviors such as not touching our faces, drinking plenty of water, getting adequate rest, and washing our hands with good antibacterial soap. But what about our additional personal routines? Whether they’re robust or a bit lax, whatever your mental and physical health routines entail, now is the time to keep them rolling. That doesn’t mean to shoot for obsession or perfection, but to not lose the essential benefits we receive from doing them on a regular basis. This includes physical activity, hobbies, time spent with friends/family, planning nutritious meals, time outdoors, walking, resting, etc. If these are things you know are necessary but have gotten into the habit of saying, “I don’t have the time,” perhaps now you do. What benefit could you realize from an examination of your routine and schedule to make sure you’re taking care of you?
Though no one knows for certain when, all of the experts are saying that “this too shall pass.” With some intentional focus on the strategies above, we can expect to sail through even this storm a little stronger and better than we were before. Please don’t hesitate to contact us for support on your healthy habits in trying times like these.