This week has been a strange one. I watched, in one evening, as the US closed its borders to all European flights, the NCAA barred spectators from attending games, and the NBA canceled its season. Then, on the same day, the mental health conference where I was scheduled to speak was canceled. And with that, the impact of the Coronavirus finally reached my doorstep — and it isn’t done.
There are so many opinions on how we are responding. And frankly, I’m not a medical expert so I’m not going to pretend to know. But I am a therapist. And I do know mental health. So, as we face the unknown of attending to our physical health, I wanted to offer a couple of thoughts that may also help support our mental health during this unusual time.
A large part of mental wellness is navigating control and perspective. That is, recognizing what we can control and choosing perspectives about the things we can’t. This particular situation pushes strongly against our sense of control and asks us to consider what perspectives we will choose. Below are thoughts on some of the things we are facing. I offer them with the hope that something in them may help comfort your heart, mind, and spirit during this time.
Isolation. While we may not end up being fully “quarantined”, we will have our routines altered. Some of it is going to be inconvenient (or downright awful) but we also have the chance to see it as an opportunity. We are often such busy people. When things get canceled it creates space. Space that can potentially be filled with rest, quality time, or simply, choice. This may be the moment where you get the chance to finish the sentence, “If I only had a little more time to…” Of course, not everyone will have this opportunity but if you do, fill the space well.
Information. I am typically a pretty low key individual. But, if I spend too much time pouring over articles about the people and potentialities involved, I will become overwhelmed. If you are sensitive to what you read and watch then you need to portion your intake. You can stay tuned in without being glued in. Find your balance.
Gratitude. This situation has led to some really powerful conversations about privilege. If you have a phone or a computer with the Internet to read this you are living through it with more than some. Focusing on what we are losing cues our minds to act in survival mode. Focusing on what we have helps us cultivate joy and have more to offer those around us.
What Ifs. As sure as the media sounds, no one really knows how this is all going to turn out. There are simply too many unknowns. Very little might happen or, sickness and loss of people we love is a possibility. Many of us will spend at least some time worrying, but we can also practice moving that worry into a space of appreciation for the people in our lives. That’s how we want to exist anyway, this just helps us get there.
Kindness. Folks are gonna’ be tapped out right now. Healthcare workers who haven’t seen a single case yet are already drained from endless meetings and preparation. The clerk at the grocery store has had to answer for the state of toilet paper on their shelves all day. And your average human just gets drained either absorbing or fighting off the fear that is simply hanging in our midst. Be patient. Be kind. Be the one who connects, offers empathy, or simply stands out for not being demanding. People are doing the best they can. Believe that.
Connection. Humans are made for relationship. Extended isolation is correlated with negative health impacts. And while this won’t be that long, the “usual” ways we connect will be affected for a bit. This is an opportunity for us to think creatively about the “who” and “how” of connection. Consider those long phone calls you have wanted to make, the letters of encouragement you could write, the social media groups you could cultivate or the ways you could spend time with your family that you normally can not. The uncommon moments you experience with others during this time could be a great gift.
Compassion. People don’t enjoy living in fear. Someone who may have managed calmly in this situation a couple years ago may not now because they recently lost a parent, are immunocompromised, or for other personal reasons. The way people respond to situations is complex. It is tied to their personality, upbringing, circumstances and available resources. If you find yourself thinking someone else is “more” or “less” of how you think they “should” be during this time, consider there may be more to it than what you see.
Helpers. Man that Fred Rogers, what a gem. There is a beautiful video where he talked about members of humanity who always show up in difficulty. And they will show up now too. They will be your neighbors, your community members, and the stories of exceptional human kindness that will inevitably find their way to us. They always show up and they give us hope and we will smile when they arrive again this time.
My fellow humanity, I have no idea what is ahead. But I know I trust you. And if you go out in the world today to pick up some toilet paper, make sure you smile at the cashier and pick up some stationary as well. The letters you may end up writing to one another are going to be beautiful.