Way back in the spring when we first began experiencing some mental distress from this pandemic, we talked about some tips. Now that this experience is creeping in on some of our most sacred spaces (school year, holidays) I figured it might be helpful to swing back for some reminders and adjustments to help manage the long-haul we are facing. Here are five tips for managing some of the mental load associated with COVID-19.
5 Tips for Managing the Ongoing Mental Load of COVID-19
Control Your Controllables: There’s a lot of things happening right now that we can’t control. Everyday, you or someone you know might end up with this virus or get quarantined. We’ve got elections coming that are probably going to be a virtual poo-storm of negativity. And, (enter my own tears) it’s becoming ever clearer that our usual holiday traditions may not happen. So, when I say control your controllables, think about things that are close to you. Increase your creature comforts. Enjoy your tea. Savor your warm shower. Try to make your workspace comfy. Get some sleep. Those things may sound unimportant in light of what we are facing, but we have to give our bodies a chance to say “ahhhh” in order to combat the hyperarousal of our current situation. Even feeling in control of a few things can help you cope with a bunch of stuff that’s not.
Don’t Be a Hero: Say it louder for the people in the back, “You don’t have to operate at the same level during a pandemic as you did before.” If you want to accomplish some goals, add some activities or make an improvement, have at it. But, if you are being driven by some idealistic notion of what you “should” be doing? Let that nonsense go. If I were counseling someone who was going through grief/difficulty/trauma, I would never encourage them to up their game. Instead, I would encourage them to take care of themselves and figure out what their current emotional bandwidth can handle. Just making it each day is fine folks.
Ride Each Grief Wave: The holiday you didn’t think would get messed with? The sport or conference you didn’t think would get cancelled? The birthday, celebration, or significant moment you thought was going to clear this pandemic? It might not. You are not supposed to get “used” to this. You are not winning if loss doesn’t affect you. Your job is to honor your heart and mind by acknowledging the pain of losing something and grieve it. It’s okay to let some tears fall. You will find a way forward, again and again. Remember, ignored grief doesn’t go away. Far better to deal with it than let it pile up.
Speak Strength: I’m going to get serious for a minute. We lost another one. Another precious, teenage soul in the middle of our country who took his life. I don’t know if it was related to the stress of COVID. But, I do know this report from the CDC says that youth suicide rates have increased by over 50% in the last decade. We have to be speaking a narrative of strength and resilience folks, pandemic or no. I am not suggesting to be Susie Sunshine when things are hard. But, we have to remind ourselves this will end. There is hope to live for and we are capable of figuring out difficult challenges. The narrative so many people are hearing says the world is a dumpster fire not worth staying in. Tell them, and tell yourself, that we can do this and they are worth it.
Shrink Your Mental Bubble: Okay, last one, super practical. If thinking about the future (next year, next week, uh, tomorrow) is stressing you out, try being present. Anxiety often develops from trying to control stuff that is either out of our control or in the future. Even doing more than one thing at a time can increase the stress of our mental load. If we can stay present doing one thing at a time and only think as far as is comfortable (like, I should go get my kids from school in the next hour) it can be very calming and centering. Trust your lists and your calendars to help you as the day goes on. You don’t need to be constantly mentally running through everything that is coming. It’s going to come anyway, just meet it when it arrives.
Alrighty folks, 2020 is a trip. It’s super hard in so many ways but it is also life-giving when I see the way humanity rises up, survives, and loves each other. Be kind to yourself, give hope to others, and be the light that will eventually help illuminate the end of this very weird tunnel. Much love to you all.