The pandemic is taking an extreme toll on our energy. Therefore, we are feeling tired, depleted, unbalanced, cranky, depressed, and anxious. We are falling into old patterns in our relationships, some that are not beneficial to our wellbeing. For introverts, this may be an easier adjustment. (That doesn’t mean in any way that it is easy). Introverts still need social interaction, activities, exercise, music, etc. For extroverts, the adjustment has different challenges. In my house, we have an introvert and an extrovert. Negotiating the waves of needs has been an interesting trajectory.
We are all anxious about what is happening and what is to come. Questions that run through our minds include: Who in my circle will get this disease? How long will this go on? Might I lose people who are important to me? Living with the uncertainty of these issues is an enormous task.
As a therapist, I have switched to telehealth therapy sessions through Zoom. Who knew I would get to meet my clients’ cats, children, grandparents, as well as seeing the inside of their homes? In some cases, it has led to a new, rich level in our work together that I have not experienced in over 25 years of private practice with adults, adolescents, and families. Many of my clients are talking about the challenges they face including questions like: How do I take care of myself? How do I take care of others in my life? Why is my energy so low? What can I do to prevent that? I’m having trouble concentrating, sleeping, working, and being in my relationships.
Here are 10 tips to keep in mind, that I hope can help you to navigate this challenging time.
1. You had a full life before this. Our current world is overwhelming, presenting us with multiple levels of uncertainty. We are used to being in much more control. Therefore, people are feeling extremely vulnerable. This enormous event is certainly not the only thing going on in our lives, though it can feel like it is. Life as we all knew it has changed dramatically.
2. Write your self-care playbook. Start by developing a new normal. New routines, consistency, and creating some predictability during this unpredictable time will help you to feel more in control. Daily exercise, fresh food and air will be helpful.
3. What brings you calm? For me, walking, taking photographs of nature and the coming of Spring, writing, and keeping in contact with friends and family has been key. What brings you joy? Music and art? Reading or writing? Gardening? Maybe this is a time to learn something new. Remember that self-care is not selfish. Self-care is self-preservation.
4. Push pause and listen to what you need. Ask yourself: What do I need right now? How can I tell others in my life what I need? You may need quiet when your partner wants to talk. You may want to text your friend when your friend needs a technology break. Navigating the waters of this challenge is essential during this time. Communicate your needs.
5. Control what you take in. Think about how much media is helpful/unhelpful for you. Can you identify when you need to turn media off or put the newspaper or computer away? When is it detrimental to your mental health to be taking in so much information? I am being mindful of not watching too much news or reading too much about the state of the world. I learn what I need, and when I start to feel overwhelmed, I go to something else. Listen to when you feel overwhelmed and then ask yourself: What do I need to feel less overwhelmed? What do I not need? What depletes me, affects my mood, sleep? What do I need to dial down on to feel more balanced?
6. Think about a car analogy. When your car is on empty, you fill it up with gas. Here’s the analogy. In normal times, you wake up in the morning with a “full tank of gas.” In other words, energy to start your day. These days, we are so depleted, we are working with way less energy to begin with. If you give away your energy to tasks, conversations, and being sucked in by media (in other words, energy zappers) you will get to “empty” in your gas tank faster than ever. Watch your output of energy, and watch what you take in. A bit of levity – I have a reputation I’m not proud of, of letting my actual car gas tank get to empty. My husband is not happy when I do so, and he is right, it’s not a good idea. That said, if I let my own gas tank get to empty, I’d call that BURNOUT. Our chance of getting to burnout is very high during this challenging time. Self-care is key. It’s up to us to keep that personal gas tank at least, ½ full! If you need support through this journey, most therapists have gone to telehealth (through phone or some type of HIPPA-compliant video platform). Reach out if you need to. It’s only human to feel overwhelmed and sometimes we need support along the way.
7. Let go of the small stuff, there’s so much small stuff. This is a time, more than ever, to gain perspective. People are losing jobs, losing their homes, losing loved ones. Things like who is loading or emptying the dishwasher, the fact that the grocery store is out of toilet paper, or that your friend hasn’t called you, need to be put in perspective. What can you let go of? Let go of perfection. A student of mine said, “I usually work twelve-hour days. That’s always been my norm. Now I realize that was too much, and I’m not going to do it anymore. I’m teaching people in my life, that this has to be the new me.” Life will never be the same. Be grateful that you have food, water, and shelter. It’s back to the basics. A friend of mine said that she thinks this is happening in the world in part because we all need to get back to an appreciation of the simple things. Maybe she has a point. What are 3 things you are grateful for today? Who can you thank today?
8. Crisis Brings Opportunity. What opportunities might await you as a result of this crisis? For me, I am walking and writing more. I have reconnected with some of my cousins, who live across the country. I am talking to my siblings more often. I am working on my photography. Maybe I’ll try some new recipes. My friend is trying to teach me to knit and crochet. I should take her up on the offer. What opportunities might await you? Look for the silver lining. A friend of mine said to me recently “Now I can go watch baby goats being born!” at a farm near her home. In past years she has always been too busy and distracted to do so. We can reconnect with long lost friends and relatives. We can start or rediscover a hobby. We can organize, declutter and learn to simplify our lives.
9. Sense of humor. Moments of humor are helping me to get through this surreal time. As you look through the internet, try to find something funny or distracting. Ask your friends and family to share what they find with you, as well. Can you find some humor amid the storm?
10. Keep expectations realistic of people. If your brother only likes to touch base with you once a month, that may change temporarily during this challenging time, but probably won’t change overall for the long run. Introverts will not become extroverts. We are who we are. Keep expectations of yourself, and others realistic, especially during this time.
We will get through the numerous challenges of this pandemic. Crisis brings opportunity. What valuable lessons can you learn now that you can bring into your new life? Might this be a wake-up call?
Dr. Lisa Baron is a social worker, writer, and workshop leader. She has over 25 years of experience working with women and facilitating workshops, groups and classes.