We are living in an unprecedented time that none of us have seen before. Life is anything but normal. We are all finding a new normal. And this new normal for many of us may be a self quarantine, a suggested quarantine or a forced one. This too shall pass.
For many others, there is not the choice of quarantine or staying at home. Many of us are still working, going out everyday, not knowing who has the virus and if we have touched something they have touched or breathed some microscopic droplets an infected person has left behind. We keep our distance as much as possible as we social distance from one another. This too shall pass.
For many others, they are on the frontlines fighting an invisible enemy with dwindling supplies and resources. They cannot keep a social distance or quarantine. That is not an option for them. I saw a sign that health care workers fashioned. It read, “I came to work for you, you stay home for me”. It’s the least we can do. This too shall pass.
Then for still others, they are in a blissful state of denial as they go on spring break or complain that bars are closed or that an appointment was cancelled to get their eyelashes dyed. They don’t understand quarantine, social distancing or this pervasive virus and the effect their actions can have on another person’s life. This too shall pass.
I was curious about where this expression came from and I discovered it is an old Persian proverb from 1200 AD. In 1218, Persia was invaded by Genghis Khan. It must have been terrifying for the people living at that time. It must have seemed like the end of the world, but as we know, it wasn’t. This proverb came from the soul of someone trying to cope, trying to survive, trying to make sense of the chaos that was their life, someone trying to overcome the fear that could have gripped and immobilized them but instead had the wisdom to know this too shall pass. And it did.
Ironically in life, one constant is change. As human beings, none of us really handle change well. It stresses us out. We are use to our lives, our plans, and things being the same day after day. We may complain about life being dull or boring but let’s face it, boring and dull can be nice and peaceful. And peaceful is the opposite of stressful. Even if life seems a bit slow or dull, we like that we have control over our life, our choices, our coming and going.
We are living through a time where our choice of coming and going is quickly being taken away from us. This lack of control ends up creating stress. The stress leads to anxiety and the anxiety leads to fear. Fear, when full blown, can create panic which we have seen in social media and on the barren shelves of grocery stores. Panic does not cause us to react logically and so here we are watching a shortage of all things, toilet paper. Maslow’s hierarchy is a triangle starting with our basic needs and working up to self actualization which is at the peak of healthy emotional development. Many are at the base level of their fear and thinking at the base level of their needs and are hoarding toilet paper when there is no shortage. In fact, Angel Soft announced their business is booming due to this irrational behavior on our part.
Beyond the uncertainty, the speed of which the uncertainty is changing is accelerated. We just get use to one restriction and try to get some normalcy going and then before we are settled into that, a new restriction comes along. We need to remember that these restrictions are to protect us, slow and/or stop the spread of the virus and to protect others. These restrictions save lives, maybe yours, maybe someone you care about, maybe a stranger.
What I have noticed about this nasty virus is that it is no respecter of person, age, gender, culture or identity. It’s an equal opportunity invader. It has gone from country to country, person to person without discriminating. What I think is important to remember during these times is that we all live on this planet and at the end of the day aren’t that much different from our neighbor whether they live next door or across the world. We are all in this together. If we all remember that and believe that, then it will show in our actions towards one another.
I have seen this hashtag, #alonetogether multiple times. While it seems dichotomous, it is also very true. We are both alone in this and together in this. How do we practice #alonetogether? We can do so through technology. We don’t have to physically be around someone to come along side them and offer support, compassion or a smile. This morning on the radio, I heard Neil Diamond has repurposed his song, Sweet Caroline. He has changed the lyric from touching hands to “washing hands” “Bah, bah, bah” “so good, so good, so good”. If you don’t get the reference, I encourage you to watch it on YouTube. It sure made me smile.
An important skill in counseling is teaching a client not to focus on their issue constantly. It is called “Distract and Deal”. To put this into perspective, if you are anxious and you focus on your anxiety constantly then it is not surprising you will continue to be anxious. We are what we think. If anxious thoughts are all we think, we will be anxious. If fear is all we focus on, we will be fearful. I, like you, am a work in progress and learned a valuable lesson recently. Don’t watch CNN before bed! It does not make for pleasant dreams or even sleep for that matter. You can’t focus on the corona virus 24/7. Pick a time preferably earlier in the day to get updated on what is going on, how it affects you, and how you and your family can stay safe. Once you have the latest update and are educated on the precautions and action steps you and your family need to take, it is time to distract. This past weekend, Animal Planet had a marathon on their show “Too Cute”. If you are not familiar with what that is, the show chronicles puppies and kittens growing up over an 8 week period. I challenge you to watch that without smiling or laughing. They warn viewer discretion is advised because it is just that cute! Hallmark also ran a marathon of some of their Christmas movies. These are a nice distraction. They all have a happy ending.
We are all uniquely individual and what helps one person distract will be different from another. Distraction can take the form of self care. Don’t forget to take care of yourself during this time. Get enough sleep. Eat healthy. Take time to relax, unplug. Take time to laugh. Read a book, listen to your favorite music, take a bath, do some yoga. Go outside and sit in the sunshine. Listen to the sounds of birds chirping in the trees. It is spring after all. You can do all these while social distancing and being safe. For some, meditation is a powerful tool in times of stress. There are many ways to do this. Some like to repeat a phrase to correspond with their breathing. This too shall pass works nicely.
While distracting and dealing and taking care of your self is extremely important, another important part of getting through this time is being other focused in a safe and socially distanced way. Being other focused takes our mind off ourselves and our problems and redirects our attention on to the needs of others. If we are actively thinking about others it leaves us less time to think and dwell about our own worries and concerns. So many restaurants are stepping up to reach out to the community when they really don’t have to and could be focusing on their own financial concerns over shutdowns. I saw Ynot pizza was delivering and giving away pizza to anyone who needed food. I have never tried their pizza before, but now after seeing their altruistic behavior, I think maybe I will. Our health care workers are putting their lives on the line for us. If you know a doctor or nurse, why not take the time today to thank them for their service? Acts of kindness towards others go a long way.
Another way to cope with this unprecedented time is to be a positive person. Being a positive person, if not naturally so, takes some effort. It is easy to be negative and complain. It takes effort to find the good in situations. Being positive and grateful defeats the negative. If you start the day with being grateful and positive for something in your life, it can become a habit. I am grateful spring is here. I am grateful the weather is warming up. I am grateful it is lighter later. Sometimes it is more difficult, but the more you practice being positive and grateful, the more naturally it will come to you. My father was a very positive person. He always found the best in things and people around him. He lived a very long life filled with gratitude in good times and in bad. Doctors say that one of the keys to longevity is being positive.
There are numerous positive ways to cope with this time facing each and every one of us. Remember that we are all going through this and we are all in this together. Distract from the news and deal with the news. Don’t focus on the news constantly. Wash your hands and practice social distancing. Take care of yourself and others. Be grateful. Be positive.
And remember this too shall pass.
Director of Mental Health Services