It’s an understatement to say this pandemic is a confusing time. We have never seen anything like this in our lifetime, even generations back. The closest we can come is war-time which is woefully lacking in it’s comparison - our target is invisible. COVID-19 feels the product of a fantasy tv show or a vague memory from history class. A large part of the scariness associated with the reality of this virus is the way the entire world is expected to halt.
Essential Workers & Medical Professionals
For my essential workers (e.g. first responders, hospital staff, grocery store employees, etc.), I know the impact of this virus has been unavoidable. Grocery stores are running out of toilet paper, paper towels, and canned goods while hospitals are being filled past capacity. For those of use that are considered nonessential, we are existing in a world of social distancing and news watching. The changes in everyone’s lives have been drastic and instantaneous. There has been very little time to adjust to society and routines being flipped on their heads.
Even if you are someone still working, it is nearly impossible to not know someone dealing with the stress of unexpected job loss. For individuals able to work from home, they are experiencing the loss of structure, juggling the demands of home and work life in one place, and zero transition time. The bottom line: stress and uncertainty have increased on a global scale for everyone.
What’s in your control?
It’s time to talk about the things you are able to control, as opposed to the scary, deep, dark unknown. Ask yourself if you’ve been sleeping more since this all began. Have you been eating more comfort foods or more food in general? With gyms being closed, have you been able to exercise on your own or keep your normal activity level up? For those working from home, have you noticed decreased efficiency and work output?
Our society has a high-output, go-getter mentality that suggests we need to base our self-worth on our efficiency. My friends, now is not the time to be beating yourself up for not being the best you. Now is the time to be compassionate toward yourself and make sure you are leaning into your needs.
I am not saying that you should eat that third pint of Ben and Jerry’s but I’m also not saying that a little self-indulgence is going to destroy your work reputation. We need to adjust our attitudes and plan for the things we are able to plan for, while recognizing that we might struggle to get our rhythm in this mess. Self-deprecation leads to decreased motivation and increased feelings of worthlessness. Negative self-talk does not lead to increased and/or improved performance.
Listen to the messages you are giving to yourself (e.g. get up earlier, why did you sleep so late, you are being lazy). If you wouldn’t say those things to a struggling friend then do not say them to yourself. Therapists frequently use the strategy of “reframing” to help depressed and anxious clients shift their internal voice from negative to positive.
Reframing allows individuals to take a stressful event and place it in a context that makes it have a positive meaning (Samios & Baran, 2018). For example, working from home allows me to spend more time with my kids. Another example, I slept longer today that I usually do so I could be rested for the work I need to get completed today.
So what can you really do when you feel as though you’re in a situation of no control?
Make a goal for yourself of re-framing one thing each day for a week. Take a sticky note and write the word “re frame” on it and stick it to your bathroom mirror, your car radio, or the top of your computer screen.
When you see that note, take a second to make a positive reframe of just ONE thing that has you stressed in your day.
Next week, increase your goal to two re-frames per day. Change your internal dialogue to something positive to make this crazy, turbulent time a bit more manageable.
How have you been practicing control in this otherwise strange new world we are in?
Samios, C., & Baran, S. (2018). Couple adjustment to a stressful life event: a dyadic investigation of the roles of positive reframing and perceived benefits. Anxiety, Stress & Coping, 31(2), 188–205.