We aren’t even half way through the year and yet, I think we all know what 2020 will be remembered for. Most certainly, this year will be memorialized as the one where we were all challenged with the immense responsibility to avoid spreading a particularly dangerous virus. I’m sharing 8 essential strategies for your pandemic survival because we all need a dose of inspiration at this point.
For some, the demand to stop everything has been a welcome respite from chaotic schedules. For others, it may have been a struggle to manage this state of isolation. Either way, desperate times call for desperate measures and we all need a pandemic survival guide.
HOW PEOPLE ARE ADAPTING
There seem to be two camps of people that are using very different coping techniques to make it through this pandemic.
First, the people that are like the energizer bunny. They are cooking gourmet dinners and baking delectable goodies. They’re purging and cleaning every nook and cranny of their homes. Some have reinvented their fitness routines with online exercise classes, meditations or nature walks in the fresh air. Often, we are witnesses to their endless array of precious pet antics and broadcasts of kids home-schooling. Not to mention the onslaught of beautifying their video backgrounds with plants, photographs and flower bouquets to present a picture perfect experience on Zoom.
The other camp of people are turtles retreating. They aren’t living in blissful domesticity during this quarantine because they can’t muster the energy or interest to do all the things that they thought they’d do if only they had the time.
They feel like they are dropping a lot of balls during this juggling game. Their hair is a mess, they haven’t worn pants with a button in weeks and they have run out of things to watch on Netflix.
Certainly, there are also those that started in the first camp of frenzied activity that have since moved into the second camp as energy waned. In short, the energizer bunny has metamorphosed into the turtle.
So, while one camp is championing the “I want to get things done” tactic, the other may be embracing “I want to go easy on myself.” There is no right or wrong – or better or worse. It’s okay to be where you are. It is what it is.
WHY SOME FEEL LIKE QUARANTINE FAILURES
Indeed, there are those that feel like quarantine failures.
But, you are NOT failing. It is okay to give up the ideas of what you should be doing right now. These are scary times and perhaps your focus is squarely on your physical and psychological security. Maybe all you can manage is getting essentials for your pantry, keeping your house disinfected, and making a plan for your family as you go. It is okay if that’s where you are. Identify your needs and then meet those needs.
And, even if you are not actually defining your emotions as ‘feeling like a failure’, it could be deep-rooted in subconscious. Your brain could be wired from years of doing this to yourself. Dr. Libby, one of Australasia’s leading nutritional biochemists explains that whether feeling like we are failing is a conscious or unconscious emotion, our brains are actually wired to create a meaning that you are indeed a failure when you observe things in your life that aren’t how you want them to be.
She expands on this theory that when we perceive that we’re a failure or letting others down, it “scratches the itch of a great big fear which is that we are not loved, that others disapprove of us, which touches our most fundamental fear that we won’t survive.” What could be more stressful than that?
THE OTHER MENTAL PATTERN
The other mental pattern some may be running is guilt. Guilt that we aren’t as perfect as others that are posting on social media – more on that shortly. Likewise, guilt that we can’t visit elderly relatives or that we are not able to support our children with their home schooling. Guilt that we aren’t coping as well as we should be.
But these are just stories. To clarify, Dr. Libby points out that,“These are stories you made up in an attempt to understand the world around you as a child, no matter how calm or chaotic it was, and they still unconsciously run your life. However, you have the opportunity to change that by patiently correcting your thinking each time these thoughts slip into your mind.”
If there is only one thing that you take away from this blog, please let it be that you are NOT a failure and you do NOT let others down.
Give yourself grace to realize that we are in uncharted territory and the world has changed. There is great uncertainty and that leaves all of us on shaky ground.
THE BIGGEST REASON YOU FEEL LIKE A QUARANTINE FAILURE
Above all, let’s not forget the role that social media has in rattling each and every one of us. People are able to curate their storytelling so that everyone can see just how fabulous they are and that, in itself, can leave ‘the others’ feeling so damn inadequate.
Do you recall the phrase ‘humble bragging’? By definition, humble bragging is when people made ostensibly modest statements with the actual intention of drawing attention to something of which one is proud. From its earliest days, social media elevated humble bragging to an art form. Certainly, Instagram has taken humble bragging to a new level with the quest to create ‘insta-worthy’ posts.
And now, people are spending so much time at home and social media is awash with a new brand of humble bragging. As a result, this self-isolation has them reframing their lives and creating new narratives to present online. Overnight, we went from posting about work accomplishments, fitness feats and our children’s hockey games to a frenzy of carefully curated brag-a-thons of the domestic kind.
At the same time, we must acknowledge the impact that social media plays on emotions. In fact, USA Today covered a 2016 study performed by Lancaster University researchers that highlighted the link between depression and ‘rumination’, that all-too-familiar practice of rolling over online experiences in our mind long after we’ve logged off. Frequently posting on Facebook was clearly linked to increased depression and rumination, as was negatively comparing one’s self to others on the site.
So, it’s easy to see how humble bragging and social platforms can feed feelings of failure in some. On the other hand, while this excessive sharing may be interpreted as boasting, there may be other motives.
THE FIGHT FOR CONNECTION, COMMUNITY AND NORMALCY
In these difficult times, people are searching for connection and community. If we are sharing photos of the perfect loaf of sourdough bread that we just pulled from the oven, perhaps others will do the same. We are not baking alone if everyone is doing the same thing, right?
And, people are fighting for a sense of normalcy. They are hustling to move their businesses online, sticking to writing schedules to scribe that book they have been meaning to write, running schools at their kitchen tables. While those things might be a creative outlet or even a matter of necessity to keep moving forward, the rest of the baking, cleaning and busy work may just be a form of denial and a way to manage our grief.
ABANDON THE PERFORMATIVE
Aisha S. Ashad, a University of Toronto assistant professor of political science and author of the award-winning book, ‘Jihad & Co: Black Markets and Islamist Power’, claims that the bursts of productivity are a way of coping. In a Chronicle of Higher Education article, she theorizes that the busy work is a form of denial and may only serve to delay the essential process of acceptance. Moreover, moving to acceptance will allow us to reimagine ourselves in this new reality.
Ahmad has worked under conditions of war and disaster around the world and, from her experience, she shares the analogy that we are in a marathon, and not a sprint with this pandemic. Further, she suggests that we must “abandon the performative and embrace the authentic.” We need to sustain energy over the long haul so it’s foolish to dive into a frenzy of activity or obsess about your productivity.
I’m not sure that I completely agree with her as I believe everyone has unique ways of seeking connection, community and belonging. Mix that with the fact that people have different histories, experience, personalities and challenges – you’re left with a variety of coping mechanisms to survive these extraordinary global events. It is a roller coaster ride.
8 STRATEGIES FOR YOUR PANDEMIC SURVIVAL
As this crisis evolves, our coping strategies must also evolve. What worked in the early days may not work today or down the road. So, add these eight essential strategies for your pandemic survival. Use them as required, review and tweak them to adapt to your very own unique needs.
Move beyond pandemic shame.
Of course, there is a wave of muddled relief to be given permission to stop and do nothing. However, that can tilt to feeling shamed about being unproductive, unmotivated and generally lazy during this uncertain time. That is not based on judgement from others but, rather you not accepting within yourself your right to do whatever feels best for you.
So, give yourself permission to work through your own personal emotions. To process your grief (link to other blog), feel what you need to feel, rally, hide, laugh or cry.
A recent blog by author Tara Mohr addressed how many of us find ourselves in a downtime we didn’t design or desire. In the same vein, she explains that “we can still choose whether to fill it with false busyness, to be run by an inner taskmaster who fears slowing down – or instead to lean into what calls us now: what kind of restoration, what sustenance, what seeds of curiosity?”
Mohr offers that “everything is asking now for our deeper consideration” and explains that if “this springtime is really longing to be a winter for you, a time of quiet and finding a hearth close by, so be it. Let winter shelter you.”
To clarify, holding on is important. If the stages of grief describe your journey, it’s necessary to move through them. After all, passion and purpose are still important. Some days it will be there. Other days it won’t. We will get through this.
Limit your news and social media consumption.
This was one of the first lessons that I embraced when this pandemic all started. To have a clear plan for news and social media consumption. And, to follow it (even if imperfectly). Doing so honors that we need to stay informed during this time, but also acknowledges that mainstream news hypes drama to get reaction and make us afraid. That is what wins clicks and ratings.
So, I encourage you to do a deep cleanse. I recently scrutinized my social platforms and blocked, unfriended and unliked my way through all the negativity. As a result, I chose only sources that will support me during this time. And, my plan for news consumption is to tune in once a day to keep me apprised of what’s going on.
What level of news and social media consumption will serve you best? Everyone is on their own journey but if it’s having a detrimental impact on your well-being, break that cycle and cut out the noise.
Create a strategy for connectedness.
Humans need connection. In fact, science shows that our need to connect is as fundamental as our need for food and water. During this pandemic, self-isolation and social distancing have largely withdrawn that physical connection.
Therefore, putting some psychological infrastructure and having a strategy to connect with others online is a good start. That could mean weekly ‘coffee chats’ with friends. Or maybe coordinating online co-working sessions to feel less lonely while working on tasks. I’ve been hosting co-working sessions and I can attest to the meaningful connection we’ve all garnered.
Of course, most of us have already implemented some of this outreach but being consistent will avoid unhealthy isolating behavior – whilst still isolating to stay safe. Likewise, keep assessing what is working and what isn’t. Because what works today may not feel the same a week from now. To that end, read the next tip about a brain shift.
Be prepared for a brain shift.
At the beginning of this crisis, there was massive mental and emotional adjustments. Similarly, we can expect to face another mental shift. Global catastrophes change the world and this pandemic could very well alter the way we move, build, learn and connect.
As we adjust to the ‘new normal’, our emotions stabilize. And, it’s beneficial to our cognitive health to stimulate and encourage it. Many are already on that journey as they gain clarity of how they want their lives to look moving forward. Forced to slow down, the thought of going back to chaotic calendars and unsustainable schedules is daunting. They have discovered that slow living may play a key part of their future.
At any rate, preparing for that mental shift and sustaining yourself with coping tools and techniques will move you to the next step after acceptance. After all, on the other side of acceptance are hope and resilience.
Comparisons abound from all sides. And judgment too.
The high achieving energizer bunnies wonder why people aren’t embracing the opportunity to do more. Especially now that we have been the given a gift of time. C’mon – with a dose of positivity, we can change our lives for the better after this is all over, right?
Conversely, those taking things in stride are tired of the humble bragging. They aren’t interested in changing the world. Or in losing that ten pounds they’ve been meaning to whittle away for some time.
The tendency to compare ourselves to others is as human as any other emotion. However, it is a habit that only steals joy from our lives. Similarly, comparisons put focus on the wrong person. After all, you can only control your life – your actions – your reactions.
Lastly, the curated stories that we view online are of positive experiences. So, stop comparing yourself to everyone else’s highlight reels. Travel your own journey.
Delve into your habits.
Our usual habits and behaviors have been disrupted. Moreover, it’s disconcerting to face the future with so many uncertainties. We keep hearing that what we are living now will be a variation of a ‘new normal’. However, it is more important than ever to ground yourself in good habits. Doing so will bolster your well-being during these times.
Author Gretchen Rubin is an expert on habits. Her book, ‘Better Than Before‘, shared extensive research on habit-formation and how we identify loopholes. Loopholes that we use to excuse us from keeping a particular habit. We all do it. “I’ve been so good, it’s okay for me to have a piece of cake.” Or perhaps this time-relevant loophole – “You only live once and we are in the middle of a pandemic.”
Rubin writes,“Although some people assume that strong feelings of guilt or shame act as safeguards to help people stick to good habits, the opposite is true. People who feel less guilt and who show compassion toward themselves in the face of failure are better able to regain self-control, while people who feel deeply guilty and full of self-blame struggle more.”
There is a powerful message there to encourage supporting yourself in ways that will serve you well during this time.
Ask yourself: “What would love do?”
Above all, the antidote to fear is love. And, we are all dealing with fear – fear of this virus, fear that others may cause harm by not following the rules, fear of the future, fear for our family, fear of illness, fear that our lives will never be truly normal again or fear that we will revert back to old patterns that don’t serve us well anymore.
So, when you’re up against something, ask: “What would love do?” That contemplative question will alter how you relate to other people or circumstances. It will also alter what you do or say. And, ultimately how you feel.
Write a letter of congratulations to your future, post-pandemic self.
Yes, I actually wrote myself a letter of congratulations. It is a hopeful, therapeutic exercise reminding us that this terrible time will end. That we will emerge into the world to resume our lives.
Please do this. Write whatever suits you. Make it as detailed as possible, by sharing what you did that worked through this global crisis. How you handled challenges. Maybe include the changes you made in your surroundings, your habits, and your schedule that made it possible. This is all what you did. What you accomplished. Where you succeeded. It’s not about “I hope” or “I will.” You project yourself into the future, to reflect on what you did.
We are in this together but also navigating our own unique journey, based on so many factors.
I encourage you to show yourself grace. Be gentle when the emotion kicks in.
We can show compassion for ourselves but we must also look for ways to grow and move forward. Work hard to take care of yourself physically, emotionally and spiritually. And, celebrate the advancements you make without comparing them to others.
We will get through this. The day will come we can return to a normal, albeit somewhat changed world.
I WOULD LOVE TO HEAR FROM YOU – which of the 8 strategies resonates for you? Which one would have the most impact on you and your well-being right now?