We are living in a new normal. One night, we went to sleep in our accustomed reality and, with a jolt, woke up in another. If this dizzying change of events left you feeling disoriented, you are in good company. Even a psychologist can use a therapy session right now, or rather a teletherapy session, given the circumstances. We are all trying to manage an enormous amount of change. It’s not easy to get our bearings while the ground continues to shift beneath our feet. How do we find a way to hold steady? What do we need to stay psychologically resilient?
1) Acknowledge stress and grief, without judgment: Before you look for a way to push through it, recognize that you are facing a real sense of loss and feeling overwhelmed. The whole world is stressed and grieving the sudden end of the previous normal and wondering about the anticipated future. Our very sense of safety and predictability, if we were privileged enough to have it in the first place, is being challenged in a significant way. Though others may undoubtedly have it worse, don’t belittle your plight, whatever it may be. Sure, having perspective and recognizing “it’s not as bad as it can be” is helpful, but only if you first allow yourself to grieve your losses, small and large. Let yourself move through the stages of grief in whatever order they emerge and re-emerge: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance, and finding meaning.
2) Control what you can, let go of the rest: There is no doubt that we are all facing the formidable task of trying to mitigate something that is hard to see and predict. While we can’t control the multitude of anxiety-provoking events that are taking place, we can choose how we consume information about them.
- Decide what helps you stay informed without getting overwhelmed. Make conscious choices concerning the mode, time of day, duration, and frequency of your exposure to the news. If your mind starts whispering catastrophes in your ear or showing you reels of upsetting scenes, interrupt the process and redirect your focus.
- Do not fall prey to obsessive worry and rumination, becoming trapped in negative mood states, or behaving in rigid ways. Avoid following your thoughts too far into the future as well – you don’t have enough information about what will happen between now and then to judge the situation accurately.
- Don’t let the quicksand of a negative mood state pull you in either. Find something that lifts your spirits and do it quickly to “break state” – take a walk, call a friend/family member, do a quick exercise routine, or watch a comedy.
- Find ways to do and be “good enough,” whether it comes to homeschooling your resisting children, disinfecting everything you touch, or balancing the various new roles and responsibilities you are facing. Come up with a flexible new routine and find something satisfying to organize.
3) Meet your basic needs and engage in self-care: When feeling stressed and facing turmoil, we are prone to neglect self-care and engage in not-so-healthy self-soothing behaviors. Increased substance use, junk food binging, or keeping an erratic sleep schedule are all much more likely to reappear and intensify. Healthy habits take a hit. Your physical and mental health needs consistent maintenance. It may be a tall order, but resist neglecting things like:
- Drinking water
- Keeping a consistent wake time
- Getting fresh air
- Eating three meals
- Socializing over the phone/video chat
- Finding alone time
- Dressing up for the day
4) Maintain perspective and offer help: Though it’s tough to remember, THIS IS TEMPORARY.It will pass eventually, so you just have to hang in there until it does. When feeling helpless, lending a helping hand can be empowering. If you can, volunteer to do something for someone else. Seeing others offering to run an errand, donating blood, sewing masks, providing entertainment through live music, or even sharing positive news feels good. Doing them feels even better! Look for and be a helper. As disruptive as crises can be, they are capable of bringing out the positive when individuals and communities come together to persevere and even grow stronger. Hang in there, you’ve got this!