Five ways to find joy and love amidst chaos.
Many mental health professionals reiterate the importance and impact of staying positive and maintaining mental resilience in times of uncertainty (see my blog on Managing Stress in Difficult Times). The current recommendations to stay sheltered in place conjure up feelings of uncertainty, loneliness, and even sadness -- frankly, you'd much rather be doing the things you already had planned for your day/week/month. As an extrovert, I'd certainly prefer to be with people, at events, and sharing my passion for health and wellness with people personally. Fortunately, you're not alone. We're all in this together (albeit separately...), so I want to share some ways I'm finding the silver lining in this whole ordeal.
I'm not trying to be a Pollyanna and ignore or be blind to the current crisis. I recognize that this pandemic has been devastating on a global scale. Yet, research demonstrates the power of positivity: finding the one glimmer of solid gold in an otherwise murky situation actually builds resilience and changes your overall ability to manage. (Read my blog on The Power of Positivity.)
This change in mindset sprouted after listening to an audiobook by Glennon Doyle (recommended by my wise sister), and in the book she shares this thought:
"You have been offered "the gift of crisis". As Kathleen Norris reminds us, the Greek root of the word crisis is "to sift", as in , to shake out the excesses and leave only what's important. That's what crises do. They shake things up until we are forced to hold on to only what matters most. The rest falls away."
At this moment in her book, the author is referring to own personal crisis moments related to addiction, but this concept resonated with me in reference to the current public health pandemic. Perhaps there is a bit of a silver lining in being forced to slow down and stay at home. So many of my clients insist they lack enough time: time to get to the gym, time to rest, time to do the things that they find valuable in life. So, in an effort to appreciate the opportunities afforded by this crisis, I'm highlighting a few of the things that matter to me; the things that I'm holding onto right now, as a result of the gift of time.
When talking about changing their health eating habits, a number of my clients point to a desire to eat "out" less. With their time filled with other commitments, squeezing in a stop at a drive-thru seems much easier than shopping for, planning, and preparing meals. With restaurants closed or inaccessible (and my heart goes out to all small business owners feeling the impact of the shelter-in-place directives), the opportunity opens to create simple, healthy meals with some long-lasting resources you've already got in your pantry.
For me, eating in means I know what goes into the food I feed myself and my family. It means I spend time pouring love into the meals that nourish their bodies and minds. It means I spend less money on takeout. I get to be creative. As someone who lacks traditional artistic ability, cooking provides me the opportunity to create something from scratch.
Honestly, I truly mean to carve out 30 minutes each typical morning to sit and meditate before I run out the door. Yet, when kids are yelling, the dog is barking, I'm needed elsewhere, chaos ensues...Suddenly, my meditation time shrinks to 30 seconds of awkward, toothpaste-infused breathing while I brush my teeth.
But the magnitude of this pandemic brings me pause. When life strips away all the superfluous fluff, you're left with family, friends, work, food, and thought. And you begin to realize what you want to prioritize. I'm not worried about running errands or being places. I purposely plan the time I'm spending on my career, passionately focused on sharing opportunities for others to improve their health. Working from home, I schedule "breaks" in my day to help me stay more organized, planned, and focused. In addition to building in time for movement (mostly walks with the kids and the dog!), I also allocate time for 10-minute afternoon breaks to sit in mindful meditation, because mental health is more important than ever. Research proves that staying present in the moment reduces stress and anxiety, and makes you more capable of handling what life has thrown at you. But even more, I notice that finding serenity, beauty, and love in this situation makes me a better mom, wife, public health professional, and human overall.
We all have projects -- you know the ones I mean. You walk into that one room in your home and think, "ugh. I don't have time to think about that right now."
BUT....now you do!
While we might not have requested it, we've been afforded the gift of time. With our external commitments cancelled or rescheduled, life has opened up to provide the time and space to get things done. While most people might not think about it, our home environments have a direct impact on our health. We often think to clean air and space itself, but what about the clutter? Too much "stuff" actually generates stress for many people (think about it: have you ever felt like you just can't work until your desk is tidied up, even if only just a little?) Your brain wants to concentrate on one thing at a time, and visual clutter or unresolved projects borrow a little brain space from the tasks you're trying to accomplish. My family and I took advantage of the nicer weather to sort and clean the garage (what a difference!) and I could see the weight lift from my husband's shoulders.
Try to enjoy the opportunity to create peace in your home.
CDC recommends social distancing. Fortunately, this aligns perfectly with getting outside into the wilderness, which also has scientifically proven benefits. Research supports that getting outside reduces stress and improves concentration, both of which I could use right now. I've managed to take my dog for long walks every day, and as soon as it stops raining, I plan to strap on my kicks and grab the kids for a hike in an uncharted area. Alone in the wilderness, away from crowds, we'll breathe in the beauty and simple grandeur of nature. When my family is usually tied up with spring sports and games galore, I appreciate that right now, we're all stuck together (we lovingly call it "forced family time") and have the opportunity to enjoy some of the simple and beautiful things our world has to offer.
While we've spent our fair share trying to stock up on groceries, the fact is that we're not spending much money anywhere else. Since the economic impact of COVID is still uncertain, I'm appreciating the fact that our family is finding lots of free ways to pass our time, like puzzles, chalk drawings on the driveway, games of charades, and sleep (glorious sleep!)
If I'm being honest, the pandemic makes me nervous, if for no other reason than because this is a novel virus and, as Americans, we've never really borne the brunt of something like this in our lifetimes. I'm trained as an epidemiologist (someone who studies the spread and prevalence of diseases), so I know about how this type of crisis historically progressed and can rationally understand what's going on. But I'm still anxious and frankly, feeling stuck.
You might be thinking...how is this a positive? Here's the silver lining: I've never been so present with my children and family. With nowhere to be, I enjoy the luxury of purposeful presence with my family. The non-distracted, really-listening-to-you, looking-in-your-eyes, "no-I'm-not-reading-my-email" kind of presence. I'm engrossed in their beautiful ideas and stories, helping them feel productive and engaged each day, and guiding them through these uncharted waters. Because ultimately, this is what it looks like to hold onto the things that really matter.