Here we are. Over a month into practicing more stringent social distancing in response to COVID-19 and it feels like a lifetime has passed since I last put some of my thoughts and reflections together into a post. Like so many of you, at the end of some of my days, I find myself struggling with feeling completely drained as I work through creating what my new normal workday looks like. Other days I feel empowered through my work, finding peace in the normalcy of working with my clients, helping them hold their emotions that are so similar to mine. In the moments of empowerment, I find myself also adjusting and almost accepting what my new normal has become. As I continue to fall into this new routine, I find myself focusing on the need to process all of the emotions that I am experiencing in response to both my own experiences and the experiences of my clients, family, and friends as I know how important it is for me to reflect on and process through them in order to not feel overwhelmed and flooded when they come rushing in.
Through all of this, the underlying emotion that almost everyone is feeling is a sense of anxiety like they have never experienced before. No one, including myself, is exempt from the overwhelming heaviness of what is going on in our town, state, country, and world and it is important for us to all understand the normalcy in the overwhelmingness of this emotion. While much of the anxiety is coming from a few different triggers, a lot of the heaviness is founded in our struggle with feeling out of control.
We are no longer feeling like we are in control of almost every aspect of our lives - where we go, who we see, how we work, how we exercise, where we shop, how we learn, and how we spend our free time. We are worrying about our friends, family, and neighbors that are losing their jobs, closing their businesses, and are beginning to get sick and we recognize in so many ways that there is nothing we can do to help them. We don’t know what the end of this all looks like, nor do we know when the end will even happen. We think about when we will be able hug our loved ones, go to our favorite restaurants, or be back in our offices or classrooms.
Additionally, as we talk and speculate about the virus and someday going “back to normal”, we are also reminded that we don’t even know what the new normal is going to look like “when this is over”. Many of us are beginning to recognize that normal may never look like the normal that we knew pre-coronavirus and a feeling of loss in connection with this realization is also feeding our anxiety. We are feeling that we can no longer prepare for anything either, which is contributing to the feeling of no longer being in control of our own lives. What we need to remember through the what-ifs of our future and the recognition of things possibly never getting back to how things were before, is that the anxiety you feel through all of this is also completely normal. This is where you need to give yourself grace and allow yourself to feel the emotions that don’t feel good. This is where the “we are all in this together” rings truest and loudest and that the best way to take control in these situations is to accept that you cannot control it all and you need to continue to ride the wave.
For those that having discussions about the virus helps in easing the weight of the enormity of it all, we find ourselves talking about it daily, or even hourly. We talk about and speculate about what will happen in our world, what will happen if we get it, and sometimes we even wonder if we have already had it. Day in and day out it occupies more space in our conversations than any other topic. While many people are shutting down during discussions about the virus attempting to avoid the stress that the conversation may create, others are welcoming the conversations as the shared anxiety feels easier to bear. We need to remember that neither of these reactions are wrong. We all need to make the choice to react in the way that helps us to feel in control of ourselves and ease the weight of dealing with an experience we could never have imagined outside of a Hollywood movie.
In this world that is feeling wholly out of control, instead of driving ourselves into deeper states of anxiety or exhaustion by trying to hold on to and control everything in sight, we need to recognize the things that we do actually have control over and put our focus there. We can start with bringing our focus to the here and now, trying to prevent ourselves from getting too far ahead in trying to speculate about what is going to happen in the months to come. We can accept and recognize that we cannot control where we go, but we can control our space that we are in and what we do in our space. We can control how we balance our responsibilities for work, school, parenting and such with our personal self-care and finding time for relaxation and downtime. We must remember that what we are going through is not a normal “work from home” or “home school” experience and we must give ourselves the grace to recognize when we are doing enough and when we need to take moments to recharge. We are figuring out how to exercise at home, work in the same spaces as our family members, and make due with the resources we have at hand. Some people are also taking control by donating money, food, or sewing masks, or even painting rocks with colorful hearts and placing them around neighborhoods in order to remind us all that we are all in this together. Some are taking up new hobbies or cleaning and organizing their houses. Others are taking advantage of downtime, catching up on movies or televisions shows they have been meaning to watch. Whatever gives you a feeling of accomplishment and balance is where you should focus your energy right now. By finding a balance in all of this chaos and allowing space for adaptation, you may be able to reduce your anxiety significantly.
As I speak with my clients about the struggle with needing control in our current situation, I remind them about how grounding it can feel to build routines. Creating new routines is a very important part of feeling in control in our lives and this time of uncertainty is no exception. While many of us may be finding it difficult to establish routines in this new normal, making even small changes to establish some normalcy will help us to find some peace. So take some time to reflect on how can you begin to find those small moments in your life to establish the normalcy that routines bring to you. These do not need to be grand gestures to show on social media, these can be waking up at the same time every day, eating normal meals at normal times, and finding and setting aside time to read and talk to your family and friends. What I remind my clients, and I want to remind all of you, is that there should be no judgement on whatever you are doing to reduce your anxiety right now. There is no contest for who social-distanced better than others. The only thing that matters is that you are staying home and staying safe.
I have been practicing therapy for 14 years and have worked with countless individuals, families and couples. While I do not want to claim to be an "expert" on all things therapy or life (because I always believe that there is room to grow and learn) I have noticed throughout my time connecting with my clients that similar struggles and repetitive patterns present themselves that affect how clients experience and see life. I wanted to take this experience with my clients and the knowledge I have gained and share it here, so that maybe it can touch others lives the way it has helped my clients.