The last few weeks have been quite the ride! I am sincerely glad I bought toilet paper right before all this (because we genuinely needed it)! While we don’t understand why people are mass-purchasing the TP, your Wake Forest counseling team does understand why we are feeling grief. We want to help you understand, too, and give you some tips on how to manage during the pandemic.
In a matter of days our whole life changed. When we are planning a change we have time to get used to it, to say goodbye to people or things left behind in the transition, to plan for separation from what is currently known. In this situation all we knew was ripped from us in a short period of time – there was no planning. Mass grocery hoarding, social distancing, and shelter-in-place orders became part of our vernacular. Fear settled over so many. Grocery store employees were suddenly called upon to moderate fights reminiscent of Black Friday sales over toilet paper. We had no time to prepare for this change.
We also became aware of how little control we actually have. We became enemies with a microscopic virus no one can see with the naked eye. This enemy can be carried around without someone knowing. Some people get mildly ill and some people get really, really sick. Some people die. We can’t control who is in what category. We can only hunker down and limit interactions so we don’t get infected or infect another person. Some flaunt the orders to steer clear of crowds in an effort to tell this virus it can’t control them. We wait and pray scientists will find a way to stop this thing.
Simply put – we are mourning the loss of “normal.” We don’t have an end date. Depending on what you read it could be a few weeks or forever. We are also grappling with fear in the midst of it.
Some people are irritable. Some are sad. Some are rebellious. All can likely be traced back to grief and fear things will never again be normal. So how are we to manage this? I’m glad you asked!
Tip 1 – Notice what you are feeling
Give yourself a minute. Right now. Scan your emotions and body. What do you feel? Allow yourself to feel it. Don’t overthink it. Just feel. Emotions are interesting. Most only last about 20 minutes, except anger – that lasts about three hours (it’s sassy) – if we don’t feed it with our thoughts. What we resist persists – if we tell ourselves we aren’t feeling what we are actually feeling we are inadvertently making it worse. We also need to try to name it correctly – name it to tame it. I was trying to figure out why I was weepy and a therapist friend used the term “grief.” As soon as I heard her say it I knew that’s what I was experiencing and my whole body suddenly relaxed. It was as if it said, “FINALLY! I’ve been trying to tell you what we’re feeling!”
Notice it. Don’t feed it with the “what if” thoughts. Just notice it and give yourself permission to feel it.
Tip 2 – Work on turning your mind
I tell clients all the time we don’t buy tickets for trains not at the station. Right now, this is not forever. We are seeing other parts of the world begin to recover. We just have to be in this moment. In this moment, our train ticket is punched for social distancing and hanging out at home. Distracting with a book (not about pandemics), movies (maybe skip Outbreak), or music can help. If your mind starts to move back toward fear or “what if” gently, without judging yourself bring it back to the present moment. It may also be useful to avoid the news/news stories on the internet. Trust me, checking the news once a day is sufficient and way less stressful.
Tip 3 – Develop a routine
Our brains like order. Even if you are holed up at home you can have a routine. Do an in-house or YouTube workout. If you’re allowed, go for a walk (keeping appropriate distance from others). Set a schedule for the day. Be sure to shower and get dressed. That helps us feel more “normal”.
Tip 4 – Specifically focus on gratitude
There is a lot that is uncertain, but there is still some good to be found. Take a few moments and make a list of five things you are grateful for. A sunset, sunrise, needed rain, groceries, finding a package of toilet paper. Whatever it is, list it. There is a boatload of evidence that focusing on gratitude reduces feelings of anxiety and depression.
Tip 5 – Give yourself lots of grace
You aren’t going to do everything perfectly. You may find you checked the news too many time and are anxious. Or you let your thoughts head to the “what if.” It’s okay. Be gentle and try to bring your thoughts back to the present moment. Our brains respond to traumatic events
Tip 6 – Reach out
There are loads of therapists who are ready to help and are offering teletherapy by video (including your Wake Forest counseling team)! Don’t let your family or roommates being around stop you from getting support. We can help you work around privacy issues and have a successful experience. If we can be of assistance to you during this time, reach out here to schedule your free, 15-minute phone consultation today. One of our Wake Forest counseling team will be happy to chat!
Need even more tips? My friend and colleague, Lauran Hahn wrote a great blog with her 10 tips for managing the anxiety!