There is no doubt we are in unchartered waters right now as the world faces the Coronavirus pandemic. The scenery changes every day with new information, a new sense of peace, and more to worry about. One story says we are overreacting while the very next story says we aren’t doing enough. We bounce between joy, fear, and sometimes being okay. I have no advice or opinion on what’s going on out there. I am completely lost in this, just like everyone else. I do, though, have a few thoughts to share.
As I look at empty shelves and stories of toilet paper shortages, I hear people saying things like, “This is a respiratory illness. Why are people hoarding toilet paper?” The answer is, it’s not about the toilet paper. Yes, someone heard that China was shutting down TP production or that Europe was running out, and that spurred the panic. Okay. But it could have been anything that we consider essential. In this crazy state of uncertainty, we want, we need to feel some sense of control. We need to feel that we are doing all we can while we can. That often shows up as stocking up. Whether it’s an impending hurricane, loss of a job, or quarantine, we stock up on things that would give us a sense of normalcy, comfort. When whatever is going to happen happens, we can rest easy knowing that we did everything we possibly could to take care of ourselves and our families.
Research consistently supports the notion that activity reduces anxiety. When things are challenging or stressful, taking action, moving toward a goal, or doing something, anything, to get your mind off of it reduces anxiety around it and allows you to think more clearly and logically. Although physical activity, such as exercise, is a good source of anxiety reduction, that is not the only type of activity that has proven results. Physical exercise releases dopamine and endorphins (the “feel good” chemicals) in your brain. Research shows these same chemicals are released during meditation, engagement in mental activity (flow), expressions of gratitude, displays of generosity, and when working toward a goal.
As I delivered toilet paper to my parents from my own (possibly) unnecessary stash, I asked myself how can we fill that need for control, the need to “do” something, in a healthy, safe way that doesn’t break the bank or encourage this scarcity mentality. Below are five things you can do right now to not only feel more in control but to actually be more in control of your life.
Embrace the time with family or downtime
What a rare gift, a luxury, it is to spend quality, uninterrupted time together without the rush or need to be “doing” something. I know these times are stressful. My business contracts were all canceled, and I honestly don’t see us coming out of this with a house, car, and groceries. I feel your stress. I know it’s hard. Regardless of how things turn out, this is an incredible opportunity to spend time together that we, as a country, desperately need. Busy schedules and packed calendars often prevent us from slowing down and enjoying each other.
During this “slow down”, I encourage you to actually slow – down. Enjoy your time together. Take advantage of it. Don’t just replace the activity and packed schedules with worry and fret. Despite all of the concern and negativity, be grateful for the time you have to be together, to get to know one another, and maybe start some new family traditions. You will be making new memories during this time; let’s make sure they are good ones.
Make use of this time
I say this like everyone is sitting at home with a ton of extra time on their hands. I know that is not the case as many (most?) parents are now pulling double duty with entertaining cooped up kids at home while either working from home and/or still carrying on normal activities. One day this will be a fading memory, but we have an incredible opportunity to change what that future looks like. Let’s not get there and be weeks or months behind but on the same general path. Let’s use this time to change that path.
It doesn’t necessarily take a ton of extra time to start a new routine that can change the trajectory of your family. Exercising daily, eating a little healthier, sitting down for meals, cooking together, or adding that prayer to dinner that you’ve wanted to do for a while. This is a great time to make those little changes that define the tone of your family. With fewer distractions, there really isn’t a reason not to. It will also help you feel like you are doing something rather than just waiting around for something to happen.
If you do have a little more time on your hands (i.e., no kids at home, a spouse who is now free to watch the children, older children who can care for themselves), this is a great time to do those things that you struggle to make time for when calendars are driven by activities, bake sales, and appointments. Write that book you’ve had in your head for years, start potty training, organize your closet, desk, pictures, or kitchen drawers, pull out the furniture and clean the baseboards. If cleaning isn’t your style (raising my hand), do things on your business that you feel you can’t take a pause for. Organize your files, update your website, draft a demo reel or marketing materials, create a social media plan, or do research on your particular niche.
These foundational things often get pushed aside because we don’t feel they make a big enough impact on our results or because other priorities keep getting pushed in front of them. The reality is, they are critical to the overall success and health of anything you build on top of it. Take this time to shore it up so you can hit the ground running when the air clears.
If you had two weeks to change the direction of your life, family, or business, what would you do? What do you want to be different at the end of all of this? One of my friends likened this period to the movie Groundhog Day. I laughed, but it’s true. We have this crazy chance to live the same day over and over again while taking the experience and learnings from each previous day with us. How will you use your day to change your future?
Reset your goals; define your why
A significant crisis or tragedy often makes us slow down and reflect on where we are and if it is where we want to be. Were you in a position to ride something like this out? Why or why not? I’m not calling you out. Candidly, I certainly was not prepared for this. Many of us were not. In itself, that may not be a sign that something needs to change, but maybe it is.
I invite you to use this downtime to dream a little bit and also to get serious about your goals and re-evaluate your “why”. Are you living the life you want? Are you happy with where you are? Are you proud of the steps you have taken to get there? Is your life filled with meaning and purpose (a critical component of wellbeing)?
Consider this a little personal retreat. Find a cozy spot to think, and jot down your big picture goals. Now, what are you realistically willing to do to achieve them? Use the knowledge and experience you have gained about yourself and take action to (re)define the course of your life, right now.
Take time for your mental health
I always shudder a little bit when someone mentions “self-care”. Not because I don’t agree with the need for it, but because it seems to carry with it the notion of luxury. Like when someone says, “I’ll do the dishes for you tonight.” Well, that’s all nice and good, but you aren’t doing the dishes for me, you’re just doing the dishes because they need to be done and you live here too. Self-care is not a break from a long week, a rose-lined bathtub full of bubbles, it’s a need, and we need it daily for normal functioning. I’m not just talking about moms (though that is who I care about the most…), but busy professionals, dads, retirees, everyone. But, we do need to be extra-vigilant regarding our self-care and mental health during times like these.
I mentioned earlier about the endorphins and dopamine release associated with physical activity such as exercise. During this time, daily activity is not a luxury. We will not survive if we don’t get out and get moving. Even if you don’t literally kill each other, relationships can be wrecked in these few short (okay…LONG) weeks if we aren’t careful. We need the endorphins from physical movement. Exercise can also boost your immunities, but I’ll leave all of that for the “medical mom” blogs.
Meditation is also a great way to release happy chemicals and slow down the mind. Daily meditation has positive effects on your mental health and your physical health by reducing symptoms related to stress. Which are a lot. Just sitting still and thinking about nothing or one thing for five to ten minutes a day can give your mind and spirit the reset it needs to face the stressful day ahead.
If you can, eat well. Don’t give in to the excess snacking and comfort food that you are now faced with every minute of the day. Not only does eating well make you physically feel better, but taking care of yourself is good for your mind as well. How often do you beat yourself up after eating a particularly carby meal or half a sleeve of cookies? Yeah. Me too. And it’s not good for our mental health. You have probably been somewhat sheltered in place for a week or so now. If you are like me, you probably partook (is that really a word) in the quarantine binge a bit already. Use that as a freebie and get back on the wagon. Your mind, and body, will thank you.
Oh, and start taking vitamins now. Please.
Build your relationships/networks
While many businesses and industries are scrambling to change the way they do business or even in hyper-drive, most are likely on extreme slow down right now. This is a great time to touch base with your network. I can’t say enough about the power of your network whether you are working a 9-5 job (do those even exist anymore?), running your own business, or just trying to do this thing we call life. We need our community, though when things get busy, we sometimes forget to stay connected.
I heard someone say that we shouldn’t be practicing “social distancing” but “phyical distancing”. We should still be connecting with friends, family, and our network, just not physically. I invite you to take this time to build your relationships whether professional or personal and keep those lines of communication open. Relationships are an important part of mental health and can also play an important part in your professional development as well.
No, this is not an ideal time. There are some very, very bad things that are going to come out of this. 2020 will go down in history as a terribly difficult time for sure. Just like 9/11, and the horrific fear and terror our country felt, we came out strong. Looking back, people talk about the unity and connection they felt with others. We have an opportunity to experience that again. We have the chance to pull together, reevaluate our lives, and actually do something to change them. No, this is not all good, but very good things can come out of it if we just take the time to make them happen.