How to Cope with a Pandemic

Ok, so I’ve been saying for quite some time that this is the perfect time to learn to slow down — especially in this country (USA). Yet here we are at the start of year three of the pandemic and still there doesn’t seem to be a collective message or understanding of how to truly cope with this very REAL reality we are all in.

As Glennon Doyle tweeted recently in response to Adele postponing her residency in Vegas, “Covid is killing us mentally because no one is showing us how to adjust our expectations of ourselves and of others. We are killing ourselves trying to make things work like they worked in the old world and we can’t do it.”

No one is leading with this message. In fact, it has been the opposite from the top of our government down to the leaders in our organization, down to ourselves – all rushing us to get back to work, keep producing like we did, keep going about as though this isn’t a real, existential threat to many, and keep moving as though we are not weighed down by grief or fear or frustration or loneliness.

That past two years have felt like groundhog day. That’s a crazy-maker. There’s a lot of grief around these years for very real reasons. We’ve lost millions of people across the globe to this disease; and we’ve “lost” years of our “normal” life. Well, I’m here to advocate for reframing of this perspective so that we no longer feel like we keep losing our time to all of this overwhelming unknown and, unfortunately, necessary restriction. I’m here to talk about how we can cope with the times we are in and still feel like we have a sense of control– and still feel like we are living.

The way to cope with this is to SLOW DOWN.

We need to. We have to. We are all used to going 100 miles per hour but the road is no longer built ahead of us. We’ve got to slow down so we don’t keep constantly wiping out and getting flats. TAKE IT SLOW. I know that this is hard for us, especially if you’ve lived most of your life and are immersed in the culture of the USA. Hustle culture, that “rise and grind” mentality is pervasive and under prior normal circumstances was pretty toxic and now it is, frankly, unbearably so. Now is the time to cleanse yourself of that and truly put your mental and physical wellbeing first.

HERE IS HOW YOU CAN SLOW DOWN.

Practice mindfulness. Check in with yourself. How are you feeling? Journal about it. Talk to a trusted friend or family member about it. Talk to a mental health professional about it — they’ll tell you that whatever you’re feeling, you’re not alone. Being aware of what’s happening with YOU is the first and most important step in gaining a sense of control amid all this uncertainty. This will help you identify what you need, and once you know that you can make steps to fulfill your needs in a way that makes sense to the circumstance we’re all in. Once you have your needs fulfilled, it’s a lot easier to deal with impulses and reconcile the wants we may have that just aren’t feasible right now. In sum, mindfulness will give you control over what you have control over (yourself) and help you breathe through the frustrations.

Be Myopic. If you’re anything like me, you like to plan ahead. You like to have plan A, B, and C mapped out. Well, for once and your life, stop that. Don’t look ahead. Be nearsighted. We cannot see the road ahead right now. One of the reasons it feels like groundhog day is because we keep driving down the same rickety ass road at a 100 mph and it keeps looping us back to where we’ve already been. Let’s SLOW DOWN and try to enjoy the little things. Before when you thought, “Ah man, if only I had time for reading” or “Ah man, if I had the time, I’d learn a language,” or “Ah man, if I had the time…” for literally any hobby or skill you wanted to work on — NOW’S THE TIME. Do the puzzle. Pick up the book. Build the model plane. Learn the guitar. Slow down and be where you are. Doing these things in the here and now will help quench that thirst for planning.

Accept Uncertainty. Right now, we are in a shit storm of uncertainty. Being myopic and letting go of all your plans is the best way to cope with this right now but HOW do we ACCEPT uncertainty? After living abroad a few times, uncertainty and unknown is the hardest thing to cope with during culture shock. It’s vulnerable as hell because you have no control. You’re uncertain about expectations, uncertain about food, customs, the language. You’re like a baby learning about the world again. This is when we need to practice reframing our mindset. We are, collectively, learning about the world again. Much of what we knew is out the window — this can be EXCITING instead of anxiety-inducing. We get to MAKE UP the future. To return to the road metaphor, we get to lay down a new, better road going forward. And please, understand that right now we may lay some bricks and then in a month we might have to remove them. Laugh about it. Stay curious, stay agile, stay playful. Let yourself be a kid again.

Assume Positive Intent. This is one the core values of the non-profit that I work for. It means assuming that everyone is doing the best they can with what they got. And shit, it’s hard sometimes. Especially when you’re tired and cranky, like most of us are right now. But gosh, it really lightens the load when you relax that negative trigger in your brain. It allows compassion to blossom in your chest and that makes space for joy. These times are way too heavy to be cynical.

Adjust your Expectations. Expectation is the first step into misery. This is the hardest, and to achieve this, it really encompasses all of the above. In order to adjust your expectations, we’ve got to be mindful, we’ve got to accept the uncertainty, and we’ve got to keep returning to the present (being myopic). We need to slow down to cope with this and inevitably that means we cannot expect the same results from ourselves or from others. Take a deep breath. Our scale from 1 to 10, 1 being this is base-level routine, 10 being hell yeah, I f*cking did that, must be adjusted. Maybe before getting out of bed was a 1 and now it’s floating around a 7. That means getting yourself to work is likely a 10. Pat yourself on the back. These daily things are weighted so differently right now. Give yourself some praise. Mostly, give yourself a break.

This last bit is the hardest bit for me. I fail often and spiral into self-doubt and even self-deprication. F*ck that, though. When I’m trying to reground after acknowledging that I am feeling angsty and unreasonably frustrated with myself, I often think of Jack Johnson’s song “Inaudible Melodies,”

Slow down everyone / You’re moving too fast / Frames can’t catch you / when you’re moving like that

In sum, things aren’t the way they once were and they won’t ever be the same after everything we’ve experienced. We heard this a lot before, right? Here I am to repeat it. This is a chance for us to be innovative. Our wheels are busted on that rickety road, so let’s not try to reinvent the same wheel — let’s SLOW DOWN and think beyond.

Sending love and calm,

Alaina

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