Dwight Bain......How to find “Normal” during the COVID-19 pandemic?
How to find “Normal” during the COVID-19 pandemic?
The coronavirus lock-down has been the longest forced shutdown in modern history, and was successful to slow the physical spread of the disease. Shutdowns through early April prevented 60 million US coronavirus infections, a study quoted on CNN reported. https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/08/health/coronavirusshutdowns-effective-stu....
However, for many the extended time of lock down created a mental health crisis. Being isolated from friends or family, sheltering in place for months, being removed from school/work routines, unemployment, months of lost income, fear of going out for routine medical visits, or not having medical coverage to visit a doctor because of losing insurance coverage after lay-off. These and many other factors elevate feelings of helplessness and will complicate the long recovery ahead. Adding to the stress was the news that the United States economy is officially in recession https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/08/business/econom y/us-economy-recession-2020.html which may cause many people to slide further into feelings of desperation and anxiety.
How long until things get back to “Normal”?
Human brains draw comfort from predictability and normalcy. Since the pandemic was declared on March 10, 2020 the normal day-to-day functioning of going to work, dropping the kids off at school or going out to the movies on a Friday night completely ended. As more of typical daily life was silenced, more negative psychological pressure began to build. Months of isolation creates additional pressure, which is magnified by a age, a person’s previous experience facing crisis, access to supports and most significantly how much stress a person already had in their life before the order to shelter in place. The more stress someone had in their life prior to the shutdown, the longer it takes to recover. Feeling overwhelmed is a common reaction to the additional stress of managing daily life coupled with the rise of unexpected expenses and uncertain future. A recent survey from the Centers for Disease Control revealed almost a third of Americans have reported increased anxiety or depression symptoms during the pandemic, especially women, the young, the less educated and some minority groups. The most important thing to focus on in managing the coronavirus crisis is this:
“DON’T MAKE A BAD SITUATION WORSE!”
The next few months may be even more challenging, so it is important to keep this single thought in mind as you begin to sort through the process of stabilizing and then rebuilding the normal life routines you had before the pandemic. When you get focused on rebuilding, you will be able to spend your energy in productive ways instead of being worried or afraid. Dealing directly with your fears and insecurities can reduce tension, because when emotions build up in a crisis they can quickly blow up, which makes an already difficult situation worse. Acting now will allow you to move from feeling the stress and confusion- toward experiencing the focused energy of rebuilding an even stronger life for you and your family after the pandemic passes. To emotionally manage the coronavirus crisis, you need a strong combination of three key elements.
• Healthy coping skills • Healthy supports and a • Healthy perspective of how to rebuild after a crisis
While things will never be the same as before COVID-19, these guidelines can provide you the steps necessary to get past the stress and to find even greater strength on the other side of this stressful time. Here are some immediate ways to restore stability back into your life after the chaos and confusion building during the coronavirus shutdown.
1) Reconnect in relationships –
You cannot get through a crisis alone. Since everyone is impacted differently, it is important to talk about the stress and pressure you are feeling with the people closest to you. Reach out to friends and family as soon as possible, and call people you have not heard from in a while. Checking in to ask if they are okay will take a few minutes, but it will empower and help both of you. These ‘check-in’ times allow each of you to talk about what you experienced through the shutdown and how you got through it.
Tremendous connection can occur when you go through a crisis with another person, so this is an especially good time to reach out to friends or family who may have drifted away from your closest circle of relationships. Take action to reach out to people with words of encouragement and support, but do not wait for someone else to text, call or email you- because their phone may not work from lack of money to pay their cell phone bill since being laid-off. Go onto Facebook or Twitter to seek them out if you do not hear back. Keep reaching out to reconnect the relationship because it will encourage both of you during the long recovery process.
2) Rebuild your routines
Perhaps the most important factors to find ‘normal’ again is to have a regular bedtime and when you get up to make your bed. Kids and adults draw tremendous strength and security from a structured daily routine. Bedtime, dinnertime, getting up to go to school, or workeven if it’s on Zoom, or watching worship services streaming on Facebook Live from your house of faith will help you to regain strength quickly. Identify the typical routines you had before the shutdown- then get back to them as soon as possible. If your gym isn’t open yet, do the same exercises you would do. You can take empty milk jugs and fill with sand or water to create simple weights at home. If you are staying with family members, stick with the rituals you typically followed before the shutdown that made up your daily lifestyle. The more you can create a schedule, the more you can feel the predictability of previous patterns.regardless of the stressful changes happening around you. Human beings do well with predictable human behavior. Breakfast, lunch, dinner at the same times, blocks of time for reading, studying, reading emails, or watching Netflix. Predictable schedules will speed the feelings of being back in control of something. While you cannot control a global economy – you can control breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the same time, and you can still brush and floss before you take a shower. Predictable routines are healing. Start some now.
3) Reach out in faith In times of crisis many people turn to the spiritual power of prayer. Spiritual resilience is built during the toughest of times because there is tremendous strength in knowing what you believe and living in harmony with those beliefs. Plugging into a faith system.
during this crisis will allow you to release anxiety over the things you feel like you cannot control. Dedicate a few minutes each day to quiet mediation and reflection on what matters most. This is especially important when you or your children may feel lost, alone, or afraid. Plus, many houses of faith have shutdown support teams, support services and even financial assistance available to help people cope with crisis. People of many faith systems believe in helping their neighbors, so avoid the tendency of being “too proud” to ask for assistance. Having a committed personal faith combined with the connection of a local house of worship can give you a tremendous sense of community to get through this pandemic as well as unexpected crisis events to come.
4) Retell your story- Silence is not golden in a critical incident, rather, it is dangerous. One of the best things you can do to help yourself and help others is to tell your recovery story. Talk about where you were when the pandemic was announced. Talk about how your family managed months of being forced to shelter in place. Talk about how you and your loved ones made it through the times of isolation to the other side. Keep talking and make it a point to listen carefully as you hear the stories of others who survived this phase of the pandemic. Sharing stories of hope and recovery are important for everyone, kids, grandparents, mom, dads, employees, employers, firefighters, police officers, nurses, teachers, students and on and on. Everyone has a story about surviving the shutdown and sharing that story will help them heal and may give you a chance to connect with your family, neighbors, and co-workers in a powerful way. If you are a person of faith remember to reach out to your own pastor, priest, rabbi, or spiritual advisor since many times they are so busy listening to the needs of others, that they never take time for themselves. Check in with them as fellow humans in a time of crisis – we are all in this time of recovery together. Young and old benefit from hearing about how you may have survived previous crisis events. Living through the terrorist attacks of 9/11, or a school shooting, or a natural disaster or stock market crash during the great recession gives insight about tough times.There is tremendous power in telling your story; healing power for you and helpful power for others who will gain insight and strength by hearing how creative people become through times of crisis. As you share what got you through previous crisis events, it will make it easier for other family members or coworkers to talk about their stressful feelings as well.
“If you talk through it, you can get through it.” Things will never be the same as before, but life will go on and we can rebuild and get through it better together. Telling your story now will give you additional strength as well as connect you to the neighbors and friends as they share their story with you.
Where can we find courage to face the long recovery? Stress can lead you to a greater strength. We will make it through COVID-19 as a community and we will survive better if we learn the lesson of the California Redwoods.
These massive trees are over 300 feet high, yet only have root systems of 4-5 feet deep. Why don't they fall over in a gentle breeze? Simple. The mighty Redwoods never grow alone. They link their roots together and withstand ten times the stress and pressure because they do not stand alone. They stand together. They need each other to stand strong and so do we. This crisis has given our community a chance to stand strong, just like the Redwoods. This could be a season to get focused, build healthy coping skills into daily life and be surrounded by strong people who have the heart and resources to stand firm by living out what they believe. It doesn’t matter the size of the crisis, and it doesn’t matter the stage of life you may be in right now, because you can move from experiencing dangerous levels of stress to finding resiliency at any age. You do not have to wait for ‘normal’ to show up, you can start building it again right now. Dwight Bain helps people manage major change as an author and Nationally Certified Counselor in Orlando where he lives with his wife Sheila, their two children and three cats. Follow him on social @DwightBain