The COVID-19 pandemic is the first we’ve had to deal with in the US. Our routines are disrupted, the economy is in trouble, many people’s livelihoods are threatened, parents are scrambling to provide child care for kids, stores have long lines and empty shelves as people panic- buy. We see images of how it has ravaged other countries and fear for our own safety and well-being, and that of our families and communities.
Most of us are not used to this kind of chaos and uncertainty. People have different levels of tolerance for the unknown and for uncertainty as well as different amounts of social and financial resources. Social distancing is a new concept and practice for us, which while helping to keep the virus from spreading, can create its own problems of social isolation, depression and anxiety.
Fear and panic are at least as contagious as the virus itself. While anxiety itself is a natural response to a challenging situation, making us alert and helping us respond in ways that keep us safe and functioning, it becomes problematic when it becomes chronic or morphs into panic.
People especially susceptible to extreme anxiety or panic about the virus often have suffered some trauma in their lives. You have already lived through something extreme and unprecedented and the current situation creates a PTSD type response. If you tend to be an anxious person or are a highly sensitive person, you may also tend to be more prone to catastrophizing and panic.
Without our usual routines and structure, it becomes especially important to create new ones to help us manage these unprecedented, uncertain times with as much equanimity as possible. Below are some suggestions as well as resources.
In the spirit of Valentine's Day, I can't resist posting this song that humorously explains the neuroscience of love!
No amount of self-improvement can make up for
any lack of self-acceptance.
- Robert Holden
It's easy to embark on any number of self-improvement projects; they are advertised and promoted everywhere by self-help gurus, magazines, books, webinars, blogs and Youtube videos. They promise a better body, a healthier mind, the possibility of being happy all the time, of being more productive, more successful, wealthier and more self-confident to name only a few. When you feel deficient or like something is missing, these possibilities are very seductive.
Yet if the foundation of how you feel about yourself is shaky, then attempts at self-improvement will only partially succeed. Just like a building needs a solid foundation, your inner world needs a solid core of self-acceptance and self-love on which to base any and all self-improvement. Then the decisions about what facets of your life to focus on will be grounded in your authentic self rather than an attempt to cover up or run from a less than optimal relationship with yourself.
Begin with an honest inquiry into how you truly feel about yourself. Do you accept yourself as you are, or is your acceptance conditional? Do you tend to criticize yourself or treat yourself tenderly and with forgiveness? This can be cultivated through attention, mindfulness, journaling, dreamwork, energy work, inner child work and therapy.
Willing to experience aloneness,
I discover connection everywhere;
Turning to face my fear,
I meet the warrior who lives within;
Opening to my loss,
I gain the embrace of the universe;
Surrendering into emptiness,
I find fullness without end.
Each condition I flee from pursues me,
Each condition I welcome transforms me
and becomes itself transformed
into its radiant Jewel-like essence.....
- Jennifer Welwood
As the hours of darkness begin to slowly wane from the winter sky,
So too may the fearful places of your heart unclench their grasp on your life
As the presence of light begins to grow with greater sureness with each passing day
May your own courage blossom to open more brightly to truth and love.
Let this be the year that you turn off the television and silence the talk radio chatter
in order to pick up the writing pen, the paintbrush,
and watch the candle slowly burn.
May this be the year that you delight
in seeing how much joy you can extravagantly spread.
May you discover just how much beauty you can recklessly shower
upon this thirsty world.
May this be the year that you tune both the dusty piano in the corner
and the inner listening of your care-worn heart
So that both can play in harmony with the chorus of creation.
May you break the invisible yardstick of impossible expectations
and learn that just as you are,
you are enough.
May this be the year that you cease trying to march to an imagined ideal
and instead, wrap your arms around the messy wonder your life really is,
hold it close
and do the tango.
Let this be the year you befriend your soul in its radical particularity,
not forsaking it yet again for the bland demands and cravings of the masses.
Instead, may you elope with the wildness of your own true calling,
marry your soul to its deepest longings
and invite the hungry world to the wedding feast.
- Kayleen Asbo
Peggy Handler, MFT, is a psychotherapist in San Francisco's Noe Valley