When Nothing is Normal

Mar 28, 2020

“A gift is an empowerment, something that allows us to travel further on our way to the highest possible expression of ourselves. In this way, even difficulties are gifts, even hardship, even sorrow or the perception of loss are gifts, because they all have the energy within them to teach us something vital about ourselves and the nature of our lives in this reality.”

                                                                   Richard Wagamese: One Drum

 

I have to admit that I’m stressed. It’s not even that I’m actually worrying; I actually don’t feel scared or anxious about getting ill. It’s the stress of having normal, everyday life turned upside down. It’s the stress of not being able to follow my usual routines and patterns, of not being able to go to work as usual, of having to constantly adapt to new circumstances, limitations, restrictions. It’s the stress of living with a constant awareness of this pandemic that surrounds us, that is still in the early stages of unfolding. The stress of all the unknowns of how it will play out, of what the long-term personal and social and global effects will be. The stress that comes with losing control over managing my own choices in my daily life. But the stress that I feel is also the general, collective “energy field” of concern, anxiety and fear that envelops us all.

As has been said over and over by multiple people, we are living something unprecedented. Depending on who you are, and what your situation is, the coronavirus itself, and our response to it, has had any number of a wide variety of disruptive effects, and a wide range of disruptive impacts; but what is certain is that we are all impacted. Some of us are more at risk than others; some of us are suffering direct financial impacts, such as the loss of a job, or job insecurity. However, we are all living with the ever-present stress and concern about this unseen virus and how it could affect us personally, locally, nationally and globally.

Simply having that constant awareness of potential but unknown risk is enormously stressful. There is both a sense of a real threat on multiple levels (e.g. not just our own physical health, but also our economic health), and a sense of the unknown that is beyond our control. This easily makes us hypervigilant, activating a chronic stress reaction that over time can become depleting, exhausting. If it also interferes with sleep, that only adds to the problem and depletes our resilience to the stress.

We, as human beings, don't deal very well with the unknown. We like to know what's happening, and what to expect. It’s a way of feeling somewhat in control of our lives. That is hard-wired in us in terms of creating safety and security. We like “normal”; we like to have routines and to be able to live our lives in certain normal patterns, where we are familiar with what is going on, we have a sense of what we can expect, we have a sense of control over the patterns of our lives. It can be extremely stressful, therefore, when we have a sense of losing that control, that predictability, that ability to manage outcomes.

At a certain level, all of these things come down to feeling safe, feeling like were in control of our lives and empowered. Focusing on what we can’t control keeps us focused on what makes us feel unsafe, and keeps us stuck in worry, anxiety and fear. So, the first rule of thumb in coping with a situation like this is to separate what you can control from what you can’t control. You need to come to terms with what you can’t control and put it aside, and focus on what you can control.

The first principle of coping successfully with something like this is, of course, doing what is in your control to do, to be safe. Taking precautions, following all the recommendations. Just make sure that doing these tings actually makes you feel safer; you can become obsessed with taking these measures to the point that it only feeds your feelings of being unsafe.

The second principle is to focus on adapting to the new situation by creating new patterns. Structure and routine are important, but so is self-care. This situation may be going on for some time. It is normal at first to fall into temporary patterns as if you’re just going to ride it out, waiting for it to blow over, but what is healthier in the long-term is to actively adapt. It will give you a greater sense of control in your own life. Create new healthy routines, so that you are occupied either being productive, or actively taking care of yourself or even finding ways to take advantage of the situation to enjoy life more than you were.

One of the things you can also focus on that you can have some control over is your inner experience, your thoughts and your feeling reactions. Self-care means not just distracting yourself, it means actively taking care of yourself. That means taking the time to check in with yourself on a daily basis, and actively working on managing those thoughts and feelings.

Here’s an important principle: it's not the situation that's making you feel whatever you feel; it's actually how you happen to react to it that makes you feel that way - and you can have some control over that.

There are lots of ways that you can manage and even change how you react, how you respond, so that you can actually be well, even be happy, be at peace.

To start with, you want to create and really invest in a practice of well-being. I would really recommend that include meditation. And so, I have created a grounding meditation you can download.

What I also invite you to do, is to take some time either daily, or periodically over the week, to just tune in and focus, and find out - and literally write down - what you notice that you are experiencing. Make a practice of being aware of what you're feeling, what you're thinking, whatever thoughts and feelings are there that may interfere with you being happy, being well. Writing things out gives your mind the opportunity to view your thoughts and feelings more objectively, which will both increase your awareness of what is actually going on with you, and increase your ability to manage those thoughts and feelings, or to find solutions. You may even want to create a journal of this experience.

So I invite you to download the guided meditation; I will be also creating others in the coming weeks.

I also invite you to leave comments about how you're coping, what you're doing, what you're struggling with, or even what “silver linings”, what gifts or benefits you are discovering in this situation.

Take care and be well.

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