What The Pandemic Has Taught Me
“When you emerge from the burning, covered in the ashes of the person you once were, remember how even the most devastating wildfires burn away debris and nourish the soil so that new trees grow.” | Nikita Gill
The above quote touched me and reminded me of how significant growth is and how adapting to change is vital. A year ago, our county in Steamboat Springs went into lockdown, and our mountain closed. I remember being so worried about what would happen to our valley that is so dependent on our beautiful mountain and tourism. How were businesses going to survive, would we have enough food, my family’s jobs, so much fear and unknown. I even found myself panic-buying and somehow came home with six bottles of disinfectant. While this pandemic has humbled so many of us and forced us to put things into perspective, it’s also shown how strong the human spirit is and how amazing our community truly is.
Most of us are still dealing with the effects and anxiety of this time; it’s been labeled as pandemic fatigue. Pandemic fatigue is not a medical condition but is a term used to describe the natural response people feel to the prolonged uncertainty and disruption. People “have made huge sacrifices to contain COVID-19,” says Dr. Hans Kluge, World Health Organization Regional Director for Europe. “In such circumstances, it is easy and natural to feel apathetic and demotivated, to experience fatigue.” But I think it’s essential to also look at the positives this experience has taught us. Some days I am pushed to my limit, out of my comfort zone, and forced to accept that I can’t always make hard times better. I had never filed for unemployment, never done meditation, never asked for a free community meal, had to respect not being able to leave my home, be my child’s full-time teacher, and most of all figure out how I was going to pay my bills. It’s overwhelming, scary, uncomfortable, and honestly not anything I ever would’ve expected in my lifetime. But, I not only survived but started new habits and began looking at my time like I never have before. I wanted to share a few of my take-aways from this past year as victories, and in hopes a few of the ideas might help you as well.
Daily Habits Matter. Research has proven that it takes 21 days to create a habit. But, when you practice that habit for 90 days, you’ll have built a lifestyle. Everyone is unique in what they consider self-care. Explore different methods and see what makes you happier personally. I started using Headspace every night before bed because it came as a perk with my employment. I realized it helped calm my mind, sit with my feelings, breathe deep, and most of all has allowed me to cope with my anxiety. I recently even started the practice with my daughter, and surprisingly when you are reminded to breathe, you’re giving your body permission to calm itself. Journaling was also essential in having a place to dive into the emotions and remind me what I have to be grateful about.
As we all know, moving our bodies is so crucial for our mental health, releasing endorphins, tension, as well as for our physical bodies. A simple walk, stretch session, quick yoga exercise, Just Dance game, or online video can be just what we need to feel more in control. Be your body’s friend; it has carried you through so much and deserves to be cared for. Put yourself at the top of your to-do list and make time for something that makes you smile each day. Media intake needs to be kept in check to control our thinking, avoid comparing ourselves too much and keep our minds off things we can’t change. Rather than focus on what you can no longer do, look for ways that you can take advantage of your situation.
Remember It’s Healthy To Cry. This whole year has been a lot to process. Between financial stress, shocking news, scary statistics, and uncertainty, it’s no wonder we are all feeling the effects. Many of us, including myself, feel like crying feels like giving in or that we aren’t as strong as we’d like to be. It’s important to cry and is a natural reaction to help our bodies feel better. Studies have shown that crying has numerous benefits, including decreasing stress hormones, releasing the tension, removing toxins, and helping your body feel better. Benefits from crying include the release of oxytocin and endorphins, hormones that soothe us and make us happier. A 2014 study showed that crying drops you into your parasympathetic nervous system, thereby allowing you to relax and release stress. If you feel your suppressing sadness, look for ways to help release it, like watching a sad movie, listening to deep music, calling a trusted friend or a therapist. While it can feel uncomfortable, remember that human emotions are there for a reason, and getting them out will benefit us long term.
Growth Isn’t Always Easy. During both lockdown and when I’ve had mandatory quarantine, I was forced with time on my hands like I hadn’t had since my youth. To not make me feel like I was living Groundhog Day, I started adding small attainable goals to my daily calendar. Whether it was cleaning out my storage closet, learning to cook a new recipe, organizing photos, researching a psychology topic, starting a new book, trying a new craft, working on business goals, the important thing was making sure I wasn’t wasting my day. Growth can be different things for each one of us. It can mean accepting, embodying, adjusting, observing, releasing, or relearning a new way of living our lives. This past year made us all painfully aware of injustice and that not saying anything is still taking a side. But, voices were heard, and critical issues were brought to the forefront. This pandemic has transformed lives and made us all reflect on what’s truly important.
Don’t Be Ashamed To Accept Help. Being raised in a family that taught self-reliance and hard work, I find it hard sometimes to accept help. For many years, our family always offered financial assistance, made meals, or helped others in the community. This past year the tables were turned, and it was humbling to be the family that needed help. The generosity shown touched me, that many in our community kindly dignified us and stepped up where they saw a need. From free meals to a friend gifting us a laptop, dropping off flowers, fixing things in our home, helping with technology, gifting us a free art class, a community membership, it was heartwarming to see how others gave to us without asking or wanting anything in return. In the end, I realized that when we are feeling our lowest, the best thing can sometimes be doing something nice for someone else. Remember, someone always has it worse than you, and be grateful for what you are blessed with.
Kids Need Extra Support And Time. While we all have struggled with missing social activity, it’s harder on children. Their lives are heavily dependent on social interactions and significant milestones that are formative. Try seeing things from their perspective and acknowledge how hard it truly is. While I always have prided myself in communication with my daughter, I’ve realized that children’s feelings and emotions are different from adults in this pandemic. We know how to process better, understand where emotions stem from, and learn how to cope. Recent studies have shown that many children will withdraw or not express their feelings, not worry their already stressed parents. They may quickly get upset over small things from unexpressed frustration. Instead of minimizing their feelings or trying to look on the bright side, validate their expressions, and focus on supporting and valuing their abilities.
A few ways to help them express difficult emotions could be during physical activity, allowing them to rant, using art, screaming into their pillow, talking to a therapist, anything that gets those challenging feelings out. Avoid lectures or lessons, which can cause children to tune out and become more about the parent’s feelings. Instead of asking why something happened, ask how they feel about something like a failed test or problem. Sharing our emotions and even challenges can remind them we all struggle and show we respect their feelings. Always remember to ask their opinion and be open to changes that might contribute to happier home life. Sometimes deep conversations can be best without eye contact, so try it during watching a show or even driving in the car. Show patience and remember this is also a new way of life. Make a schedule that reflects your family’s current situation and set screen time limits.
Our goals for this year are attainable and can be simpler than any resolution. Be patient with yourself and others around you. Focus on your mental health. Allow whatever emotions you need to feel. Fill your mind with what lifts you up. Whether by a text, call, email, card, or video chat, reach out to someone you care about to remind them you care. Above all, congratulate yourself on surviving the last year. Be grateful you are alive, but also hopefully this unprecedented time has taught you more about yourself. No matter what each day brings, you cannot only get through it but can come out stronger on the other side. Be kind to your body and mind, remembering you’ll have good and challenging days. Sometimes just getting up and carrying on is brave and magnificent. You will never speak to anyone more than when you talk to yourself in your head, so be gentle. We have the strength inside us to endure and come out stronger despite our circumstances.