Yesterday morning I woke up to a text from a dear friend that said:
Can you title your next blog “how to avoid losing your shit when everything is falling apart?” Because that would be good for me.
Of course I said hell yes, so here we are.
Whew, you guys. It sure is a shit show out there right now, huh? COVID-19 is spreading rapidly in the US, and our hometown is suffering not just with positive cases, but with businesses closing, people losing their jobs, and paper products becoming their own kind of currency. Along with most of the country (and the world), we’re staying home and “social distancing”, which really is just isolating ourselves and our families for everyone’s safety. If you know anything about mental health, you know that isolation is to anxiety and depression as gasoline is to a fire. Also, THESE KIDS, amirite? I love my son more than anything, but if he doesn’t stop touching me, I am going to run into traffic. Please, son, just stay 6 ft away. It’s for your own safety, I promise.
In the past few days, I’ve noticed a spectrum of reactions from people about this virus – from those who think this is all blown out of proportion and are carrying on with their daily lives, to those who are sharing every doomsday article on Facebook while on lockdown for the foreseeable future. I’ve seen this crisis bring about the very best in people (feeding hungry people, protecting the elderly and vulnerable, sharing their gifts and talents for free to take our minds off the chaos for a moment), as well as the very worst in people (acting like total asshats in traffic, hoarding necessities, just being rude in general). I’ve noticed it bring out the very best and the very worst in myself as well, sometimes within the same hour.
Glennon Doyle says that the root meaning of the word “crisis” is “to sift”. Imagine sifting for gold in a river – a crisis separates the sand from the gold, until we’re left with only what matters. Everything else shakes away. I believe that this crisis in particular is sifting in multiple areas. For me, it’s causing the busy-ness, the noise, the hustle, and the distractions to fall away, until I’m left only with my loved ones, nature, books, art, writing, and myself. It’s peeling back the layers until I’m left with only what is truly essential. It’s beautiful and surprising and hard. In fact, it’s almost painful.
I’m not good at slowing down. I love distractions. As an enneagram 7, distractions are my favorite coping mechanism. But now I’m being stripped of my distractions, and sitting by myself with my thoughts and feelings, while being essential, isn’t fun. It’s almost as if some of this is sifting out poop in a litter box, rather than gold in a river. A lot of our comforts and distractions are being taken away, until we’re left looking at our own shit eye-to-eye. (Metaphorically, I hope.) It’s a forced reckoning with ourselves.
So what do we do when it’s all too much? When the pressure is so great that we can feel in our bones the bending and the cracking and the breaking? Are there Frozen 2 quotes to guide us? (The answer to that is yes. Frozen 2 will always guide us.)
How do we avoid losing our shit when everything is falling apart?
Feel your Feelings
Be honest with yourself. Have a check in with your mind and body 3 times a day – morning, afternoon, and evening – and really notice your body. Where are you carrying tension? How are you really feeling? The first step to dealing with uncomfortable emotions is to realize what those emotions are and name them. Feeling nervous? Frustrated? Terrified? Numb? Desperate? Are you clenching your jaw? Biting your nails? Holding your breath? Notice these feelings and behaviors, examine them, and sit with them for a minute. Don’t judge them. Don’t judge yourself for feeling them. Look at them with curiosity – where are they coming from? Why are they here? Feelings are usually trying to serve you or protect you in some way. Notice what they are, why you’re feeling them, and then you’ll be able to let them go easier. You don’t have to do anything with those feelings at all. Just notice them.
Control What You Can
Everything feels so out of control right now. It seems like everything is happening to us and like we have no agency over our lives. When this happens it makes us feel like trapped animals, which puts us in a kind of fight or flight mode. We get angry and snap easily, or we feel the urge to just leave and go somewhere. Anywhere. Sometimes we feel a mix of the two. We can combat this feeling by finding things that we can control. We can control what we do in our homes. We can control, for the most part, what we choose to consume, in regards to both food and media. We can control how we nourish ourselves and how we pass the time and how we take care of ourselves and our families. We have control over more than we think, so let’s shift our focus to that.
Take it a Day at a Time
We don’t know how long this will last. We don’t know the exact havoc that this is going to wreak on our hometown or our country or our world. We can’t see the future. And that’s why we have to take it a day at a time. Sometimes a minute at a time. If we try to look too far ahead, we’ll get overwhelmed. Speaking from personal experience, the thought of being a SAHM with my 4-year-old makes my eye twitch. You SAHMs are true goddesses. But if I take it one day at a time, one activity at a time, one meal and snack at a time, I can handle this. So can you.
Know That You’re Not Alone
It’s strange, but even though we can’t all actually be “together”, we are more united in this than we’ve been in a long, long time. Have you noticed? There’s such a sense of universality – a sense of in-this-togetherness. We’re struggling, but we’re struggling alongside one another. Reach out to your friends and loved ones during this time. Check on your people. Text someone to vent. If you need a mental health professional, now would be a good time to look into Talkspace or BetterHelp – both are agencies that provide counseling with a licensed therapist through text, video, or chat. FaceTime with family or friends. When we’re home alone all day, it’s easy to forget that everyone else is in this, too. Even if you can’t physically get together with people, try your best to connect in other ways.
Most of all, be kind to yourself. We’re all new to this, and we’re all just doing our best.
** I tried to search for the artist responsible for the cover image, but couldn’t find anything. If anyone knows the artist, please let me know so I can give them credit!