It's not like things weren't a bit nuts already.
Years of exhausting political unrest. Massive fires in Australia. Nuclear posturing. Economic uncertainty. The list goes on.
Now, a global health crisis has been labeled a pandemic and has upended the reassuring rhythm of daily life.
Feeling stressed out and uncertain is more than understandable. Our concerns are real. We fear for the health and safety of our families and communities. And no one knows how bad this will get or how long the disruption will last.
We’re all taking appropriate measures to stay safe and healthy, and experts say that most of us will probably get through this relatively unscathed. Like all things, this too will pass. Life will eventually get back to normal.
But how do we want to show up during this time of uncertainty, for ourselves and each other? Is it possible to not just survive, but thrive in these trying times?
It helps to keep a few important things in mind.
First, disliking a situation and being unable to cope with it effectively are two different things. I can feel one way and behave another. I can feel anxiety and frustration, but behave with reason and kindness.
There are some things we could use in abundance right now (understanding, optimism, a sense of humor) while other things are better kept in check (a tendency to panic or passing judgment on those who aren’t responding to the crisis the way we think they should).
The truth is none of us is going to get our response to this “just right”; even health professionals don’t agree on what that means. We’re all coping the best way we know how, so let’s remember to be understanding and cut each other some slack.
Second, it’s important to stay the course when possible. I know that maintaining health and a sense of well-being are especially important in times of stress. It’s important to exercise, get enough sleep, eat well, etc.
Maintaining a self-care routine also helps us focus on the things that are within our control when so much feels out of control. Keeping established routines when possible also gives us and those in our care a sense of structure and reassurance.
Third, distraction is sometimes my best friend. It’s tempting to incessantly check the latest infection statistics, freak out at the pictures of empty store shelves in your social media feed (should I go back and get another package of toilet paper?? More bread??), or obsess about our rapidly disappearing retirement account balances.
But obsessing is worse than useless - it fuels panic, which saps us of things we need most right now, like patience and positive energy. Personally, I’ll check in periodically with a few reliable sources to see if there is any new, useful information I need to have. Then I’ll go do something else entirely and just fugget about it for a while.
I’ll tackle work and home projects that will bring me satisfaction, breaking them into tiny steps if necessary so they feel manageable. I’ll share funny memes with friends and family. I’ll try a new recipe.
Fourth, we need joy more than ever right now. In times of crisis, we can become so consumed with protecting our future selves that we forget to tend to the self that exists right now.
When the chips are down, finding moments of joy is really important. Joy-seeking has a spontaneity to it that brings us back to the present. And while the terms “joy” and “tenacity” might seem like strange bedfellows, when times are tough I fully believe that we need to pursue joy tenaciously.
During times of crisis, we need to deliberately seek out moments of joy (or simple pleasure, if joy feels too elusive) with the same zeal we’d practice if we were searching for seashells along the shore. We should delight in each found treasure then eagerly search for more. Moments of joy can be strung together and form a sort of talisman against anxiety and frustration.
Joy is an anti-gravity fix for world-weary souls.
Since emotions are contagious, your joy can help others think and feel more positively as well, “infecting” them with an emotional buoyancy that counters the weight of anxiety and fear.
- Look back through your pictures and savor the good memories
- Rewatch a favorite movie, or find a new one
- Order a puzzle online and listen to a new podcast while putting it together with your kids
- If you’re working from home, use what is normally your commute time to start a home project you’ve been putting off
- Download the Duolingo language app and learn a new language
Being cautious and experiencing stress make sense at this time. But we might be in this for the long haul, and things might get worse before they get better. Let’s not squander the opportunities we have right now to experience and share compassion and joy. Now is when we need these things most - even if they require a little more effort and a lot more hand sanitizer.
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Want more thoughts on joy? Click here to read “Let’s Get Our JOY on!”