How to Cope, Stay Hopeful and Find Joy in Coronavirus Land

Six months in, we’re discouraged that the pandemic is still raging. Many schools won’t open normally this fall. Much of the world is still shut down and many of the activities and gatherings that make life fun and meaningful are on hold indefinitely. We’re plodding along, putting one foot in front of the other and trying not to think too much or feel too frustrated.

Many of us are functioning in survival mode. While this is understandable, it’s hardly inspiring. On the other hand, the idea of thriving in the current situation seems unrealistic.

So how can we best cope with the current reality without giving up on joy and hope altogether? How can you live as fully as possible when life is so hard?

Here are three strategies that will help you reduce stress and anxiety and choose joy on a daily basis.

Best way to cope: Adopt an appropriate mindset.

The best way to cope with the present is to accept it and adjust accordingly. Maybe you’ve already done so - you’ve adopted pandemic standards that are more forgiving and flexible and make sense for the current time.

If you’re still finding it difficult to let go of your pre-pandemic expectations, I encourage you to let the unprecedented enormity of what’s happening right now give you permission to “do” life differently for the time being.

Woman pointing at her own temple

When coronavirus stampeded into our lives, it was as if we moved overnight to a foreign country where the landscape, language, and cultural challenges are completely different. In the space of a few days, we started throwing around words like “PPE”, “flattening the curve” and “quarantine”, driving deserted city streets to the grocery store, and navigating the complexities of social distancing while wearing face masks.

It’s important to appropriately adapt our expectations and behavior just as we would with any other big change so we don’t lose our minds.

Here are some of the changes you can expect in Coronavirus Land and how you can cope.

  • Your energy level might vary widely from moment to moment. You might feel exhausted and need lots of sleep one day or experience inexplicable bursts of energy on another. Go with the flow as much as you can, even if it doesn’t make sense to your conscious self.
  • Your emotions might be unpredictable and confusing. Don’t beat yourself up if what you feel doesn’t match how you think you should feel at a given moment. There’s bound to be lots of latent emotional processing going on for months, and emotions have a life of their own. Just acknowledge it and let it be. (It will probably be different in five minutes, anyway.)
  • Your patience and self-control are probably much lower. As you struggle to meet day-to-day obligations, give yourself lots of grace. Learn to apologize sincerely and quickly when you make a mistake, and then - and this is really important: Let. It. Go. Having bad moments doesn’t mean you’re a bad person; it means you’re under duress trying to cope with a bad situation.
  • Your ability to concentrate might be compromised, requiring you to break up tasks that require lots of focus into manageable chunks of time. Give yourself regular mental breaks by sprinkling your day with small bouts of activities that are relaxing and fun. (For example, my husband and I are watching more comedy lately, including Jim Gaffigan and Dry Bar Comedy which are both full of family friendly laughs.)
  • You might need to incorporate more distraction into your daily life to help you cope with the enormity of this (terrible, no good, BOO!) situation in manageable doses. The pandemic itself and the continuous challenges it presents are a lot to process all at once. My advice? Don’t even try.

Best way to feel hopeful: Reframe.

Woman pointing at her own temple

The confusing and sometimes unpleasant truth is that terrible times often bring tremendous positive change. This perspective can be lost on us when in the throes of hardship, but the situation might be easier to bear if we remember that this adversity may yield some real benefits down the road. Just like the Great Depression brought about Social Security, and the Civil War paved the way for the adoption of the 14th and 15th Amendments, when all this is over we might benefit from much-needed positive individual and social changes that would have been hard to achieve otherwise.

It can also help to remember that periods of upheaval are common for both individuals and societies. Anthropologists call these episodes “liminal periods,” life intervals marked by tremendous upheaval and uncertainty that often lead to substantial positive change or personal growth. Anthropologist Victor Turner said that liminal periods are moments of “pure possibility” where anything can happen.

“We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned so as to accept the life that is waiting for us.” - Joseph Campbell

It’s also important to remember that liminal periods always come to an end. This can be hard to fathom now while we’re smack in the “messy middle” of the pandemic, but even potential future benefits are hard to care about right now, they aren’t any less likely to occur.

Best way to do more than just survive: Find joy every day.

I worry that some of us will emerge from COVID with nothing but a sense of loss, perpetual anxiety and disappointment. On the one hand, I firmly believe our losses and disappointments are real and should be acknowledged and mourned (read this for more about how to do so without giving in to despair.) On the other hand, focusing only on loss will keep you stuck on a path of gloom and doom and that isn’t good for anyone.

Woman pointing at her own temple

Keep seeking experiences that make getting out of bed in the morning truly worthwhile. Here are a few simple ways to find choose joy and find meaning each day:

  • Seek out the funny and light-hearted.
  • Treat yourself to some indulgent self-care, whatever that looks like for you.
  • Make a point to connect with someone in a meaningful way, even if briefly.
  • Do something small, nice and unexpected for someone else.
  • Tell someone how much they mean to you.
  • Give someone who needs it your support, or let them help you.
  • Unbury treasures from your past and enjoy them. Pictures from the fabulous trip. Your kid’s box of baby clothes and toys. The journal you kept when you were a kid. The memento from the fabulous concert.

“Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy. - Anne Frank

Folks, it looks like we might need to settle into this new reality for the long haul. Be sure to make yourself as comfortable as possible in Coronavirus Land. Indulge in a little extra self-care. Do what’s necessary to avoid giving in to despair and losing sight of what truly makes life meaningful and enjoyable.

In part, this means developing the patience to “honor the space between no longer and not yet,” says life coach Nancy Levin. And remember, history has shown us that all periods of uncertainty and upheaval come to an end eventually. In the meantime, go easy on yourself and others, and remember that pockets of joy can be found anywhere at any time.