Do you find yourself losing seconds or even minutes thinking about unusual or impossible coronavirus scenarios?
Do the most unusual things caused you to cry?
Do you find yourself longing for your friends, family, and the routines that used to frustrate you and even drive you a little crazy?
You are not alone.
In this unprecedented time, where so many parts of our daily lives have been disrupted, getting lost in thought, crying unexpectedly, or longing for stable times are natural responses.
Increased stress, paired with a lack of support created by social distancing, is a double whammy on our systems. Fortunately, you can use your skills and resources to develop a strategy to win this war.
We need stress
Human development depends on stress and responses to stress. From the time we were making primitive stone hammers until the time we were making primitive Tik-Tok videos, we have relied upon stress to build our creativity and sharpen our senses. Loss, or the fear of loss, is a motivating factor for an organism that has the power to plan into the future.
We have been able, as a species, to investigate the depths of our planet and the reaches of space, and to survive World Wars and even other plagues. We hurtle our bodies through the air in aluminum tubes to hop from one continent to another, and we have eradicated diseases that once killed large percentages of our fellow humans.
Stress pushes us to be better, faster, and more than we were yesterday.
… but not this much stress
However, there is a limit to the amount of stress and worry we can take.
When given too many conflicting details to solve a problem, or provided with excess pressure to execute in a short period of time, the human brain can simply short circuit. It can be almost as if there is a circuit breaker that trips, allowing the brain to reset and take another run at solving the problem.
Sleep often helps with that “reboot,” but what happens when you are so stressed that you cannot sleep? What if the questions are so big that the answers are almost entirely out of your control?
The good news is, there is an answer to that.
Our social networks were built to help
Our social networks, formed by proximity (neighborhoods and communities), similar interests (hobby and activity groups), similar beliefs (places of worship or exercise), and more, were built in part to help us learn to survive.
We have relied on these groups forever. They have helped us learn how to hunt and gather, and where to find the best price on LED lightbulbs. They have laughed with us, celebrated our victories with us, mourned our losses with us. They have pointed out when we had salad on our teeth, or when a certain outfit really made us look terrific. Even our less pleasant interactions were helpful because we are built to crave human interaction.
But social distancing has fractured our networks
Unfortunately, at this moment, we have become severed from these networks by fiat. We have been ordered to keep away from each other to avoid spreading this virus. None of us are immune to it, and some of us will die if we get it. Our greatest fear is to cause someone else’s death. So intentional, willful separation is the right thing to do.
Our minds crave certainty and routine
Our minds crave certainty and routine. Our minds crave social interaction. Our minds need each other, and they need the very things that are being kept from us. But this also leads us to the good news. In an era of unprecedented illness and disease, we also have the unparalleled ability to communicate through various media. We can call others, facetime, Zoom, or otherwise interact in real-time. We can record videos from our phones and share them easily via multiple methods. And because we can do that, the solution is in our hands.
Here are some specific steps you can do, starting right now, to address your own mental health.
- Create 3 to 5 daily routines and stick to them
- Include exercise in that routine – exercise releases endorphins and helps relieve stress
- Include time to create, perhaps you make music, or you want to sew surgical masks. Either one is helpful, even if you don’t share it.
- Include a time to gather national news – but not too much!
- Make a list of people you want to check on and move through the list regularly
- Who do you need to talk to daily?
- Who needs you once a week?
- Who needs one check-in now and one a few weeks from now?
- Help your family structure their time too
Of course, in a time of deep stress, sometimes we need greater help than the “self-help” offered here. If you feel like it is all too much, technology also gives us the opportunity to reach out and talk virtually with a trained counselor who can help. Counselors like Sakina Issa cannot promise to relieve your stress directly, but they can help you identify your greatest needs, and choose the best solutions. Most of all, they do it without judgment.