March 2020 officially goes under the “never would I ever” category of life. Never would I ever have thought I’d see a pandemic, nor the ravaging effects on what quarantining an entire nation does to the American psyche.
When all this started I thought I’d found a silver lining in a storm cloud. Being forced to stay home meant having time to finish those deep edits, then start on that new story I’ve been promising my agent I’d write. I’d blog every damn day. Call old friends and catch up. Relax. The world was giving me a chance to take a breather, and I was ready to grab the opportunity with both hands.
But I quickly realized it’s impossible to relax when my children have quarantined hundreds of miles away. And as a teacher I’d wake at three in the morning, worried if my students have enough food and are safe and warm. My parents are at high risk. My sister works in a hospital, and my brother and his family live in another state. My aunt is extremely sick, and one of my best friends is recovering from cancer–what’ll happen if she needs help?
Suddenly, that silver lining became liquid mercury–toxic, poisonous when touched, seeping into the very marrow of my bones.
A week passed. I found myself upset, sleep-deprived, and extremely self-critical because I’d been given the precious gift of time, and I was wasting it. And then came the social media posts about Shakespeare creating masterpieces while being quarantined. Even better, some “motivational speaker” on LinkedIn created a post saying, “If you don’t come out of this quarantine with a new skill, your side hustle started, or more knowledge, you never lacked time, you lacked discipline.”
Which, of course, made me feel like an utter and complete loser.
Thank God I came across an article by the incomparable Jane Friedman, entitled Writing from the Bottom Rung: How to Sustain Your Creativity During a Pandemic. In the article, Jane reminds her readers that creativity rests at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, where self-actualization exists. In order to get there we have to have security, safety, and a sense of belonging.
That day, I looked at my anxiety levels and how I could decrease them by helping to nourish the things at the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid.
And then I went and fixed that LinkedIn graphic that had been bothering me so much.
It’s working. After two weeks of struggling to string a sentence together, I’m writing again. I thought I’d share what I’m doing in hopes that I might be able to help you if you’re struggling too.
#1 Limit your news intake.
Good Lord. Listening to the news anymore is the equivalent of a “shock and awe” military campaign. One bombshell after another, overwhelming me until anxiety forms in my throat like I tried to swallow a pill and it got stuck.
And so, I’m limiting my intake of news. The key is to take in information that helps control your situation. I can’t smack Wisconsin’s supreme court for demanding the polls be open during a pandemic, putting American lives at risk. But I can contact my state government and make sure that doesn’t happen here. I can’t stop the federal government from buying all the PPE. But I can stay home so the virus doesn’t spread, lessening the need for personal protective equipment on the front line. I only read COVID information here. It’s factual and to the point. And every day at five, I grab a glass of wine and join my fellow Kentuckians on Facebook to watch our incredible Governor, Andy Beshear. My friends and I text while listening to updates. Andy reminds us that we will get through this, and we’ll do it together. Honestly, his compassion while delivering tough news has made this horrific tragedy bearable.
#2. Find a positive place on Social Media and cling to it like a liferaft in a storm.
I no longer go on my FB feed, but I do visit groups, like The Society, or Mindy Ruiz’s Heartbreakers. And, of course, I love sifting through all the memes on the Andy Beshear Memes for Social Distancing Teens. These sites frown on negative comments, which gives me a respite from the world.
#3. Compassion goes a long, long way.
Anger is rooted in fear. When someone lashes out, especially now, instead of getting offended or biting back, try to look at the situation through compassionate eyes. God knows we all need a ton of grace right now.
#4. Limit the times you allow yourself to complain but search for ways to show gratitude.
There’s science behind how constantly complaining affects your brain, your health, and even your intelligence. Complaining is a habit that affects our take on reality–but so is gratitude. I start every day by naming ten things I’m grateful for. And saying them out loud is a game-changer when it comes to shifting your mindset.
#5. Listen to music
Take some time to listen to music with strong positive emotional attachments. That song you played at your wedding, or the music you listened to when you first learned how to dance. For me, it’s Chicago, Tower of Power, or anything Genisis–music that we played in College and on the road in Drum Corp.
What about you? What are your coping skills to stay sane during this pandemic storm?