Solidarity Sunday #4: Coping – Part One

“…patience and perseverance generally enable mankind to overcome things which, at first sight, appear impossible. Indeed, what is there above man’s exertions?”

– George Borrow, Lavengro

How is everybody doing? Hanging in there OK? Can anyone believe we have been in the grips of this pandemic, at least here in Canada, for half a year already?

As I’ve written in previous posts, the last six months have been hard. I recognize fully that my Covid experience has been incredibly privileged compared to the vast majority of humanity. To start, I have a roof over my head. I’m warm, dry, fed, healthy, safe and am able to bubble up with at least part of our family. Both my husband and I have been able to keep bringing in paychecks and we have only one dependent who is an infant and therefore does not need to be homeschooled (I’m not supposed to be schooling an 8-month-old…right?). So, yes, all things considered, my situation could be much MUCH worse.

However, none of these privileges can fully combat the fact that we are living through a global pandemic, and one that looks on track to last a while longer (PSA: Wear your masks, people!). Not only is the isolation and fear crushing some days but learning to parent while not having access to our much-beloved support networks has been much harder than I could have possibly imagined. Yes, now we have at least one set of grandparents and a few uncles and aunts in our bubble able to help but that leaves two sets of grandparents, many uncles and aunts, and the rest of our extended family largely out of our daughter’s life for the time being. And this alone is, well, heartbreaking. As I wrote in a previous post, this is not in any way, shape, or form what I envisioned for the first year of Aria’s life. Not by a long shot.

Don’t worry, though, dear reader! This post is not meant to be all doom and gloom. I am actually going to offer below some coping mechanisms that seemed to have worked to largely bring me back to a place of calm and positivity in the midst of so much chaos and negativity. I hope they will help someone, anyone, to find even just a little bit of light in the darkness but, remember, it is still OK to not be OK. Take a deep breath. We will get through this, together.

Some nature to remind you that there is still beauty out there. Taken near Lac Simon, Quebec.

So, without further ado, here are the first 5 of my top 10 coping mechanisms I rely on when the stress and anxiety of pushing through our new normal seems to get the best of me. (NB: I decided to split this post into two when I realized that my tendency to expand exponentially on my trains of thought had led to the first 5 items becoming rather long…):

  1. Get Outside. I know it might seem the simplest thing but I find when I am struggling with anxiety or stress it is somehow the last thing to cross my mind. I love our house and am very comfortable here, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes you need to get outside the four (or however many…) walls and into the great outdoors. I can’t promise this will work for everyone but in my experience, getting out for a good walk in the fresh air, with or without company, expands my mind beyond the mental prison anxiety is so adept at building and breaks through the barriers to happiness that stress creates. Once I’ve returned home, I generally have a smile on my face and more of a spring to my step. Unless I’m experiencing a cramp of some kind. That does tend to put a damper on things…But cramps be damned! I’ll work through them eventually.
  2. Listen to some Music. Again, something so simple right? And yet…my husband and I were remarking a few months ago about how earlier in our relationship we used to always have music on and were always singing and dancing along with abandon while we did our chores, cooked our breakfast, or got ready for work. I mean, whoever was in the passenger seat on the way to work was usually still dancing until we parked and switched on public servant mode. And you know what? In the insanity of last year, we had fallen out of this habit – and it showed. We were always so tense, even small tasks felt like a chore. It was exhausting. Then one morning, randomly, Louis put on a Fleetwood Mac CD and everything changed – the whole house seemed to brighten up. Since that day, it has become a habit to throw some tunes on in the morning – one of us whips up coffee and breakfast while the other dances around the living room with our daughter. It’s my favourite time of day – when I am awake for it – and I’m not even a morning person!
  3. Reach out to loved ones. We are in the midst of an unprecedented period of isolation for most of us but, thankfully, we also have access to an unbelievable tool of connectivity in the form of the world wide web. I think at the beginning of this pandemic, the vast majority of people hit their limit of zoom meetings and online happy hours pretty quickly. One of my friends even mentioned she had more plans online than she ever made in real life! The tech burnout was swift and powerful. But now that we are pandemic pros (ugh, really Erin? No.), perhaps it is time to start reaching out to all those loved ones you might not have seen since early in the new year. I’m not saying schedule 20 virtual or socially-distant coffee dates per day but maybe reach out to one person every few days just to check in and chat. And, remember, you don’t just have to talk about Covid! I swear this is become the new “rough weather we’ve been having” fallback.
  4. Read a book. FOR FUN. The second part of this is key, it must be for fun. Now, I am the queen of squeezing productivity out of every second of every day. Everything, and I mean everything, I do must be in pursuit of one of my approximately five thousand life goals and can therefore be checked off of one of my various lists once complete. For a long time, this included reading as well. I only read things that furthered one of my goals (parenting books to be the best possible parent, news articles for staying informed, BBC long-form editorials for conversation fodder, blogs to help me become a better writer…the list goes on). But you know what I found? When all my reading was EXPLICITLY educational, it became less enjoyable. I realized I was gazing longingly at my “to read” shelf of books with no other purpose other than to entertain me and sweep me off into the wonderful world of good literature and telling myself “one day I’ll have time…”. It was only when my husband remarked that he doesn’t see me with a book in my hands very often anymore that I realized: I do have the time. I just have to allow myself to use it to escape blissfully into the pages of a great book. And, yes, if you’re wondering, I still read the productive things. Just not at the expense of my beloved novels. And, mentally, I’m better off for it. Not to mention, it has done WONDERS for my writing inspiration.
  5. Treat Yourself. This is a coping mechanism that I have struggled to perfect since the beginning of the lockdown. At the beginning, the heady mixture of postpartum hormones, breastfeeding and newborn-induced exhaustion, emotional turmoil and a sudden abrupt halt in our regular stream of visitors led me to indulge in any and every single craving that so much as popped into my head. I told myself that this was no time to force restraint and that I could get back into healthier habits once the world was back to normal. However, as the lockdown dragged on and on, I realized that giving in to all of my admittedly unhealthy cravings (fried-chicken sandwich? Yep. Tim Horton’s doughnuts? All of them. Burger and fries for dinner for the 3rd time this week? Why not, who has the energy to cook right now? You get the point…) was leaving me feeling, well, unhealthy. And feeling like crap physically caused my mental health to plummet right back to the treacherous waters of self-body-shaming and a lack of motivation to do anything to improve this distorted self-image. So, my husband and I derived a system by which we eat out once a week ONLY and we bring snacks with us when we are out and about to try and block out Timmies’ siren call. HOWEVER, some days are harder than others and on those days, I do not begrudge myself whatever treat is most loudly calling my name. My grandmother always said “everything in moderation, including moderation” and I plan to try and live my life by that motto. Now, if I could just figure out a way to stop my brain from always listing towards extreme measures, that would be fantastic. What was the point of this paragraph? Ah, yes, TREAT YOURSELF! You’re living through a global pandemic, for goodness sake.

As always, I have so much more to say, but I shall continue this in a second part to give your eyes and your attention span a break, dear reader. Now…go get outside, turn on your favourite song while you walk or give a loved one a call, then curl up with your current book and the treat of your choice. Your mental health will thank you for it.

Get Outside. Your mind and body will thank you, I promise.

And, remember, we will get through this. Nothing is above your exertions.

Finally, despite COVID, life is still beautiful

xo Erin

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