As though, knowing that everything is possible, suddenly nothing is necessaryDiana Gabaldon, Outlander
How is everyone doing? We are now in the 12th month of Covid-19-induced social distancing and the pandemic is showing no real signs of abating any time soon…so I imagine you have all been better?
One the bright side, if you’re reading this, you are alive. And that, in itself, is something positive.
Now that the days are shorter and we are well into a time of year that is difficult for many even without an international health crisis, I thought this might be a good time to introduce the second half of my post about coping mechanisms which I have found to be particularly useful to get me through these trying times largely in one piece.
And so, without further ado, here they are. I hope, if you are struggling, that one or several of these resonates with you and helps you to find some joy in an otherwise frustrating and disheartening time.
6) Move your body
I know I mentioned getting outside in my last post and, yes, I’m aware that unless you are getting outside in a car with the windows down or on a motorized scooter you are likely moving your body already when you do this. However, might I gently suggest moving your body in some additional way that makes you feel good? Going for a walk, a run or a cross-country ski are fantastic mood-boosters, don’t get me wrong. But, if you’re like me, you are likely spending an unreasonable amount of time either sitting in front of your computer screen or hunched over your phone, tapping away at keys, unaware of how crunched and tense your body has become.
Now, I know yoga isn’t for everyone (though, if you haven’t ever given it a shot, I highly recommend it), but any kind of mindful movement will fulfill your body’s need to uncurl regularly and stretch out its tired muscles. Yoga is great but how about some pilates? Maybe a spirited Zumba session? Or, perhaps, strength training is your jam. Whatever kind of movement calls to you, try to get some in every day – even when you really don’t feel like it. Trust me, there are many days when I avoid getting on the mat as if the floor is suddenly lava but most days I’m able to push myself to do it anyway. And, once I’ve completed a practice and am lying on the floor in shavasana, I can almost hear every single cell in my body thanking me for taking care of it. I promise your body will thank you too.
7) Cook yourself something delicious – with veggies!
I’m sure we are all guilty of taking the easy (if not easier on our wallets) way out throughout this pandemic and ordering our dinner in instead of following the meal plan so lovingly crafted the day before or throwing a ready-made pizza in the oven for the 3rd time this week. Don’t get me wrong, some nights I do NOT have the energy to cook. Whether it is because my daughter had a rough sleep the night before or because I have a headache or because I’m lazy…I can find approximately 5 million excuses not to cook when I really don’t feel like it, even if I already had the meal all planned out.
However, when you are feeling up to it, there is truly nothing like a home-cooked meal – whether you make it for yourself or for the loved ones in your bubble…or for you and your dog! No judgment here, friends. Whatever your situation may be, treat yourself to your favourite dish prepared by yours truly in your own kitchen. And remember, this doesn’t have to be fancy (unless you like fancy, of course, you do you). Does Mac and Cheese sound like just the thing? Skip the KD and try whipping up a batch of your own version – it’s easier (and cheaper!) than you think. More into burgers and fries? Challenge yourself to create a burger that combines all of your favourite things – the kind of burger you would see on a menu at The Works (for those not in Canada…this is a mouthwateringly creative burger chain here and now I’m craving it). Whatever you love to eat most – I bet you can make it yourself. In fact, I challenge you to do this at least once this week. And, since I can feel every authority figure in my life reminding me of this as I write about food – add some veggies to your meal for goodness sake.
8) Set goals – no matter how small.
Having dragged on for almost a year now, these pandemic days can seem to bleed into each other. When working, learning, playing and socializing from our couches what do the days of the week even mean anymore? I for one have been known to miss or almost miss an appointment or two simply because I have no idea if it is Monday or Friday, January or February!
Though some have remarked that we are only now discovering how much time there truly is in a day without the constant demands of our busy 21st century lifestyles, time can start to seem less meaningful when we are unable to fill it with our usual activities (both for better or for worse). Without an appreciation of time and how it works, it can be hard to find the motivation to set goals, big or small, since we don’t seem to have any concept of when or how life will return to normal. In other words, what’s the point of setting a healthy eating goal when Lord knows when I’ll be able to feel safe doing more regular grocery runs? My time is more likely better spent enjoying all my favourite foods instead of meal-planning and agonizing over whether all the ingredients I need will even be available during my once-every-three-weeks grocery run.
Well, dear reader, I completely understand the need to make things as easy as possible on yourself during these uncertain and draining times. And I’m not saying you can’t seek comfort in the small things that bring you happiness and a sense of control when everything seems to be spinning in chaos around you. What I am saying is that setting small goals can add to that sense of control – and they don’t have to be anything earth-shattering to have this effect. I have implemented a 5-daily-goals system where some are tiny things that I know make me happy (read some articles) and some are small steps towards larger long term goals (go through my January photos of my daughter and order my favourites). As long as you stick to the size of breadth of goals that you can mentally and physically handle at this time, I promise the feeling of accomplishment as you check even the smallest of tasks off your list will start to breathe some life and add structure into these ill-defined days and weeks to come.
9) Write down future plans
This is a natural follow-up to the setting of goals in my opinion. Right now, all we know is isolation and anxiety – but it won’t always be like this. Even the 1918 flu pandemic, which spread just as quickly and turned out to be far more deadly, ended eventually. At the end of all this we may need to spend some time piecing what normal life looks like back together but we will return to some semblance of normal. Friends will gather, loved ones will hug, birthdays will be celebrated with large guest lists and too much food. It will all come back to us, one piece at a time.
Until this time comes, what better way to convince ourselves that there is light indeed at the end of this tunnel then by planning for the inevitable day when we will all be able to relearn the appropriate distance for holding a private conversation and the purpose of pants (and bras – am I right ladies?)? I’m not saying plan something for a specific date, as this will likely lead to disappointment, but dream a little with me. As we just celebrated my daughter’s first birthday in isolation, I have started planning how we will celebrate her birthday properly if belatedly once this is over. And yes, I realize she couldn’t care less and being a pandemic baby will likely be more overwhelmed than anything at the sudden influx of attention (sorry, Aria). But this celebration is something my husband and I consider a right of passage and therefore something we look forward to hosting once hosting is no longer taboo.
So what are some things you would like to do once you are free to do so? It doesn’t have to be as big as a wedding or retirement party. What about a good ol’ fashioned coffee date with your girlfriends? A playdate for your kids? A game of Muggle Quidditch? High Tea? Whatever you miss most about your pre-Covid life, dream up a plan to do these things and keep it somewhere safe until you can draw it out in triumph and call up the guests.
10) Remember to Breathe and let yourself feel
This is by far my most important coping mechanism and therefore the one I forget to do most often. It came to me when I realized that my shoulders and neck were in a constant state of immobility and my digestion was suffering from one form of disarray or another. It was then that I realized I was spending most of my day alternately holding my breath as I read one difficult piece of news after another or taking shallow, quick breaths as I tried to ignore my rising anxiety. I’m not saying that breathing properly is a cure-all but you would be surprised at how much better you can feel overall if you just take the deep, full breaths several times a day. It only takes a few minutes to focus on your breath and this can be done on even your busiest day.
Why not try it now? Find a comfortable spot to sit and just take a long, deep breath in. Really fill your lungs, your diaphragm, the deepest breath you have taken in months. Then hold it there for a few seconds, be grateful that you have the lung strength during a respiratory pandemic to even do this exercise, and then let it out – slow and controlled. Do this once more, maybe twice, maybe three more times! Now take note of how much clearer your head feels, how your muscles feel just a bit more relaxed, how everything suddenly seems less dire. Magic, isn’t it?
OK, I know that was rather long, but if you have made it this far – kudos. I hope even one of the coping mechanisms I have shared in this two-part posts resonates for you, maybe even helps to bring you some joy amidst our collective sorrow.
Remember, even during a global pandemic, your potential is unlimited. Just don’t stretch yourself too thin – even if everything remains possible, not everything is necessary. Take it easy and breathe. Just breathe.
And, remember, Life is beautiful.