Things are opening up – now what?
Pandemic restrictions are starting to lift across the nation and people are definitely conflicted about what to feel regarding many aspects of this. It’s understandable to feel nervous when there are still so many unknowns. Additionally, there seems to be conflicting reports nearly everyday and it can be confusing to try to navigate recommendations when the experts can’t even agree on what practices are best. There are also social disagreements and heated arguments regarding how to proceed and who is responsible and what actions should occur. It’s a lot to process all at once – no wonder people feel conflicted and concerned!
It’s always important to consider underlying emotions when dealing with a highly charged situation. What I’ve noticed most often, regardless of the perspective being presented, is that the core emotion behind most of the arguments is……fear. We’re collectively afraid. Some are afraid of financial crisis and inability to support their livelihoods while others are afraid of having to go back to work before it feels safe enough to do so. Some are afraid of contracting this virus while others are afraid this experience signifies a shift in government control. Some are afraid that nothing will go “back to normal”…while others are afraid it will. And disagreements of perspective aside, those are all valid feelings which are impacting the way we are all handling this situation.
Add to that the grief that people are dealing with both individually and collectively, and it’s a lot to bear at once. On Sunday, the New York Times dedicated their front page to the names of nearly 100,000 people who have lost their lives to COVID-19. It was a powerful tribute attempting to convey the scope of devastation caused by the pandemic. Whether you personally knew someone affected or not, such a great loss over such a short period of time takes a toll on society. Think for a moment about the sheer impact of losing thousands of loved ones so suddenly - thousands of smiles, thousands of potential memories, thousands of artists and scientists and teachers and caregivers and all of the other things those people were and would have been. It is simply incalculable to quantify this. We are experiencing a time of collective grief on a magnitude unlike anything this generation has experienced before.
So what do we do as we move forwards? My recommendation: grieve. There has been not only an enormous loss of life, but a loss of way of life as well. And that matters. There is a loss of sense of safety and security, a loss of connection with others, a loss of routine, a loss of financial well-being, and more. It’s okay to grieve that as well. There is also something called anticipatory grief, and that stems from a fear of future loss. Basically, uncertainty about what can happen going forwards and how we may be affected later on. Recognizing that you are likely grieving – either individually, or collectively – is a good start, but allow yourself to spend some time processing this. A variety of different options exist to process grief and it will depend on your own preference as to how you decide to manage this. A few simple options that people may find helpful include creating something that memorializes others whether it is a scrapbook or planting something special in a garden or making a donation to a cause on behalf of someone else. Some find that journaling or creating art can help to work through difficult feelings. Some prefer tasks such as making something which embodies the experience of this time - a cookbook of recipes created while at home, a collection of newspaper clippings, or photographs of daily experiences to look back on one day. Others find that simply shedding tears and physically releasing the emotion is beneficial. And yes, it’s ok to cry – it has both psychological and physiological benefits. Whatever works for you, though, spend some time acknowledging your grief and fear and doing what you need to in order to feel the emotion as this is the only way to work through it.
Beyond that though, this sense of loss also tells us what we value. What we miss often tells us what is important, and sometimes that is overlooked until something make us realize that it is missing. Sit with yourself in quietude and reflect on what this collective experience has taught you about what matters most. Do you value time with friends and loved ones and realize that you weren’t prioritizing quality time? Does being home more now make you realize that you value a slower pace to life and you were rushing too much previously? Has this experience made you wish you did that one thing that you’ve always wanted to do, whatever it may be? Or maybe this pandemic has given you a new perspective with regards to being grateful and truly present in every moment and going forwards you want to make more effort in that area. Decide on what the last few months have taught you about what is important to you, and make a conscious effort starting now to spend more time on those aspects of life. We know that intentional decision making and conscious effort helps to improve levels of happiness and feelings of control – which in turn reduces feelings of fear and anxiety. Additionally, consciously focusing on what you value can help bring meaning to life – which in turn can help with processing grief and feeling a greater level of life satisfaction overall, even despite ongoing difficult circumstances. Doing this will quite literally help you to heal.
Be gentle with yourselves and with each other in the coming weeks….we’re all grieving and healing and trying to make sense of what is happening right now. Spend some time in reflection and be mindful to be compassionate in your interactions. This won't change what is going on in the world right now, but it might just help you cope with it. Focus on what you can do; it will always feel more empowering than focusing on what you cannot. And if you feel inclined to do so, I would love to hear a little of what you learned about yourself and what you value through this activity.