Being able to cope during difficult times, such as these, is an invaluable skill.
Life moves in cycles. Sometimes we are up and sometimes we are down. The upcycles are good, but the downcycles can be difficult to handle.
Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, humanity is currently going through a down cycle. This makes the question, "What is the best answer when life slows down?", Extremely relevant.
Most of us were caught off guard by the corona virus, and I know many people are scared and full of anxiety right now. I wrote this article to share with you some management mechanisms that I hope will help you get through the current situation.
After all, your life is not defined by what happens to you, but by how you respond to it. Here is a quote that illustrates this point:
“Life is not as it should be, it is the way it is. How you manage is what makes the difference. ”- Virginia Satire
Below you will find some ideas on how to cope when it gets tough. Specifically, I will give you some ideas for managing during COVID-19.
Practice Acceptance: The Tug-of-War metaphor
I will be completely honest with you. When this pandemic began, and the Panama government issued a closure order, I had a lot of trouble accepting what was happening. Everything seemed like a bad dream. This is what I kept saying to myself:
“This can't happen! Everything was fine and suddenly we are in a pandemic! How is that possible? This is 21st century! Why don't we have the ability to handle this without forcing everyone to jail in their own homes? "
Fortunately, after a few weeks of this, I realized that my inability to accept what was happening didn't help me in any way. On the contrary: I felt anxious and upset all day. I decided to find a way to accept the pandemic.
After all, pandemics are nothing new. Throughout history, humanity has lived through plagues, pests and pandemics. In the words of the Franco-Algerian writer and philosopher Albert Camu:
“Everyone knows that pests have a way of coming back into the world; but somehow we have a hard time believing in those who crash our heads from a blue sky. There have been as many plagues as wars in history; but always torment and war surprise people equally. "
Outbreaks of infectious diseases are part of human existence, and we will still do so. Resisting or fighting this fact will not help us in any way. Handling under COVID-19 requires that we accept it.
Acceptance simply means allowing what should be. It does not mean that you like it or that you approve it. What this means is that you stop fighting for what is, which is a meaningless battle.
We have to accept reality for all of the following reasons:
- Refusing to accept reality does not change it.
- There is a lot of mental pain associated with this pandemic. Most plans have been peeled off, and they are afraid for their health and financial security, as well as for their loved ones. But to fight what only increases the pain we go through.
- Once we have accepted what is, we can begin to think about how we can do things better.
A good way to practice acceptance is to use the tug of war metaphor.
I have already written about Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT) on this blog before. Basically, it is a form of therapy that uses metaphors as a tool to help people understand abstract concepts and better use those concepts to change their behavior.
I recently came across a great ACT metaphor that has helped me accept this pandemic. It's the metaphor of the drag.
Imagine that you are involved in a tug of war with a monster. In this case, the monster is coronavirus. You can even make your monster look like COVID-19: gray and all around, with red pointed tufts sticking out in all directions. Yuk!
You hold each one at one end of a long rope. There is a bottomless pit between you and the monster, and you pull as hard as you can to avoid being dragged into the pit (the pit symbolizes being overwhelmed by the "monster" you are facing).
But the harder you draw, the harder it draws monsters. After a while you start getting tired of pulling, but you know you have to keep going. Soon you are exhausted. But the monster hasn't even sweated.
What makes it worse is that there are many other things you would rather do instead of standing there with all your attention on the monster. Some of you know that this fruitless tug of war is a complete waste of time and energy, but you can't stop dragging because you will fall into the pit.
What should you do?
The best thing you can do is drop the rope. Just stop fighting with monsters. Admit it is there but turn your attention to the other things you would rather do – work on your goals, relax and get involved in other tasks that are in line with your values.
When you drop the rope, the monster will not disappear. In fact, it will probably throw the rope on you to try to get you to re-enter with it. But you can refuse to grab the rope. No matter how many times the monster throws the rope on you, you can simply let the rope fall to the floor.
Don't fight monsters. That is, do not argue with what is. Every time you think "Why is this happening?" or "How can it be?", say to yourself: "Drop the rope!" This is a great way to cultivate the fact that the COVID monster is now part of your life and will be for the foreseeable future.
Focus on what you can control
Once you have accepted what is, you can begin to take action to make things better. You do this by removing your focus from the things you cannot control and placing it on the things that are under your control.
Right now, there are many things that are out of your control. Here are some of them:
- You may have been working on an important project that has been postponed indefinitely due to the pandemic.
- Your government can restrict your mobility (for your own safety).
- Maybe your vacation plans were canceled.
- Someone you care about may have become ill.
It does not help you in any way to constantly fix things that are not under your control. Doing so will only result in stress, worry and helplessness.
Instead, you need to shift your focus to what you can control. Make a list of the things you can control in your little world, even during the COVID era. Here are some examples:
- You can stay at home as much as your situation allows.
- You can wear a mask and practice social distancing as you go out to get food or take care of other essential tasks.
- You can avoid touching your face, washing your hands frequently and using antibacterial gel.
- You can create a routine for yourself so that your day does not feel unfocused and unstructured.
- You can get started on projects that you can work on from home.
I will share with you an exercise that will help you focus on the things you can control.
A while back I wrote on this blog about a teenager named Sam Berns (1996 – 2014). He suffered from progeria, a rare genetic disorder that manifests as aging at a very young age. There were many things other kids his age could do that Sam couldn't.
But instead of focusing on all the things he couldn't do, Sam would focus on all the activities he could do and be passionate about. This included things like the following:
- Play music.
- Reading series.
- Watch sports.
At the same time, he looked at the list of things he really wished he could do but couldn't, and he was looking for ways to make adjustments so he could do them. One example was playing the string drums in his high school's marching band.
The snare drums and harness needed to carry the drums were just too heavy for Sam's frightening body. But he really wanted to join the band. So, Sam and his parents hired an engineer to work on the problem.
The engineer came with a snare drum device – which included the drum and drum carrier – which weighed only about 6 kilos. With this adaptation, Sam was able to achieve his dream of marching with the band.
The simple exercise to focus on what you can control that can be derived from Sam's philosophy is the following:
- First, focus on the things you can do instead of thinking about the things you cannot do.
- Second, look at the list of things you can't do – and wish you could – and select one of them. Then start looking for creative ways to make adjustments, find an alternative way to do things, or change the goal slightly so you can do it.
Use me as an example
Here are three things I love to do that I can still do (even during lockdown):
- Read good literature. I have read this quarantine, "The Plague", by Camus and will read, "A Journal of the Plague Year", by Daniel Defoe next.
- Learn new skills. I learn to sing.
- Listen to music.
And here are three things I can't do, but if I make adjustments I can get some or all of the benefits of the activity:
- I can't go out and jog – Panama has a very strict quarantine – but I can do cardio by jumping rope in my living room.
- I can't visit my sister and my nephew, but I can visit them practically via Zoom.
- I can't go to the gym to lift weights, but I can follow a routine I created for myself with a pair of dumbbells and a kettlebell that I own.
Go ahead and create your own list of things you love to do and still can, despite COVID. Then think about the things you would like to be able to do but can't do, and look for ways to do them with some adjustments.
Practicing self-care is always important, but it becomes even more so during difficult times. To maintain your strength during these tough times, you need to take care of your own well-being. This means eating healthy meals, getting enough sleep and staying hydrated.
In addition to the strategies I described above, there are many self-care strategies that will help you cope with all the new challenges we now face because of COVID. Here are some of the ones I recommend:
- Follow a morning routine that includes a stress reduction technique that will help you set for the day. I do something called Five Tibetan rites– Which is similar to a 10-minute yoga routine – and I meditate for 10 minutes each morning.
- I have added "breathe" to my schedule. I have divided my day into several 25-minute pieces, and after each piece I give myself 5 minutes to be aware and breathe deeply.
- I do some stretches and weight exercises 6 days a week and jump rope for 10 minutes daily. (If you haven't tried skipping rope, try it. I enjoy it tremendously. Plus, it will make you feel like a kid again.)
- Give yourself a little treat every day. I allow myself to have two chocolate chip cookies with breakfast every morning during quarantine. It is a small reminder that there is still something good in the world. 😊
- Make sure you do something fun. I had not seen the Marvel Universe movies and I decided to do it under quarantine. Every night before bed I spend some time with Iron Man, Black Widow, Captain America and the other Avengers. It's a fun and relaxing way to end the day.
In addition, for those times during the day when I start to feel sad, worried or overwhelmed, I recite a mantra. Here are three I like:
- "It is what it is."
- "One day at a time."
- "Breathe in I calm my body, breathe out I smile."
Create a self-care routine for yourself and you have easier time managing during COVID-19.
I'm a big one Lord of the Rings fan, and here's a quote from the trilogy that refers to dealing with difficult times:
"I wish it hadn't happened in my time," Frodo said.
"So do I," said Gandalf, "and so do all who live to see such times. But it is not for them to decide. All we need to decide is what to do with the time given to us. "
– J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
How do you handle COVID-19? Live your best life by learning to deal with adversity.