Focus on the bigger picture in the midst of COVID-19.
When we first hear of a national health crisis that we’ve never experienced before, we may respond with impatience or denial. For example, an initial response may have been, “What do you mean, my spring break trip is canceled?” or “Oh, boy, this is way overblown.”
When our expectations aren’t met, we feel something called expectation violation. This is our first emotional response, and it’s a big one. It is often our most intense response. Some examples might be:
- “I thought I was healthy … now this doctor is telling me I have a disease.”
- “I thought today would be fun … now I’m dealing with a fender bender.”
- “I thought I would be visiting family … now my flight is canceled.”
Over time, our stress can change shape and form. As we learn more facts and get a deeper understanding, our feelings can begin to level out. Then, something else can change. For example:
- “I was okay skipping going out to dinner … now I’m stuck at home for 2 weeks.”
- “I thought it would be easy to stop by the store for a few groceries … now I’m waiting in line for chicken, and I’m worried about what I’m touching.”
- “I was ready to be isolated at home for 2 weeks … now it looks like it will be more like a month.”
The Impact of Uncertainty
As we learn more about the facts of COVID-19 and our daily lives are impacted, we may feel increasingly worn down. We can start to lose faith in our grasp of the situation. It’s easy to let our worries grow. Some common thoughts might be:
- “What if it’s months before the kids can go back to school?”
- “What if my great-aunt or my mother contracts a critical case of the virus?”
- “What if I get it myself?”
Before you know it, the stress can take up a good deal of mental space.
The truth is that this is scary and unprecedented. None of us knows exactly what is coming next. But keeping things in perspective can help you to make good decisions and take care of yourself and others.
Here are some tips to help you shift away from worry and toward productive thinking and resiliency.
How many times before have you handled stress and survived?
It was a trick question. The answer is all of them.
Although you may not have been through anything quite like this, you have handled stress and challenging times. Have your finances ever been stretched too thin due to unexpected bills, loss of a job, or living beyond your means? What did you do during those times? What helped? What made things worse?
Did you talk about your feelings, make an action plan, get support, engage in hobbies, or rely on physical exercise? Those same ideas may be just what you need now.
If you start to spiral, remind yourself that you have a set of survival tools that have worked in the past. Remember, too, that we’re all in this together.
2. Let Purpose Be Your Guide
Remember the bigger picture. Although day-to-day life has changed, ask yourself to look at the world with a different view. What is actually important to you? Do you want to be a good parent? Partner? Colleague? Child? Citizen? Athlete? Artist?
If it’s hard to pin down, try this: Imagine you are winning an award. People at a big banquet are making speeches about you. What would you want them to say? Is your behavior right now consistent with that message?
To explore your values further, search for Living Your Values on myStrength’s home page.
In the short term, safe distraction makes sense. Give yourself some space from too much of the ever-changing information.
Separate yourself from the news for a while to focus on things in your real life. Watch a TV show you enjoy, play a game, do a puzzle, read for pleasure, or play with a pet.
Keep in mind: Drugs and alcohol are not likely to improve your situation. The goal is to develop short-term distractions that will not cause long-term harm.
Focus on the things you can control. Rely on accurate sources to learn how you can protect yourself and your family. Take small recommended actions like washing your hands and keeping surfaces in your home clean.
Stay on top of chores and tasks. Help your neighbors (while maintaining recommended social distancing to serve the greater good). Look for ways to support the overall well-being of your community.
Remember that you are part of something bigger. Your actions can help the greater good of your community.
Your positive responses can be a bright light in the midst of a dark time. Your choices — including how you handle expectation violation — are important.
Flourishing refers to the parts of life that bring you joy. What can help you flourish? Research suggests that doing something that gives you a sense of accomplishment is important. It doesn’t have to be huge.
Write a letter, make a meal, or paint a picture. Clean out a single drawer. Walk around the block. If you are working, be grateful for the work you can do. Any accomplishment can add to a sense of optimism and control.
If you are struggling with finding perspective, virtually reach out to others in your support system. Talking with others and hearing other thoughts and ideas can be very helpful. You don’t have to talk about the crisis at hand (although it may be hard not to). Connecting for its own sake can be enough.
If you are struggling with anxiety or panic, consider professional support, too. Many professionals offer video therapy options. If you need resources, consider the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Disaster Distress Helpline. Remember, you can always use the other myStrength resources to help you as well.
Focus on the Future
We are living in uncertain times. Our near future is hard to predict. Our daily lives will be impacted over the days to come. We will have to be flexible. We also know that at some point there will be an end to restrictions and at some point we will find our way back to normalcy. How we react during this time will matter, and what we learn from it will determine how we move forward.