By Laura Notton RSW, MSW
March 20, 2020 is the day COVID-19 changed our world as we knew it. Who we lived with, how we worked, how we connected with family and friends—our entire existence was instantly and forcibly changed. Not everyone was infected with the virus, but everyone was held hostage to the fear of becoming sick and the reality of public health measures. Most of us have been dutifully following the instructions of public health officials, but the uncertainty of not knowing what is to come continues to interfere with our sense of stability and well-being.
If you lived alone when the COVID-19 restrictions hit, you were severed immediately and completely from any social connections that you relied on for your mental health. If you belong to a group that has been traditionally marginalized, your stress has likely been even greater. If you were involuntarily confined with a partner or children, encumbered with the need to earn your living from home or were precariously employed, you faced an equally challenging reality. Even if your initial response to an extended March Break conjured ideas of family togetherness playing late night monopoly and doing jigsaw puzzles, the reality of forced confinement with loved ones made this fantasy quickly lose its luster. The intensity of lockdown pushed many relationships to the brink and the divorce rate has soared. Everyone is struggling with unprecedented levels of stress and many have been stripped of their normal ways of coping. Some people are experiencing a flood of intense feelings. Others are numbing out as much as possible. How do you navigate the constant social etiquette and politics that imbue decisions and pressures during the pandemic? No wonder you might feel overwhelmed. You are not alone.
You may have experienced some relief as things relaxed during the summer. COVID-19 case numbers dropped. Masks were identified as a game-changer, allowing a bit more freedom to socialize. The weather co-operated and you may have ventured out to socialize with a few friends and family. Now as the numbers rise, restrictions return and we move toward the winter solstice, you may ask yourself if you have the stamina to persevere through a second wave. The answer is a resounding YES!
Here are some ideas to consider as you plan your second wave strategy.
Give yourself a very big congratulatory pat on the back! Remember you are strong and resilient. You would never have imagined a year ago that you would have had the strength to make it this far and you have. Make a list of the things that have helped you be successful at managing the first wave. Maybe it was gardening, baking artisan bread, hiking or biking or figuring out Zoom. However you did it, this is likely one of the more extreme challenges you have successfully faced in your lifetime. Keep doing the things that have helped you get through the first wave.
Reduce your media exposure to things that bring you down. The constant loop of cable television and the negativity in social media can increase our stress and feelings of helplessness. On the other hand, if there’s a blog or podcast that inspires or reassures you, absorb positivity wherever you may find it. Remember it’s physical distancing, not social distancing. Use technology and other creative methods to stay connected to the people who are meaningful to you.
Practice Mindfulness and make a conscious effort to slow down and bring yourself fully into the present moment. Take the time to really taste what you are eating or drinking, listen intentionally to others or to your favourite music. Lose yourself in an activity that requires you to focus completely. Small acts of mindfulness can help you feel grounded here and now.
Set time aside to express yourself about how you are feeling. It’s a pandemic and it has a huge impact. Write. Draw. Paint. Talk with people you trust. It is important to take some time to get in touch with how you are feeling about how you are being affected by this unprecedented situation. Remember that acknowledging your feelings does not mean that you will be dwelling on them forever.
Consider finding a good therapist. Therapy whether as an individual or as part of a group provides a private, supportive space to share your thoughts and feelings and is a great way to feel less isolated. A therapist can help you recognize your strengths and build resilience for coping with stress and all the feelings that it can arouse, like anger, grief and loneliness. A therapist can show you how to cultivate a deeper sense of self-acceptance and compassion. These are essential skills in these difficult times.
A short look of the online support group “Processing COVID-19 Together”
Laura Notton, MSW, RSW is a registered social worker, psychotherapist in Toronto, Canada. Starting on October 20, 2020 she is running an online group entitled, “Processing COVID-19 Together.”
To enroll in this group here .
To work with Laura personally you can book a session here.
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