2020 has been a hell of a year so far.
While some countries are starting to come out of full-on-lock-downs that were enforced to reduce the number of deaths from COVID-19, others are still operating with hesitation and caution. Previous ideas of normal have gone out the window, and many people are wondering when things will return to what they used to be, if they ever will.
It has been the first time, at least in my lifetime, that the entire world was experiencing the same state of emergency at the same time. No longer was it news about “that country somewhere else far away” - it has been everyone’s news. We have all been at the mercy of the virus as well as the measures taken to prevent its spread.
So - what are my thoughts, takeaways and life lessons from this strange time?
Do. Not. Compare.
Some people are making candles, learning new languages and mastering instruments while others feel like they are barely hanging on to survive. Have you SEEN the number of people making their own sourdough bread? Dr. Atkins would be rolling in his grave.
Yes. Some people seem to be living their BEST LIVES right now and you feel like you’re barely managing to hang on. Do yourself a favor, and stop comparing and remember to be a conspicuous consumer of social media.
- Everyone is in completely different circumstances
- For every perfect scene you see, there are 9 imperfect ones you do not
- Remember: while some people are simply sharing fun activities, others are overcompensating, or are addicted to positive feedback from others. You have no idea how much blood, sweat and tears they put into putting a “perfect” picture of social media just to get a little bit of positive feedback
Tip: Try limiting social media consumption (as well as the news for that matter). Seems impossible, I know. But try setting a timer - giving yourself time to indulge- and then when it goes off, put your phone in a difficult-to-reach place for a bit and give your full attention to something else - yes Netflix counts.
Additionally, please remember suffering is suffering. The idea has been circulating that we are not all in the same boat (some are in canoes while others are in yachts); we are simply weathering the same storm. This is true. But it is also true that bad weather sucks for everyone - and a storm weathered in a yacht, while it may look different than one weathered in a canoe, is still a challenge. Comparing suffering, and disqualifying someone's struggles simply because they appear to have it better than you is unfair and will only make you feel more angry in the end.
Related to the previous observation, you might find your ideas of success or accomplishment have changed a bit. Some people have relaxed all notions of normal structure and routine - while others feel compelled to raise the bar even higher…(see Sourdough, paragraph 1.)
I have seen some recommendations floating around: move your body for 30 min a day (I do highly recommend this), clean one thing/room of your living space, do one thing that makes you feel good, etc. This is all sound advice. However, I also know it’s likely adding one more extra thing on your (short or long) to-do list may not be feasible, and not one of us needs to be setting ourselves up for failure.
HOWEVER, the one thing I DO highly recommend, is you simply do one thing every day to make you feel proud. This is something everyone should be able to do. Start backwards at first. At the end of every day, identify one thing you did that made you feel proud. This might be hard initially - but this could simply be paying the bills, washing your hair, not losing your temper at your spouse/children, etc. Doing this will help you strengthen the muscle of 1.) identifying things that you did well, 2.) help you source that yummy warm feeling of pride.
Please note, what makes you feel proud one day may not the next….and what makes someone else feel proud may have no effect on you. Simply identify the things you did that made you feel proud, and then give yourself some damn credit. Similar, but opposite in direction, to the shame spiral, you will instead start building a “pride propulsion”….more begets more. Before you know it, I have a feeling you will start doing more and more things that make you feel proud, whether it’s putting on a bra or running a 5k, making what everyone else is doing with their own time a lot less relevant.
There have also been a handful of articles circulating about the emotional impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Elisabeth Kübler Ross’s 5 stage model of grief has been prominent: Denial, Anger, Depression, Bargaining, and Acceptance.
This model is obviously applicable to the grief experienced by those losing (or fearing loss of) a loved one COVID-19 or are working on the front line- but it also offers a general description for the wave of emotions felt by those facing other casualties of the pandemic: the lost jobs, the moved wedding dates, the cancelled concerts etc. We have seen the denial in politicians, the anger in the streets, and now we are seeing the bargaining as countries try to re-open. All in all, it’s also a fitting description of the stages we are going through as we say goodbye to the general sense of certainty that we have all long taken for granted.
Logically speaking, nothing has ever been certain: except death and taxes. But now, more than ever, little feels certain as there is very much we still do not know. And while a pandemic is not actually unprecedented (it was, in fact, anticipated by those specialists in epidemiology), for most of the general public this is absolutely new and uncharted territory. And that is where surrendering comes in. In the “ last stage” of Kübler Ross’s model (we really cycle back and forth at different stages multiple times) is Acceptance - and we seem to be struggling with this. But why?
- Denial feels more comfortable because it gives us little bits of hope that what we fear (tanked economy, increased infections, no parties until 2022) will not be true.
- The implicit underpinning of “acceptance” is there is a finite event or loss we can actually come to terms with and accept.
Regarding point number 2, it seems we simply do not know. There is speculation on all sides - and so it is hard to accept something that has not yet happened, and what we can not yet be sure will happen...which brings me to my point. We must surrender to the forces we cannot control and accept the things we can.
Nearly two months ago I resigned myself to the fact that 2020 really just may be canceled. Actually, I am still skeptical about what life in 2021 or 2022 will look like. While someone might say I am being negative, I would say I am planning for the worst and hoping for the best.
I am surrendering my attachments to any plans I had and focusing instead on the things I can control in my inner world, and I recommend you do the same. Is surrendering giving up? It certainly sounds like it. But really, it is much more. It is to give up with grace, to put faith in the unknown and trust in the universe, saving your precious energy that you would otherwise be using resisting things you cannot control.
Tip: A good exercise for this includes drawing a stick-figure of yourself in a circle. Outside of the circle identify the uncertain things and the things making you feel anxious: knowing when things will reopen, infection rates, political unrest, etc. These are the things you really cannot control.
Now, within the circle identify the things that depend only on your personal choice and agency: updating your CV, physical activity, reconnecting with old friends. These are the things you can control. Focus on the things in this inner circle and try and let the things in the outer circle fall away from your focus.
I wish everyone the best of luck and care as we begin to navigate the next steps in this pandemic.
Take care of yourselves.
And don't forget to put on pants when you leave the house. :)
Liz Benedix is a US expat who has lived in Germany since 2017. She has a masters degree in Clinical Counseling and was a Licensed Professional Counsellor in the US, working with children/teens and their families. After her move to Europe, she pursued new career options and currently works in Luxembourg as an English digital content editor. She loves hiking, taking pictures of beauty in nature and spending time with her husband and friends.
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