You are doing an amazing job. Yes, YOU. You reading this blog. The you who hasn’t showered in a couple days, but still puts on a professional top for video meetings. The you who abandoned the color-coded home-school schedule after the 50th “Moooommm… I’m hungry!” (So on Day 2, basically.) The events of the past month have thrown off our routines, but also presented us with an opportunity to expect perfection of ourselves in all new ways. I think it’s time we all started being a little nicer to ourselves.
Almost every article I’ve seen in the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic urges us to use this time wisely– becoming better cooks, more present parents, more talented hobbyists. I, too, fell into that trap. I’ve been learning to play piano for a couple years. At the beginning of the lockdown, I thought, “I have so much time to practice now! I’ll become so good!” But it turns out I don’t practice any more than I did before. Maybe even less because there are JUST SO MANY fantastic shows to watch!
Not Lazy, Just Overwhelmed and Trying to Make Sense of Things
I certainly beat myself up a bit for this… umm, laziness. At first. But is it really laziness? I don’t think so. Something tells me that none of us are hearing this enough. Instead, we’re hearing that we should maintain a schedule. One that includes daily online workouts and Zoom happy hours with friends). We now know Isaac Newton created calculus while he was in quarantine. We have no excuse not to use this crisis as an opportunity! Not only have I heard this on social media, but even now from my clients, family, and friends. We are SO hard on ourselves!
Call me crazy, but I think widespread uncertainty, major personal upheaval, and a deadly virus is a better “excuse” for being in a funk than the things you beat yourself up for pre-pandemic. I get it. The world is upside down. It’s ok to be freaked out, depressed, or just totally numb. Nobody has the answers right now. All we can do is survive. And you’re alive, so you’re doing an amazing job!
The purpose of this blog post is not to encourage you to improve yourself with extra time you may have. Plenty of others have written about that, and will continue to. My goal here is to guide you toward being a bit kinder to yourself. Toward understanding that the best you can really do right now is accept things are crazy and there isn’t a damn thing you can do to change what’s happening.
That doesn’t mean there’s NOTHING you can do about it. I do think there’s a place for moderation with all of this. There are certainly benefits to using this extra time we have wisely. For those who struggle with depression, finding ways to connect and create structure is very beneficial. So, too, is finding ways to create meaning in our lives and connect with things important to us (our values). Researchers are now recognizing that these actions are beneficial for everyone, not just those with depression.
So my advice is to do BOTH: strive for using this time wisely (to fend off depression) AND let go a bit and be kinder to yourself, accepting things as they are. This involves a both/and approach, rather than an all-or-nothing one. We do this by focusing on our behaviors and our thought patterns.
Dealing with Social Media
Let’s begin with how to deal with social media during this time. It’s likely your most direct connection to the world right now. As a mom of three, and a counselor working with folks with eating disorders and anxiety in Plano, Texas, I know social media can be a double-edged sword even under normal circumstances. Social media is a wonderful arena for support and entertainment, but it can also lead to adoption of unrealistic standards. I addressed this in my blog, Using Social Media to Support Eating Disorder Recovery, but it’s worth revisiting.
Faced with uncertainty and isolation, we look for stories to feel less alone and for ideas on how to cope. But we only get snippets of others’ lives. These days we see Brenda raving about the banana bread she made from scratch with her cooperative, eager-to-learn children. We might think, “Shit, I haven’t even turned on the oven in the past month. What have I even been doing all day?”
We don’t ever get the full story. Maybe Brenda was laid off and doesn’t know how she’ll pay rent next month. Perhaps she had to bribe her unruly children to sit still for the photo to post. Our brain, with its natural negativity bias, which is more active in times of stress and uncertainty, tends to fill in the gaps of the story. For those with underlying mood disorders, this can wreak havoc. At at a time when we’re all most vulnerable, our houses are a mess and we don’t have access to our usual coping skills, comparing ourselves to others is even more disheartening.
In fact, even comparing ourselves to ourselves on a different day can do harm. The you of today is different, and not worse. Just different. The emotions you’re experiencing are stressful and exhausting. And when you’re grieving cancelled graduations, vacations, dinners out with friends and normalcy in general . . . let’s just say it’s tough to focus on being creative or productive with the same discipline as you had last month. We should be treating the news, social media, and even our own inner critic with the same vigilance we use for the virus itself.
Acceptance in These Uncharted Waters
A key tool I recommend for this uncertain time is called Radical Acceptance. I describe this tool in more detail in my blog on Distress Tolerance skills. In essence, acceptance doesn’t mean we have to like something. It just means that we are letting go of trying to change it.
By using acceptance, however, we can survive this. Acceptance doesn’t mean you have to LIKE the situation, or fight the reality. Maybe this means instead of comparing yourself to the supermom baking pros on Facebook, you acknowledge that these posts makes you feel a bit inadequate. And THEN you do some nurturing self-talk to counter the criticism. You remind yourself that it’s ok to have negative feelings, and also ok to not be Brenda– at least Facebook Brenda. Maybe you are really great at self-care involving sitting and just BEING, rather than DOING.
Maybe sitting and watching shows on Netflix is how you let go of the stress of the day, and baking makes you feel more stressed. Perhaps you DO need to be doing something for work, but you just aren’t up for it at that moment. So you give yourself permission to let go for a little bit. As for Brenda, maybe she is a perfectionist who can’t sit still and feels bad if she’s not always producing, performing, or achieving. Maybe Brenda could use a little acceptance in HER life.
Practicing acceptance might mean we stop trying to uphold “normal” for our kids. Maybe we let go of perfectly cultivating their external environment so they barely notice that the world is upside down. For me that has meant not keeping their regular school year schedule. I make sure they do their schoolwork, but then I let go. I let them have (way too much) screentime, stay up late and sleep in each morning. This works best for me, because I need a break. I also get several uninterrupted hours in the morning when I have the most energy. I’m ok with this these days.
I say we let go of the pressure to “make the most” of this time in quarantine by learning new languages, marketing our businesses in a perfectly ethical and impactful way, all the while watching our sugar and alcohol intake and avoiding weight gain. Geez. I’m just trying to stay virus-free over here, while feeding my kids 740 times a day with only a 9 year old for live social interaction. (The teenagers don’t talk to me much.)
Acceptance Doesn’t Always Mean Do Nothing
I don’t think we need to totally let go all the time, but rather use our time “wisely,” whatever that means for us individually in each moment. And when we don’t or can’t let go, we practice kindness and acceptance instead of berating ourselves. I think the best course is to get really good at knowing which of these we need, and when we need it. We could all likely benefit from challenging ourselves to reframe “using our time wisely.” And instead we focus on how we want to be in the face of all this. How do we remain true to ourselves when the world has changed?
Do we want to be honest that we’re scared, but living every day the best we can? Maybe we want to keep wearing makeup because it makes us feel good. Do we want to bake banana bread and check the news, then cry and swear not to check the news, then check the news again five minutes later? There’s no right or wrong way to do it. So who are you underneath the “doing?”
Maybe for you, this means getting out of bed and changing out of your pajamas every morning if you struggle with depression, because this prevents a downward slide the rest of the day. If you have an eating disorder, perhaps you also eat meals at regularly scheduled times throughout the day, and you Facetime your sister while eating to keep you accountable, because letting go of that routine could destroy your recovery. Perhaps later in the day, using your time wisely for YOU means lying in bed watching Tiger King for 4 hours. And being ok with that because that’s how you do self-care right now.
So, after scrolling through social media, make sure you wash your hands of judgment by reminding yourself that you’re doing your own personal best. And if you’re going to measure your “best” compared to other points in your life, at least keep the variables similar, and evaluate yourself compared to the last time you went through a global pandemic 😉
Before I end, I have to acknowledge my privilege, as they say. Personally, I know I have not been nearly as impacted by the financial and social damage of coronavirus as many others. My spouse still has a stable job and income (for now), and my kids are in a good school district and have access to good teachers and to online school during this time. We have health insurance and no one in our family has been sick. Both I and my spouse have been able to work from home, and also oversee the school work of our kids. We have money for groceries, and so far have not run out of toilet paper. Though some things feel unknown, we still have security in many areas.
For many of my clients, friends and family, however, the same is not true. I acknowledge this is significantly harder for many more people in the U.S. and across the world. So while I’m over here discussing all the extra time many of us are enjoying, and all the great tv to watch, I do understand that’s an extremely privileged position to be in.
If you’re struggling with COVID 19 anxiety, I’m here to help! I OFFER VIRTUAL/VIDEO COUNSELING FOR YOUR CONVENIENCE!! If you’re looking for counseling in Plano, Texas contact me at 469-850-2420 or firstname.lastname@example.org for a free 15-minute phone consultation. My name is Danesa, and we can see if we’re a good fit! I’m also happy to connect you to another great therapist in the area.
My specialties include eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, binge eating; overeating or compulsive eating, body image issues, anxiety and depression. My office is in Plano, Texas, and conveniently located near Frisco, Allen, and McKinney.