Notes on Handling the Stress and Anxiety of the Pandemic
by Lori Kleinman, PhD
Living a Meaningful Life in Times of Disappointment and Fear — July 7
After a much different 4th of July weekend than in years past, we may be more aware of lifestyle and societal changes since the COVID19 pandemic began. Earlier this year, we would have expected to see fireworks, enjoy a bar-b-que with friends, go to a parade, or head out to a music festival. Yet, this year was different. Our Independence Day celebrations were largely virtual or did not occur at all. This may have been disappointing, especially as we may also be seeing news reports of increasing conflict and aggression in our society.
There are certainly challenges to living through this pandemic and the additional stressors in our world these days. However, we also have opportunities to recognize our strengths and build our resilience. We are learning how to connect while isolated. We are learning how to respond with compassion and solution-focus while fearful and frustrated. We must do things differently, even if it is not our preference. The consequences of not doing so can be great, even life-threatening. Wow, that is a lot to manage.
So, how do we manage our disappointment and fear while still living a meaningful life?
- We can look to history and other times when societies were struggling, fearful, and uncertain. For example, in 1941, in the midst of World War II and only five weeks before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Winston Churchill, then Britain’s Prime Minister, gave the following speech: “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never-in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.” Powerful words for difficult times.
- Focus on interactions with other people as opportunities to practice respect, interest, compassion, openness, empathy. We are all challenged now, and we are all doing the best we can. Even when someone acts in an unkind manner, we can choose how we respond. Consider making the decision to hold to your values and intentions, regardless of other people’s behavior. Why let someone else decide how you will act or feel?
- Recognize times when you are feeling uncomfortable in public and protect yourself while treating others with kindness. For example, if you believe someone is standing too close to you, gently step away or ask them, respectfully, if they would give you more space. Tone and volume of voice, eye contact, body posture, and the words we choose to say can soften an otherwise awkward situation. Most humans have a natural tendency to gravitate towards one another. We are learning how to create more physical space.
- Choose one or two goals or areas of interest rather than a long list of things to do. While we are adjusting to new behaviors and living conditions, it helps to reduce unnecessary expectations. For example, when we first began to shelter-in-place, many of us had ideas of everything we would get done while we were home. It is time to re-evaluate those ideas and adjust our lifestyle and demands to match the reality of our living situation. Many of us are still working long hours and have home responsibilities. It is more motivating to engage in one or two hobbies and diversions than try to get many things done at once.
- Balance talking to others about the pandemic and distressing current events with topics that are uplifting and encouraging. Laugh every day. Really – it is good for our mind, body, and spirit. Watch comedy videos or tell jokes with friends. Look at funny pictures. Read cartoons. Allow yourself to let go a bit and relax into the joys of living.
- Take breaks throughout the day. Even 10 to 15 minutes doing something you enjoy, eating a healthy snack, sipping a cup of tea, going for a walk, calling a friend, etc. can make a profound difference in your overall mood and energy level.
- Know that humankind has been through wars, plagues, natural disasters, famines, and lots of uncertainty. We will get through this. It may not be easy, but it is manageable. Learn about resilience, stress-hardiness, coping skills, and practice them on a regular basis. (Check out some of my prior articles below – many of these topics are covered)
- Be gentle with yourself and others. This is a time when we can practice new skills in empathy and self-compassion. We can respond rather than react. We can choose rather than avoid. We can cope and continue to move forward through our day with determination and goodwill.
Wishing you good health and comfort, Dr. Lori Kleinman