We are all living in an entirely different world today than since the last time I sat down to write for the LSRG family. Now, we are living in a world of constant threat from an invisible enemy from which we have little defense except constant distance and suspicion of our neighbor. As if we needed another reason to polarize our communities… In addition to the onslaught of newly proclaimed M.D.’s parading themselves on social media as epidemiological experts, I’ve also noticed several people making bold claims about how each of us should be spending and utilizing this trying time. Namely, by becoming the most self-actualized, best-version-of-ideal-selves that ever existed! I’ve even found myself breaking my own rules and engaging in online tirades to best these toxically-positive nitpickers! This, of course, got me nowhere and only increased my frustration levels, albeit providing me a brief outlet upon which to take my growing frustration and angst.
To that end, I wanted to take a moment and offer a scientifically grounded word of support. Besides the rapid changes I outlined above, many of you have also had to add multiple new roles to your life. If adulting wasn’t hard enough… some of you are working from home, some of you have lost jobs, some of you are having to play educator on-top of your already never-ending task list. It is daunting, and speaking personally – it feels harder than our normal day-to-day tasks. You know what? It is.
It is harder.
One more time for those in the back.
IT. IS. HARDER.
That isn’t just standard therapist validation of an individual’s lived experience – that is scientific FACT. This is stressful and, as I’ve written previously, our brain doesn’t differentiate stressors well. Moreover, we can’t directly deal with the stressor, and, in this case, the stressor is life-threatening and actively keeps us from our social networks which would normally help us manage the stress.
Your brain is actively diverting blood flow from the parts of your brain associated with speech, learning, creativity, future-planning, logical reasoning, and decision-making and pushing that to the emotional and danger centers. It knows there is a threat and yet it can’t detect it. It can’t see it. It keeps checking your body, breathing, and surroundings for signs of this danger which it knows is there! The inability to see the stressor makes it hard for it to fight back or flee (two of it’s preferred survival strategies) which leaves freezing as the only option.
That is what is making this harder.
To be sure, there are some out there who are just slaying it right now. They’ve deep cleaned the whole house, composed an entire symphony, and somehow managed to sell thousands of dollars of essential oils. Guess what – that is still a survival strategy. The brain, in its inability to handle this stressor, is distracting itself. It is keeping busy. It is trying not to feel and is, therefore, disconnecting from the day-to-day experience that is living through a pandemic – because it is harder.
I write all of this not to add to the cacophony of voices telling you how to spend your time. I write this to say be kind to your body and brain. They are working hard (or hardly working) to help you manage in a very stressful time. Self-compassion is important and there are a couple of things you can do to offer yourself that support and kindness your brain and body needs:
1.) Move your body! This doesn’t have to be crazy and you don’t have to train for a triathlon. Just try to walk for 10 minutes each day or does some jumping jacks. Anything that gets your heart pumping for a few minutes. This will help discharge stored up stress hormones and regulate your breathing.
2.) Be mindful of your substance use. Yes, a glass of wine can be a nice way to end the day and I am not saying you can’t enjoy one. I am discouraging substance use from being your primary or only form of managing your stress.
3.) Practice socializing however you can. There are lots of platforms out there that allow us to stay connected. My friends and I even found ways to play board and card games together. A word of caution though: some people find that connecting through technology can be draining because of the natural incongruence it creates, and that’s okay! Connect when you feel like you can manage and say “no” when you feel it is too much.
4.) Engage in mindfulness. Mindfulness is NOT meditation. Mindfulness is simply practicing awareness of the present moment. You can bring mindfulness to a variety of practices – mindful dancing, mindful singing, mindful eating, mindful walking. When your brain begins to wander – which it will do – gently guide it back to the present and bring your awareness to what is happening at the moment.
5.) Limit news channels. I won’t engage in discussion around which news outlets are to be trusted and which are not – I’ll let you decide for yourself which you trust. Regardless though, limit your time with these networks. Too much information can be overwhelming and is ultimately detrimental.
6.) The same applies to social media. While it may not be all bad (who doesn’t love the puppy and kitten videos), the research is starting to suggest that it can have harmful effects on us. Like anything else in life, it is important to practice social media use in moderation. Too much of anything can be harmful and you may find yourself, like me, engaging in arguments with people that you don’t know and have ZERO impact on your life.
Finally, please remember that at Life Skills Resource Group, we are here to help. Our group of clinicians is working in a variety of options – some still utilizing in-person services in combination with regular sanitizing and others strictly through Telemental Health – and would be happy to offer additional support if you need it. Please feel free to contact our office at 407/355.7378 if you’d like to speak with one of our team members.
Daniel Garner-Quintero, LMHCLicensed Mental Health Counselor