Life During a Pandemic Is Hard!

Apr 30, 2020

Is anyone else watching Pluto, the wise Schnauzer from Canada? Or Some Good News with John Krasinski? (BTW, I’m so unhip that, until a few weeks ago, I only knew John Krasinski as the husband of the woman who played the new Mary Poppins.)

Why am I asking about silliness that some might call a Distracting Time Suck?

Because This Shit Is HARD. People are trying to work from home at jobs that never before supported telecommuting, while also homeschooling children who should be getting ready for end of year assessment tests at SCHOOLS that are now closed. None of us signed up for any of this!  And in addition to being cooped up inside the same walls with the same people day after day, we’re starting to realize that when we finally start to emerge from our isolation, the world as we knew it will never exist again.

Woah. I just went from Pluto the talking Schnauzer to existential crisis. What is going on here? Why so dark, as if we weren’t already sad enough?

Here’s why:

All this crappy stuff affects our health. I talked to three clients this week who told me about symptoms they were having that were new to them. “I’m probably just dehydrated,” said one. “I really need to cut back on my coffee,” said another. “Not really sure WHAT’S up with that,” said the third. From my outsider’s perspective, it was clear that these women’s symptoms could all be attributed to anxiety. None of these women are people for whom anxiety has been a problem in the past.

When I asked how they’re coping with the stress of the global pandemic, all three assured me that they have everything under control. Kids are fed. Zoom calls are going well. Keeping up with work. Mostly sticking to eating appropriately. All good, though a trip to the grocery store without worrying about going down the aisle in the right direction might be nice.

I told them that I’m also doing great. I’m checking the boxes: getting dressed every day, keeping up with work, cooking dinner, walking the dogs. Great, right?

Then I told them the real part: I’m not actually doing great.

My body is responding to the stress that I’m not acknowledging. I know this because I wear a continuous glucose monitor. In the 53 days since it became apparent that we had to move our college student back home, my blood sugar has gone from being in good control to out of control and back to adequate control, but on more than double the amount of insulin I was on previously. For the most part, I am not eating worse (other than a few early forays into bread baking along with everyone else) and my pedometer tells me I’m actually getting MORE steps than I was before going into isolation (thanks to long walks with the dogs). Yet, my blood sugar is worse AND I’m taking more insulin that I ever have. EVER.

WHAT IS HAPPENING? My body is feeling the stress that my brain can’t acknowledge.

We’re in the middle of collective trauma and grief. While cutting back on coffee and drinking more water might be good things for my clients, coffee and dehydration aren’t what’s causing their symptoms. It’s a response to the stress hormones coursing their bodies. In the middle of trauma and grief, we protect ourselves by denying that the bad stuff sucks. This is a normal, healthy response, meant to allow us to continue moving forward through the emergency at hand. In the short term, it works and helps us survive the immediate event. As the immediate trauma turns into an ongoing event, like the COVID-19 pandemic we are now all trying to wrap our minds around, the stress hormones stop helping us survive the immediate situation and start harming our health.

I’m not here to give you tough love and tell you to buck up and face reality. Nope. I’m here to tell you to acknowledge that this is REALLY HARD and your body needs you to take care of it right now. I’m not just talking about eating right and getting in your cardio. Here’s what I recommend to reduce stress hormones that might be produced, even when you think you’re ok:

  1. Go for a stroll. If you can get out of the house, wander through the neighborhood and notice the flowers and birds. Say “hi” to your neighbors as they walk by on the other side of the street. I’m not talking about a power walk here. Yes, you’re moving, getting your daily steps. But this is about slowing down and clearing your mind of the big things and seeing the precious small things all around you.
  2. Get enough sleep. If, like me, you struggle with getting to bed at a reasonable hour, schedule a bedtime, set a reminder for when it’s time to head to bed, and follow-through on getting to sleep. The next episode of How I Met Your Mother will still be there tomorrow.
  3. Cut back on news consumption. It’s important to be informed but it’s easy to be OVER-informed. For local news, I probably only NEED to know about the current stay-at-home orders and closures, so I subscribe to local, county, and state alerts on my phone. For a broader sense of what’s happening in the world, I watch the late-night guys and get a sense of national and world news with a side of humor. If they bring up something I need to know more about, I turn to one of the news sources that doesn’t “rile me up.” I also follow a few factual, data-based sites that just report on data with no commentary. (Drop me an email if you want to know my specific favorites.)
  4. Add relaxation to your schedule. What? SCHEDULE relaxation? That doesn't sound very relaxing. If you don't schedule it, it won't happen. If you're interested in meditating, add 10-20 minutes to your morning before the kids get up. The Calm and Headspace apps are great places to start. Maybe you like soaking in a tub? Order some lavender bath bombs or essential oils to add a calming scent.
  5. Take up a new craft or hobby: coloring or knitting or puzzles or photography.
  6. Journal every day. It doesn't have to be fancy or good or for anyone else but you. I have personally found the concept of "morning pages" particularly helpful.
  7. Start a gratitude practice. In her research on shame and resilience, Brené Brown found that people who describe themselves as joyful actively practice gratitude. I used to think that gratitude was big and grand. I now understand it's about being grateful for the grand and the small: I can be equally grateful for time to watch The Masked Singer and the fact that I have enough to eat and a place to sleep, and all the things in between. 
  8. Have FUN! Play games. Watch cat videos (a Google search for "cat videos" turns up more than 4 Billion hits. Billion. With a "B."). Binge your favorite TV show. FIND YOUR GUILTY PLEASURE AND DON’T FEEL GUILTY. (Just make sure it’s not something detrimental to your health: I’m not suggesting baking and eating a pan of brownies every night.) 

Life is really hard right now. And it’s going to remain uncertain for a long time. Even if you feel ok, take care of yourself as if you’re not. 

I’m not ok. And recognizing that might be the most ok thing in my life right now. 

I’m going to end with this: if you know anything about internet marketing, you know I broke all the rules by linking to funny things that will take you away from my site and off to follow link after link of internet time sucks. My online colleagues are probably trying to jump through the broadband right now to knock some sense into me. Whatever. If you need a laugh, go get your laugh. And go down the internet rabbit hole of menopausal mom comedians and cats wearing hats and dogs eating with human hands and Australians dressing up to bring in the trash. Bookmark this page so you can find it again. I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be right here, if you need me. Right now, you probably need baby goats in pajamas more than you need a reminder to eat low carb.

Take care of yourself. And remember, you’re enough and you got this!

 

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