The Seemingly Lightless Tunnel: Aiming to Survive, Not Thrive
When this pandemic first hit our shores, we were living in a very different world to what we are now.
Yes indeed, we were aware that the virus was a nasty piece of work, infiltrating our communities like wildfire. But we had a very different mindset about the lockdown. A different set of expectations if you will.
The idea of working from home was rather novel and Zoom catch-ups were… dare I say it – fun. Back then, we could even throw our heads back and have a good ole’ cackle about the toilet paper hoarders. We had so much extra time to relax and recuperate, making plans to immerse ourselves in a new hobby or interest.
‘Maybe I’ll learn to make some vegan, almond, chai, fairy dust scented candles’, we said to ourselves. ‘Or maybe I’ll work on becoming the fittest I’ve ever been, running 5kms every day, then come home to bake some organic sourdough bread’.
But as time passed, the days got longer and our motivation faded. We dropped out of our online yoga classes one by one, we ordered another 12 bottles of wine and we collectively sank deeper into the beanbag that is the COVID blues.
We were under the impression that ‘living our best isolation lives’ was going to be a sprint… But this isn’t a sprint, baby. This is one longggg marathon. One that puts Tough Mudder to shame.
The course is overflowing with booby traps. It pelts you with fire and brimstone and just when you think you’re at the end, the finish line jolts backwards and you’re 100kms away again. But you keep slogging away, one step at a time. Waiting to get a glimpse of that light at the end of the tunnel.
Wait, hold on a second, what’s that noise? Seriously, what is that? It sounds like a…swarm?
Oh no. No. Nope. No. I’m out. It’s getting closer! We now have a plague of… locusts.
The locust plague sent to test our resolve. via GIPHY
Do you think that you could really beat your best time in these conditions? I didn’t think so. This pandemic is a marathon like no other. We can no longer think of it as a time for us to thrive. For now, we just have to survive.
Control what you can control, forget the rest
Much of what is happening at the moment feels out of our control. Let’s face it, most of it is. Which makes it very easy for us to feel overwhelmed and anxious.
‘Will I ever get my job back’ ‘When will I get to see my friends again?’ ‘Will my elderly parents be okay?’ ‘Are my kids going to do okay at remote learning?’
These are just some of the questions that we have flying around inside our heads, like bees inside their hive. It can be pretty hard to stay grounded when all of this is going on, can’t it?
Firstly, I need you to take one giant leap backwards, away from that beehive. Let’s reframe the situation by using a tool known as circles of control, influence and concern.
Our lives can be divided into three areas, or circles – what we can control, what we can influence and what concerns us.
Our circle of control includes all aspects of our life that we can directly control. Namely, our thoughts, behaviours and feelings.
Our circle of influence is home to aspects of our life that are of concern to us but can also be influenced.
And finally, within our circle of concern, are all of the things in our life that we are… you guessed it – concerned about.
Circles of concern, influence and control.
Okay, let’s fill up our circles. At the moment, there are a lot of things that we are concerned about – health, family, work, finances, the list goes on. Now, from that list, what are the things that can actually be influenced, and then of those things, what can you actually control?
For an example relating to the current climate – we need to be concerned about COVID, but we can’t directly control the spread of the virus or develop a vaccine (unless you’re one of the super talented scientists that actually can). So, this will be in your circle of concern.
What we can do, however, is control our own behaviour when it comes to protecting ourselves from the virus (circle of control) and then influence the behaviour of the people around us (circle of influence). You could, say, encourage your loved ones to wear a mask if they go to the supermarket, or maybe make an informed post on social media to raise awareness.
Try to actively think about where your efforts will actually make a difference and focus your energy there. So, in other words, put a forcefield around your circle of concern and steer clear.
It’s not a vaccine for the COVID blues, but there is something that can help to ease the symptoms – positive emotion.
Positive emotion is about feeling good. It’s the hedonistic route to wellbeing. To be well, we need to find ways to bring more positive emotion and enjoyment into our daily routine.
According to Barbara Fredrickson’s Broaden-and-Build Theory, experiencing positive emotions broadens the mind so people are more open to new possibilities and ideas.
Experiencing positive emotions also builds personal well-being resources, being psychological, intellectual, physical and social resources.
These resources have some endurance. They actually outlive the emotions from which they were acquired in the first place. But for all of this to be effective, research suggests that we need approximately three positive emotions to every negative one.
My goodness! In these times, we’re experiencing an enormous amount of negative emotion – so we better get cracking on those positive ones.
Let’s have a look here. There are many positive emotions that we can aim to bring into our lives. The big ones are love, joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration and awe.
Phew, thank goodness we have a few options. Okay, so what are the ways that you can bring about some of these emotions? I’m not talking about what the targeted, social media advertising is telling you to like or what influencers or friends are seemingly enjoying. I’m talking about what will bring you positive emotions.
To feel serene, do you like to get out amongst nature and breathe in the fresh air? Do you like to have a bath with your favourite bath bomb and a book?
Does having video calls with your friends and family make you feel joy?
Maybe try to elevate the feeling of love by planning an at-home date night with your partner.
Have a think about all of the ways in which you can bring more of the positive emotions into your life – and then do them!
Be kind to yourself
It does sound like a bit of a woo-woo statement, one that would be stuck on a wall next to ‘live laugh love’, but seriously, be kind to yourself.
If you’ve gained some weight in isolation, meh. All bodies are wonderful and a little extra fluff is no exception. No need to be pushing and prodding yourself in the mirror asking yourself why you haven’t been able to maintain your bangin’ bod. We know the answer to this. It’s because we are in the midst of a global crisis!
If you’re a little slow off the mark at work and are not getting through your workload as fast as you normally would, don’t beat yourself up about it. This isn’t a normal ‘working from home’ scenario.
We’ve spent a lot of 2020 locked inside our homes 24/7, with our entire families, avoiding a plague, worrying about loved ones, trying to work and for some people, even home-schooling their kids! When you say it out aloud, you realise just how insane it all is!
If the house is a little messy, don’t worry about it. You’re inside for all hours of the day, you can’t be expected to have a show home at the ready… for those visitors that aren’t coming.
Frantically cleaning for the… lack of houseguests. via GIPHY
Or maybe you can’t be bothered cooking dinner – that’s okay! Fire up the Uber Eats app and get some pizza… or dumplings… or burgers… oh why is it so hard to choose!
It’s time to lower our expectations, rip up that croquembouche recipe and just accept that we cannot be the best, most efficient, go-getting versions of ourselves at this time.
Celebrate the wins, toot your own horn and be proud that you’re making positive strides, no matter how small they may be.
You got this
I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again. There’s nothing normal about this situation. We’re not on holiday in the Maldives, with ample free time to pursue our creative expressions. No. This is a gruelling marathon full of uncertainty, social distancing and living like a hermit.
This could be one of the hardest things you have ever done in your life. So, remember, you’re not expected to thrive, we just have to survive by making our journey as comfortable as possible. Focus on what you can control, inject some more positive emotions into your life and most of all, be kind to yourself. You got this.