There is no doubt that this pandemic has produced all kinds of suffering, with even the smallest losses compounding.
Everyone deserves to grieve, be angry, and to feel what they feel. However, we are still operating under COVID-19 protocols, and we have a choice in how we respond to what is happening around us.
You may have found yourself in a situation where you are with your peers or colleagues, and one person brings up how tired they are or says something unhopeful, then the next person carries it on, and before you know it, everyone is talking in circles. While it is healthy to share your emotions and receive support in return, this type of circumstance does not seem to solve anything or have an end goal. It can quickly turn into a loop of complaining that you may find yourself contributing to, even if it does not match how you truly feel.
Ask yourself: what message are you sending out?
How are your kids, friends, family, coworkers, or strangers seeing you or being influenced by what you are communicating? Acting as a role model can be a big ask, but it can be so impactful on those around you. If you continue to dwell on how much the pandemic sucks, you are not allowing yourself to move forward. The truth is, we are all being affected by the pandemic no matter what. We do, however, have some control — we can either let fear, stigma, and selfishness control us, or we can prioritize the practices that can benefit our well-being.
While it is normal to experience ‘negative’ emotions during this time,
the difference is holding onto them, rather than working through them, to the point where it changes us for the worse (keep in mind not to engage in toxic or dismissive positivity, which is often unrealistic).
“It could be worse.”
“Just look on the bright side!”
“You’ll get over it.”
“Everything will be fine.”
“Think happy thoughts!”
Usually, these positive statements have good intentions, but receiving them denies your human emotional experience, which is hurtful and counterproductive to positivity.
This ignores what has been tough on us:
Constant news reports, personal opinions, and misinformation has greatly affected public perception and, in some cases, our beliefs and behaviours.
Isolation/Time at Home
Spending time in quarantine and being unable to participate in our regular activities has led to loneliness, social disconnection, restlessness, and demotivation.
The threat of the pandemic has us worrying about our day-to-day health more than ever and has put a strain on our mental health due to uncertainty and distress, among other factors.
Between keeping them busy, safe, and fulfilled, parents are dedicating extra time to their kids and mourning with them over the experiences they are missing out on.
Loss of jobs, changes (working from home, new schedules, different type of work), and working front line has caused insecurity, stress, and forced us to quickly adjust.
How to build resilience and generate genuine optimism:
Communicating provides an outlet for our emotions. When we get the opportunity to discuss them, we can investigate what is making us feel that way and begin to process them. Sometimes, all the relief is in the release, and others, further investigation and rumination is required. Normalize identifying a range of feelings and checking in with others.
Defining question: “How are you?” and be prepared to get an honest answer.
A response could look like… “Most days I am struggling with the constant changes and loneliness, so I make an effort to keep in touch with my friends and family and work with my therapist to help identify my triggers and practice self-care.”
When we have social support, it means that we both believe and truly are cared for and have people to rely on when we require assistance emotionally or physically. Our social support network can be made up of friends, family, a significant other, neighbours, community groups, colleagues, and working professionals. Social support is a protective factor in mental health because it shows you that you are not alone and do not have to take on everything yourself. It also offers companionship, guidance, and exposes you to other perspectives.
Defining question: “Who has your back?”
A response could look like… “Sometimes I need a break, but I know that when I need help with the kids, I can ask my mom and when I need advice, I can ask my friend. I often doubt myself, but I have relationships with people who value me and want the best for my well-being.”
At the very least, think of the bulk of 2020 as a learning experience. This is not the first pandemic to have ever taken place, but it has been unique in its nature. Highlight the knowledge you have acquired as a result, whether it be information about health care, getting to know yourself better, or another topic you have become interested in. This could also pertain to hands-on skills, perhaps you have taken up cooking, writing, yoga, DIY home renovations, or online courses. For many, this has been a period of growth.
Defining question: “What have you learned?”
A response could look like… “The pandemic has showed me that the activities we take for granted like running to the grocery store at any moment are not guaranteed so I decided to start gardening to grow my own food, which has been a fulfilling experience.”
The process of expressing gratitude changes our brains by triggering positive experiences and gives less power to negative emotions. Once we recognize the good in our lives, and all we have going for us, it helps to improve our self esteem and reduces social comparison. If thinking it in your head does not do enough for you, try writing them down or saying them out loud, as it can make it more concrete and real. This takes practice, but once it becomes a habit there are many benefits including strengthened helping behaviour and increased satisfaction with life. Grateful people also take better care of themselves, which supports mental and physical health.
Defining question: “What are you thankful for?”
A response could look like… “Things have not been easy for me, but I feel lucky to have found meaningful work during this time and my dog to keep me company and to get me out of the house each day.”
We tend to keep thinking about the future, but what if we could catch those thoughts and recognize when we are imagining a scenario that has not yet occurred? We are all capable of being mindful, which is when we allow ourselves to be fully present and aware of where we are, what we are doing and letting everything else around us pass. The process of being mindful involves objectively observing our thoughts, feelings, and whatever comes to mind, and if you have a strong emotional reaction to something that could be an indicator that it deserves attention.
Defining question: “What matters now?”
A response could look like… “I don’t know what will happen in the coming months, but right now I am focusing on taking care of my health and spending time with my family because that is what is most important to me.”
Small communities like ours have proven to show up for one another in times of hardship. From campaigns for winter clothing and toiletries, delivering items, and ensuring activities can be available virtually, there has been an abundance of support. When we have something to contribute, it can make us happier and feel purposeful. It feels good to see our own community thrive, and can temporarily keep us from thinking about our own troubles.
Defining question: “What do you have to offer?”
A response could look like… “I don’t have a lot of disposable income at the moment, but I have clothes my child has grown out of that I can pass on to a parent who could use them. Winter is coming and I can pick up items for my elderly neighbours when I go shopping.”
At the end of the day, people want to feel heard, validated, and supported. You may not have all the answers, but you can let others know you are there for them as they process their feelings, organize their thoughts, and explore coping strategies.
Some people are hurting so bad you have to do more than preach a message to them. You have to BE a message to them.
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