As with most of the world, I am sheltering-in-place while essential workers brave exposure to the COVID-19 virus. I am humbled and grateful to everyone out there risking their lives to save others.
Beyond my admiration for essential care workers, I also feel for those whose lives have been completely disrupted by this disease. Sickness, financial ruin, and the loss of loved ones are real sources of suffering for many of us right now. As a society, we owe it to those hurting the most to do what we can to help stave off the worst consequences.
Today, however, I am speaking to those of you who fit into neither of the above groups: people who are able to work from home, who have savings to survive hardship, and who remain relatively healthy during this crisis. This group has its own set of challenges.
These challenges are not the life or death risks of those on the front lines or the bread lines. Just because these challenges are not life-threatening, however, does not mean that we should ignore them. It’s normal not to feel normal now, even if you haven’t been as badly affected as some other people.
Here are a few of challenges we all face:
- Complete disruption of our normal habits and activities.
- Isolation from the world and those we care about.
- Uncertainty for what the future holds.
- Fear for the well-being of our friends and loved ones.
Uncertainty and fear permeate everything. There are hidden opportunities in the midst of this crisis, but it is important to find a balance and to acknowledge that this is a hard time for all of us.
Here are some things that can help.
The loss of normalcy challenges us to define the new normal. I used to have a very solid routine of waking up, going to the gym and going to work. Now, my gym is closed and I work from home every day. Rebuilding a new routine is hard, but I am making progress. Here’s what’s worked for me:
Think Big. Get excited about the opportunity this presents for you. You may find that there’s time for a hobby or project you couldn’t fit into your previous schedule. You could use this time to learn guitar, write a book, or design your first game. What the specific goal is doesn’t matter as much as finding something that will excite you enough to take action.
Start small. Don’t think you are going to meditate and exercise for 2 hours every day if you aren’t used to that kind of activity. Start with something simple like a 7-minute HIIT routine or a 5-minute meditation session. Build habits on top of each other and gradually expand them to craft the routine of your dreams.
I’ve used the disruption in my routine to restart my daily writing habit. I started with just 10 minutes each morning and now am up to about 3 hours per week of writing. What goal would excite you and what’s a small way to start making progress on it?
Fear and anxiety are worse when we think only about ourselves. Find ways to help those around you. That can be as simple as calling your neighbors to check on them, donating to local charities, or making quarantine goodie bags and sending them to friends. Seriously, if you want one magic pill to stop being anxious and sad, this is it – spend time working on projects for other people and you will be amazed how much better you feel.
We all want to find certainty and avoid feelings of discomfort. Losing ourselves to Netflix and the news causes us to cycle between anxiety and numbness. Instead of running from anxiety, try sitting with it instead.
Before you open up Twitter or binge on TV, try the following exercise:
- Take a few breaths and bring awareness to what is going on at this moment.
- Pay attention to the specific feelings in your body. Do you feel tightness in your throat or chest? Do you feel heat, pressure, or nausea?
- Get curious about the feelings and stay with them.
- While sitting with your feelings, dig deeper to identify what exactly is causing your anxiety. Here are some examples: finances, loneliness, boredom, unmet aspirations, etc.
- Even if you can’t identify the root cause, sitting with your emotions will give you space to make choices about what to do next, rather than unconsciously seeking distraction.
Creating that little bit of space (even just a few seconds) can make a huge difference in how you approach your day to day life, making you happier and helping you spend your time more wisely.
One tool I’ve found enormously helpful for this is the pause plugin for google chrome. This free app automatically inserts a 5-second pause before opening up a browser on common time-wasting sites. Use that time to check in with yourself. If you just need a break and want to waste time enjoyably- go right ahead! But if what’s going on is you are avoiding uncomfortable feelings or tasks, use the time to recenter yourself and choose a path that will fulfill you in the long run.
My favorite author Neil Gaiman gave an amazing commencement address in which he implores us to “Make Good Art.” One of the key points is that everything in life (hardship and struggle in particular) are fuel for great art. Use this time to build something you can be proud of at the end of this road.
If you don’t know where to start, try this exercise: Imagine it’s 3 years in the future. We have a vaccine for COVID-19 and life has largely returned to normal. You are outside going about your day and you run into a long lost friend who you haven’t seen since before the quarantine.
Your friend asks you how you are doing and you honestly say “Amazing! The last year has been one of the best of my life.” Your friend is very excited to hear the details and asks, “So, what are you most excited about?”
Imagine yourself in this situation.
- What would you say?
- What things have you accomplished?
- What is in your life that wasn’t there before?
- What are you doing on a day to day basis that makes you so excited?
Committing just ten minutes a day working towards an exciting goal can transform your perception from being trapped at home to being granted an incredible opportunity.
We are social creatures. Find ways to connect with others. Whether through family dinner zoom calls, virtual happy hours with friends, or old fashioned phone calls and letters, we need social connection now more than ever. Take a minute right now and text someone you care about or a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while. A few minutes a day reaching out can make a big difference in people’s lives.
Find the Opportunity in the Crisis
“The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis.’ One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger–but recognize the opportunity.”
― John F. Kennedy
We can acknowledge the hardship of the current crisis while still using it to help grow ourselves into a better tomorrow. We are all in this together and together we will get through this. Stay safe, and make good art.
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