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Adapting to our “New Normal”: Coping with the COVID-19 Pandemic

Self Care

If I had gone to sleep two weeks ago and woken up today, I would not believe my eyes. Sadly, I’ve been awake this whole time, yet I’m still shocked by what I see. Our new world seems surreal, and almost resembles that of a horror movie during a zombie apocalypse. It is a world where we must keep maximum distance with minimum cleaning supplies and toilet paper. It is a world of uncertainty where it is unclear what is coming next: How long will this “new normal” last? What will happen if we and/or those we are close to getting the virus? (Especially if we/they are immunosuppressed)

During this week alone, I have felt many different things: shock, fear, anxiety, sadness, lack of control, helplessness, some optimism and joy, happiness, gratefulness, confusion, denial, overwhelm, exhaustion, curiosity and more. After speaking with my friends, family, and clients, it seems I am not alone. I am sharing my feelings with you because I want you to know that if you have felt any of the above (or more) you are also not alone. Everything and anything you are feeling right now is completely normal and okay. This is an unprecedented event that no one could have predicted. From speaking with many, it seems that we are all grieving our “old normal” (ie. what our lives have looked like up until now) and trying hard to adjust to our “new normal” that is still ever-evolving. Some may even be experiencing a trauma/grief response: difficulty sleeping (or sleeping too much), difficulty eating (or the desire to eat too much), shock, numbness, confusion, zone out, panic.

While I recognize that I feel many different things, I have also felt a sense of calm, because I am choosing my reaction to all of it, as our reaction is all we can control. I have been choosing to live my life (in a way that is compliant with CDC guidelines) and still enjoy it. I want to share with you what I have been doing to cope (which, as a germaphobe has not been easy) during this chaotic time:

1) I have been feeling my feelings, and accepting them:
Allow yourself to feel your feelings, knowing they will pass. As I mentioned above, I felt all of those feelings, but not at the same time- they come and go like waves, and I make space for them all….It’s ok to cry! Don’t fight (or ignore, or minimize) whatever you are feeling- the only way out is through. Instead, try to understand what you are feeling. If you are feeling anxious, for example, get curious: ask yourself, what is making me feel anxious right now? If “anxious” could speak, what would it want me to know? What is it afraid of? How is this anxious feeling trying to help me or protect me?…Once you have some understanding and clarity, writing it down can help. Journaling your feelings can be extremely helpful because you are getting your feelings out and putting it down on paper (or computer)….Finally, accepting those feelings: while some may come and go quickly, others may stick around for longer. I have accepted that during this time anxiety will be a constant for me, but I can still live my life with it present.

But 2) I ask my feelings not to take over, or overwhelm/flood me:
This may sound strange but you can talk to your feelings and ask them not to flood you, take over or overwhelm you. You can say to “anxious,” for example, “I see you, I understand why you’re here but please don’t flood me.” And then continue to get curious with, and understand that feeling.

If I already feel overwhelmed then 3) This is how I slow myself down until I can do 1 & 2):
a) I ground: Look around the room and focus on your surroundings. Then list 5 things that you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, 1 thing you can taste. This brings you back into the present moment. Try to focus on things that are especially comforting in the room.
b) I do 4-4-6 breathing (my favorite): Sit on the floor in a comfortable seated position (child’s pose, legs crossed, grounded in a chair), and breathe in for 4, hold for 4 and out for 6. Do this until you feel your heart rate slow down.
c) I bring saliva into my mouth- This forces the parasympathetic nervous system to activate, and relaxes the body.
d) I go to my “safe place”- Bring up an image of a safe place where you feel relaxed and comfortable. Breathe and imagine yourself there for as long as you need to.
e) I use water to soothe- Take a drink of water, wash your hands and face, take a shower or bath.

4) I control things that are within my control:
I like feeling somewhat in control of my life. Most of us do. Right now I do not feel that way, as there are so many unknowns, so I focus on the things that are within my control, and on choices I can make. I can choose to wash my hands often, to keep my surroundings clean, to take vitamins, to eat (relatively) healthy and to sleep. I can choose to purchase enough food/medicine/ toiletries in case there is a total lockdown. Note: this does not mean buying enough toilet paper to build a fort. Please be considerate of others. I can choose where and when I feel comfortable going or not- when I choose to go to the grocery store or drug store, when I walk outside, how much distance I keep from others. I can choose my own schedule- when, how and where I get things done right now- work, play, self-care, etc. I (luckily) can choose to work from home. I can choose my reaction- I will breathe and choose to stay calm, no matter what happens. Panicking doesn’t help and lowers our immune system’s response.

5) I stay connected to those I love:
We are wired to connect, and social isolation is dangerous, which is why this social distancing is so difficult. I miss hanging out with my friends and family. So I make the intention to reach out to as many people as I can through different means: text, email, phone, social media, Facetime, WhatsApp, and my personal favorite, Marco Polo. In addition, if I see people in the street, I wave and smile from 6 feet away. Even eye contact and a smile helps…If you are home with your family and understandably not social distancing from those within your home, take advantage of that- enjoy each other and connect as much as you can, while also maintaining boundaries and asking for space when you need it.

6) I self-care:
This one is HUGE. I do things that make me happy. The biggest one for me is:
a) EXERCISE!! I have weights and some gym equipment at home, but even if you don’t have that, there are plenty of opportunities to exercise. There are many fitness instructors, yoga instructors, and dance teachers streaming classes on YouTube and Instagram. Some are free. Check it out!
b) I am trying to get outside and be in nature but only in ways that are CDC compliant. Nature is extremely healing. Depending on where you live this may or may not be possible. In Arizona where the weather is warm and we have open space, it is possible to take walks and go on trails and still be CDC compliant. I imagine in NY this is a bit harder. If possible, even going into your own backyard or down your block and breathing fresh air can be soothing.
c) I am trying to spend downtime doing things that bring me joy: watching movies, Netflix, reading, listening to podcasts, listening to music, watching live concerts that the artists are streaming from their homes (see Instagram for this).
d) I am focusing on the normal, routine, important stuff: I’m trying to sleep, eat relatively healthy, cook, keep my apartment and myself clean, pay my bills, get life in order. I am trying to keep my life balanced between work, chores, socializing, exercising, etc.- time when my brain can be on and time when my brain can turn off.
e) I am making a concerted effort to breathe/meditate, not only when my emotions may overwhelm me (see 3) but as a general routine. Admittedly, I have to improve on this one. I personally don’t enjoy meditation but I know how important it is right now. Try the Headspace App for some guided meditations.

7) I try to stay present in the moment. When I’m speaking to my clients or friends, they are my focus. The same with any activity I am engaged in. I am focusing on one day, one activity at a time. To help me do this, I am writing to-do lists each day that I can focus on, and some days I write up a schedule for the to-do list. More than ever, I am trying to focus on now.

8) I look for ways to help people. Lucky for me, my job involves helping others. Helping others gives people purpose and brings joy. There are many out there who need help right now. Even if it is just close friends or family, helping them will be beneficial for both you and them simultaneously.

9) I try to stay informed but not too informed. I want/feel the need to know what is happening out there. The news changes quickly, and so it important to be aware and alert, but with limits- you could easily spend all day reading articles about COVID-19. Please don’t.

10) I am figuring out how to navigate dating during this very odd time. I have chosen not to go on dates or meet anyone new at the moment, but I am not opposed to meeting others virtually and seeing what happens. Do what works best for you. If you feel comfortable meeting new people while social distancing, go for it.
For those of you in relationships- connect as best as you can. If you are quarantined together, find ways to have fun- do date nights at home, exercise together, take walks together, cook together, be intimate…while also balancing alone time. If you feel the need to ask for space, do so kindly. If you are quarantined apart, again, connect as best as you can. You can even still do date night virtually- think movie night but in separate homes!

11) I am accepting this “new normal.”
This still feels surreal to me, but this is life right now. Accepting that this is our new reality will help us all adapt.

Please remember we are all in this together, and this will eventually pass. Life that more closely resembles our “old normal” will hopefully return, though that “future normal” may look a bit different even still. In the meantime, please reach out to family, friends, and therapists for support during this difficult time. We are here to help and are available for telehealth sessions. Wishing you, your friends and families, strength, calm, health and happiness. With love, Rae

This Post Written By:
Rae Freidus, LAMFT, MS – Therapy With Heart
8737 E. Via De Commercio, Suite 200
Scottsdale, Arizona 85258
Phone: (480) 888-5380
Fax: (480) 203-2881