I look out the window and see the trees blowing from side to side, and snow flurries in the air. It is the second week of May 2020, and this makes absolutely no sense.
But there is nothing about the world we are living in right now that makes any sense. It is like adding insult to injury. Amid a world pandemic, we are forced to stay home and shelter in place. The weather is making it impossible to enjoy a walk in the sunshine or sit on our decks with a good book.
We are two months into this “new normal.” If you were to take the emotional temperature of most individuals, I believe we would find that everyone is emotionally exhausted.
Tired, truly tired. Tired of not being able to spend time with family and friends. Tired of horrifying news that doesn’t seem to be getting any better. Tired of a trip to the grocery store being anxiety-provoking and stressful. Tired of the uncertainty. And tired of feeling sad, scared, confused, angry, stressed, and discouraged.
However, we don’t know how many days, weeks, or months until we return to life as we knew it. Once the restrictions are lifted, and we return to the routines of our past, our lives will be changed. We know that on the other side of this pandemic, life will be different.
So how do we get up each morning and maintain our enthusiasm, energy, and optimism for the day ahead, never mind the uncertain future that awaits us?
It is a valid question and one which is incredibly vital that we find the answer to. If we don’t, we can easily slip into depression and despair.
It is my belief we need to first start with acceptance. We must accept that these are challenging times which we have no control over. Accept that our emotions fluctuate not only every day but sometimes every hour. Accept that some times we will not be okay, and that’s okay!
We must recognize that at times we are grieving and grief takes time to walk through. We mourn life as we used to know it, lives that have been lost, milestones that have been missed, and occasions that will not be celebrated as we hoped. Don’t run from the grief, but do what you need to do to manage it.
If we can increase compassion—for our shared humanity, and ourselves—and dispense with judgment, we will feel better. After all, we are in unchartered territory, and none of us have a roadmap. We are doing the best we can.
Lastly, we must create rituals and habits to take it one day at a time and continue to feel like we are living with meaning and purpose.
In Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Frankel states, “Despair equals suffering minus meaning.” Individuals in concentration camps who held fast to the belief that their lives still had meaning, and there was a purpose in getting through each day, had a higher chance of surviving.
We are all suffering through this pandemic. Although some appear to be managing better than others, underneath, we are all experiencing uncomfortable and frightening emotions.
If we are to keep moving forward, and dare I even say, thrive during this crisis, we must find ways to bring meaning to each and every day.
How to accomplish that will be different for you than it might be for me because we are all unique individuals with our own specific circumstances. However, there are some common habits to adopt that can assist you in finding your meaning and purpose in the days ahead.
Begin by reflecting on who you were at your best pre-pandemic.
What were you doing, who were you with, what was your mindset and beliefs on days when you felt at your personal best? Write them down. Then look at that list and ask yourself how you can adapt to meet the circumstances we are in right now.
If exercise was part of your regular routine, how can you adapt your workouts despite your favorite studio being closed? If doing meaningful work makes you feel at your best, but you’ve lost your job, how might you bring meaningful work into your days now? Perhaps it is learning a new skill online. Or even putting healthy meals on the table for your family. Or homeschooling your kids.
If you are at your best when surrounded by family and friends, connect in other ways rather than being physically together. Zoom calls, FaceTime, even the old-fashion phone check-in. There is a myriad of ways to stay connected despite needing to be distanced.
Set intentions every morning.
Find the two or three things you can commit to today that will allow you to state at the end of the day—I am okay, this day was okay. You may need to lower your expectations. However, set a minimum of what you know will make the difference between feeling the day had meaning versus it feeling like a waste. It may be getting dressed, exercising, and doing one task for your business is all you can muster. That’s fine. However, you just might find that once you are in action, you can stay in motion.
Elevate self-care to the highest priority.
One of the very few things we can control during these days is how we take care of ourselves both physically and mentally. That is how we will keep our immunes systems healthy, and if we do get ill, have the stamina to fight off the infection. Eat healthily, include exercise and movement into your days, get ample sleep—you may even need more than usual to help manage the emotional fatigue. Stay informed, but do not bathe in the news and media all day long. It will only increase your anxiety. Dig into your stress-management toolbox, and do what you need to do to manage your stress.
Stay connected socially.
There is often a tendency when we are not feeling our best to withdraw from others. This is precisely the opposite of what we all need. Now, more than ever, we need to stay connected to those we love and care about. One of my daily intentions has been to reach out to at least one family member, friend, or client every day whom I am missing. I’ve had some great conversations with long-lost cousins, childhood friends, and clients I hadn’t worked with in years.
Bring some fun into your day, every day.
It could be watching old funny movies or comedians on YouTube, playing bridge or mahjong online, attending a Zoom networking meeting, or playing the piano. When each day includes something that brings you enjoyment, the day becomes more joyful. Whenever possible, schedule activities throughout the week which you look forward to. Having Zoom cocktail hours every Saturday evening with friends who we would love to be going out with, but can’t, has made the weekends feel special.
Ask yourself, “Who do you want to be when this is behind us?”
Spend some time reflecting on your values, strengths, and life priorities. There are lessons to be learned and opportunities to be found, even in the midst of crisis. We will get through this, and one day we will be looking through the rearview window. How do you want to remember who you were during these days? What strengths will you have utilized to keep you standing firm? How will you have brought meaning and purpose into your life, even when it felt lost? What will you have learned?
Just as the sun and warmth will eventually come to my East Coast home, the COVID-19 crisis will end. Life will get back to “normal,” but know it will be different. We will all be transformed by the experiences we have struggled through. Our perseverance, discipline, compassion, and grit muscles will have been flexed and have grown.
By asking yourself that question—Who do I want to be when this is behind us?—you will know what you need to do, each and every day to keep moving forward. Then you will be growing, surviving, and maybe even thriving through the challenging days ahead.