Do not go gentle into that night
Old age should burn and rave at close of day
Rage, rage against the dying of the night
– Dylan Thomas 1914 -1953
A friend of mine has likened 2020 to science fiction. I wish it were. There have been many mornings recently where my first thought has been the wish that the turn of events of the last three months were just a bad dream I’ve woken up from.
Instead, each morning has brought more news of urgent changes being introduced in an attempt to contain the Covid-19 pandemic.
We are dealing with an immense threat, not just to our wellbeing, but to our jobs, our businesses and our financial security. Weddings have been postponed, holidays cancelled and visits to ailing elderly family members now problematic. We’ve been asked to work from home, to change how we meet and greet each other and to be prepared for worse to come.
This is where Tenacity with a capital T and coming together as a global community will see us through these dark times and there are a number of things that can help:
1. Tap into the tenacity of the human spirit
As humans, we are remarkable for our capacity to weather adversity and rise again.
But when dealing with ongoing fear and uncertainty, not knowing the answers to the “How long?” “How bad?” questions and feeling everything is outside our control we can easily fall into a downward spiral of negativity, despair and hopelessness.
While our children are now young adults, I remember how they used to love watching Play School on TV where one of the regular segments invited them to look through one of three different shaped windows to see what exciting discovery or information lay on the other side.
In just the same way we can use the metaphor of looking into the windows of our past, present and future to help us navigate our way through these uncertain times.
When dealing with past challenges, the window of your past provides you with the insight of how you were able to identify what was in your control and what wasn’t. What helped and what didn’t. Looking through the window of the present allows you to compare notes.
Is what you are currently experiencing now anything like what you’ve successfully dealt with before? If so, you can draw on that right now. The window of the future, while a little fuzzy and unclear is something to prepare to look in to based on what you have learned from the past and present and to develop the strategies that will help keep you safe.
This includes the need for self-care to:
- Boost your immune system to ward off potential infection by getting enough good quality uninterrupted sleep, doing some regular exercise and choosing to eat healthily including plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables and fibre
- Manage your stress levels using meditation, exercise and reducing the ‘noise’ from social media by choosing to stop watching the news 24/7.
I don’t know about you, but I now find supermarket shopping a stressful experience! You might only want a couple of basic items, but coming face to face with people fighting in the aisles to nab the last rare packet of toilet rolls and seeing others with shopping trolleys laden with 50 jars of pasta sauce can make you think – hmm I’d better get some too, even if you don’t normally eat the stuff! Fear of missing out and social contagion adds to your stress which is why those repeated images of empty supermarket shelves do nothing to allay fear and reinforce the picture of scarcity.
This is where focusing on the bigger picture can help keep you out of the doldrums of the minutiae and the perception of stress manifesting as some big ugly monster it doesn’t deserve to be.
Stress only becomes a problem when it’s allowed to amplify. Look at a fly through a magnifying glass and it looks pretty horrific. Without the magnification, it’s just a darn fly that you can easily get rid of with a well-aimed swat.
Stress is simply an indicator alerting you to the fact something is different in your environment. It’s a safety feature evolved long ago to help us be aware of the presence of danger and respond by either running away fast or putting up a fight. The problem with the chronic stress we‘re currently being exposed to during the pandemic is it’s causing the danger signal in your head to remain switched on leaving you hyperalert to any hint of further threat, which is horribly exhausting too.
Let’s breathe. Slowing down your breathing can quickly reduce stress levels and calm the mind. Undertaking a meditation practice whether mindfulness-based focusing on the breath or loving-kindness will help you maintain cognitive control of the situation and keep all those flies in perspective.
- Manage your emotions. Stress and emotion walk hand-in-hand. You may have noticed how intense negative emotion heightens stress levels and vice versa. Emotions are normal and you have the full spectrum. Acceptance of feelings is critical to their management because attempting to control our emotion with suppression only aggravates their intensity.
While it’s not much fun dealing with strong negative emotions such as fear, anxiety, disappointment or frustration, acknowledging them helps to recognise how these influence your thoughts, behaviours and actions and importantly provides the mental space required to choose your response.
Remember too that just like the pesky Covid-19 your emotions are infectious too. How you show up affects everyone around you. If you are feeling anxious, it’s important to manage it as best you can so it doesn’t impact your partner, your kids or even your pets.
A mindful approach is to get really good at noticing what you’re doing in any given moment. Given we touch our faces a lot – some say 20 times an hour, when you become aware you did touch your face, rather than berating yourself, just note what happened and move to wash your hands carefully. It can help raise awareness of where your hand is moving to next time and reduce face touching. As an elite face toucher, I’m practising hard using this technique right now!
2. Anticipate the arrival of spring
As a child growing up in the UK, the winters felt very long, cold and grey. But the sight of the first snowdrop peeking out from the soil and green leaf buds on the trees heralded the arrival of spring, a time for new growth, greater optimism and hope.
In the same way, while the current pandemic is all-consuming of our thoughts, we know it will eventually pass and we’ll enter a new phase of recovery and growth. Anticipating the eventual resolution of threat means now is the time to regroup and get ready for the next phase.
If you’re now working from home, that time saved from not having to commute is extra time for you, to spend with your family, to get onto those projects you’ve been holding back on for a while, learn a new skill or clear out the garage!
If your job has been affected or you anticipate a major shift in the industry you’re affiliated to, how can you be best prepared? Is this time to rethink the what you do to can adapt to different circumstances because you’re more than capable or even to reinvent the “what” you do into something else?
3. Seek to help others
Shifting focus from ourselves to how we can best support each other is about adopting a thriver’s mindset. We all do so much better when we come together as one. Look for ways to collaborate with like-minded people to support each other and the community.
Helping out can take the form of volunteering for a charity or checking in on an elderly neighbour or a friend you know lives home alone. During this time of increased social distancing and isolation, loneliness can become a real issue.
Ask what you can do to assist. If you see someone needs help, show kindness and compassion. Rather than walking past, stop and ask RUOK? This takes us away from small-mindedness and selfish behaviours where we justify taking more than we need “in case.”
By adopting a “how can I help” approach we nurture caring for each other.
4. Find the joy
Yes, times are turbulent, and we cannot forecast the future, but there is so much we can be grateful for and things we can do to bring a smile to our face each day.
Gratitude helps to be aware of all the good around us. When the storm clouds of doom are lurking overhead day after day it’s easy to forget that above those clouds the sky is still blue and the sun is still shining.
Remembering to smile and say thank you is a great place to start. As is keeping a gratitude journal – a simple way of remembering those good things that happen each and every day both big and small. When recording your journal ask too why that action or behaviour sparked gratitude in you. This deepens your appreciation of what you are being thankful for and provides greater meaning to everything you do.
Setting the intention to find more joy opens you up to greater mental wellbeing. Whether it’s watching a video of Italians singing in unison from their balconies while under home isolation, noticing the beauty of the flowers in your garden, enjoying having the time to sit and read. Cultivating more moments of joy each day is like putting money into the bank that’s earning compound interest.
How will you be putting more joyful deposits into your life’s account?
What you choose to do today, tomorrow and the next using your tenacity, anticipation of the new dawn, generosity and joyful intention is what will help you, your family and your community be best prepared for whatever comes next.
You can do this. We all can. Because we’re in this together.
And we are tenacious.