The hardest thing to do when nothing is certain is to make peace with your situation.
For most of us, it’s been about six (or even eight) weeks since this all started—this of course meaning the COVID-19 pandemic, a situation that is still too new and too startling to fully grasp yet. In the years ahead, we will look back on this time and remember, and learn from it. But for now, in the depths of whatever emotions we feel right now, it’s almost impossible to see ahead.
My heart aches for the people who are alone—for friends, and co-workers, and family members, and all of the people who live in retirement communities or nursing homes. To be unwillingly and truly alone for long stretches at a time can be a terrible thing – the empty hours unfolding ahead of you, with nothing to do to fill them.
And yet there is the other side of the coin, too—parents who have been thrust into the role of teacher on top of the responsibilities of being a worker, a spouse, a friend, a son or daughter. People for whom the word “solitude” would seem welcome, if not laughable. People craving just a moment of alone time to quiet their mind. And people who would gladly choose to stay home, but have work to do and a job to perform.
And there’s everyone in-between, too. At times you’re enjoying the relative quiet, yet feeling an itch to get out of the house. You want to complain about your summer vacation being cancelled, yet you feel guilty when you compare your good fortunes to everyone else’s.
There is no magic word or activity or self-care practice that will make everyone feel better. But there are three pieces of casual advice that have helped me cope and I hope they might in some way help you better deal with this situation, too.
1. Your Feelings Are Valid. So Are Everyone Else’s.
A clergy member at a church we used to attend was fond of saying, “Feelings aren’t right or wrong; they just are.”
It’s too easy to fall into the trap of assuming your position is correct, and judging other people based on what they say in a bad moment. But why should you get to decide that your feelings are valid and another person’s aren’t? Isn’t every other person also, just like you, a human being with emotions and thoughts and wishes and fears?
On the flip side, it’s also easy to stifle your own feelings based on what seems to be right or wrong. For example, that summer vacation being cancelled? It was mine—meant to be a one-year anniversary celebration for my husband and me. It both saddened and deeply disappointed me that it had to be cancelled, but the thought of admitting this out loud seemed petty and ungrateful. Why should I complain over that when other people are sick or struggling to keep their families afloat?
I explained this in halting fashion to a good friend, who gently reminded me that it’s OK to feel sad, even if other people in the world might have it worse. It would be the same as thinking that I couldn’t be happy, because someone else in the world might be happier. And so I recognized that my problem might not seem like a real problem to someone else, but it made me upset, and that was OK.
That’s not to say that we should let our feelings control us. The thing is, we are in control—whether it’s a good day, or a bad day, or somewhere in the middle—and we can choose how to react to our feelings. And when someone else tells us something, or snaps at us in a bad moment, give them some grace and choose to react positively. I guarantee you’ll feel better about it later than if you snap back.
2. Practice Gratitude.
Another piece of advice that’s easier said than done, but with great benefits if you’re able to do it.
At some point throughout every day, I like to take a second and think of five things I’m grateful for. Sometimes I can think of far more; sometimes it seems like a struggle to think of five. But either way, after this exercise, I recognize that I have more than I think, and that’s a reason to be thankful.
There’s even research showing that gratitude doesn’t just make you feel good in the moment; it can have lasting benefits.
In the time of a pandemic, I appreciate that it can be difficult, maybe even impossible, for some of us to think of things to be thankful for. And when that’s the case, I like to instead think of people I’m grateful for in my life.
There’s always someone we can think of who’s had an impact on our life and shaped it in some way. If all else fails, simply think of how glad you are to know this person. It will help. Trust me.
Another way to boost your gratitude is to spend some time helping other people with a gift of time. Check out our list of 13 fun and kid-friendly projects you can do right at home to brighten someone else’s day.
3. Turn Off the News.
As someone with a journalism background, I have many thoughts on today’s 24-hour news cycle. But my prevalent thought right now? None of us needs to watch the news constantly.
Exposing yourself to story after story of sickness, confusion, and fear is only good for stirring up negativity in your own life. And it can become a bad habit. You might tell yourself that you need to check on the news frequently to stay up-to-date, or to make sure you’re following all the right guidelines. The problem is, you’ll likely find yourself checking more and more, immersing yourself in a cycle of unhappiness.
The best solution I’ve found for this is to simply stop checking. If you must, limit yourself to one or two quick checks each day to make sure you’re on top of headlines. You could also try balancing your reading, so for every negative story you read, you also find a positive one.
I’m not saying you should ignore what’s going on, and you should certainly strive to be informed on current practices for health and safety. But I’ve found checking too often can lead to an unhealthy obsession and a focus only on the worst-case scenario. Give your mind a break and lay off the news if it’s becoming upsetting for you.
BONUS: How Can I Help?
As a bonus, one final thing I’ve done during the pandemic is to focus on being there for others in any way that I can. Whether it’s checking in on a friend or picking up groceries for someone, there are things we can do—even from afar—to lift another person’s spirits as well as our own.
Find a list of family-oriented service activities you can do anywhere on our COVID-19 response page. We’ve added dozens of options through our nonprofit partners—from donating socks to writing letters of encouragement—so you’re sure to find an activity that you and your kids will love.