By Nancy Brownsberger
We are in unprecedented times, with no frame of reference, and as we step into the second week of recommended social isolation because of the COVID-19 virus, we are all reeling from this experience. I don’t know about you, but it feels like we are sharing this collective low grade anxiety and fear that comes and goes throughout any given day, yet doesn’t quite settle down to utter calmness. I feel like it’s akin to post trauma effects, in that we might fall asleep and awaken with that one or two moments of clarity, and then boom – the reality hits us again and our nervous systems kick into response mode. This is uncharted territory, and we are all just doing our very best to do our very best.
As we fell to our knees last week, and what appears to be almost hourly, as the changes and shifts come across our news feeds, there is also this incredibly beautiful connectedness that is happening. Have you felt it or seen it yet? It’s the neighbours in Italy who are found singing to each other from their balconies, the communities in Canada who sing our national anthem, while practicing social distancing. It can also be seen, heard and felt at our community level, where our friends and neighbours, businesses and organizations are reaching out and helping ensure folks are getting what they need. Ultimately, we are in this together, aren’t we? And we do have an opportunity to learn from each other culturally, societally, generationally and globally. We also have been given this time to get to know ourselves a little better too.
Technology is connecting us globally and locally as well. It’s almost as if we have this looking glass that is allowing us to see into the lives of others on such an intimate and fragile level as we bear witness to the shared humanity and true vulnerability of each other. What once felt like “other” now feels like “us.” And this is where the connections can make a difference in our own experiences and help us to feel just a little less alone.
I have had many discussions over the past week about the true value of technology right now. Because it breaks down barriers, and truly can bring us together in the same moment, across the globe. While working the other night, I and 5,000 other people watched Melissa Etheridge (a rock musician) do her daily 15-minute concert from her own living room. And in those 15 minutes there were 5,000 of us singing (maybe that was just me, but I doubt it) and breathing and listening and being present...together. And this is where the love lives. This is where we can find each other and escape from our fear for maybe a moment or two.
At times like this I like to defer to my own personal inspirations, writers and researchers. Elizabeth Kubler- Ross (a Swiss-American psychiatrist who lived from July 8, 1926 to Aug. 24, 2004) talked about her research on fear. “If we’re in fear, we are not in a place of love. We have to make a decision to be in one place or the other. There is no neutrality in this. If you don’t actively choose love, you will find yourself in a place of either fear or one of its component feelings.”
I believe that we have this opportunity, both today and in the days ahead to choose love. In whatever micro or macro way you are able to do it. And as discussed above, we are seeing that happen time and time and time again.
But when we are in the midst of struggle, it is extremely difficult to do that. We might not have the resources, experience or support that allows us to easily get there. So, here are 10 things that I, and my family, are finding helpful as we navigate each day.
Breathe: at the beginning of each day and throughout your day, remember to take a minute or 10, to breathe. Deeply, from the belly. Plant your feet on the floor, rest your mind and simply breathe. And when things feel too much, try to practice stopping in that moment and doing this. It settles the nervous system and boosts your immunity.
Get outside: we live in one of the most beautiful places in the world, it is spring and the robins have returned. Go for a walk, play basketball with your kids or your spouse, sit in the sun every chance you get and fill your lungs with fresh air. Read a book, paint a picture, play a board game outside. Listen to the birds, witness nature at its finest. We are truly blessed to have the Haliburton Highlands as our backyard. Use every bit of it that you can while practicing safe social distancing.
Connect inwards: If you can and it fits for you, think about how it is that you want to look back on this experience and learn from it, what choices can you make today and every day moving forward to support your values as a global citizen, a parent, a child, a sibling, a professional. How are you showing up to this? Would you like to show up differently or do things differently? Do you need help to talk this through? There are a number of professionals that are offering virtual counselling and therapy sessions in Haliburton and you can find them by connecting with your local mental health agencies, Health Services, or private clinicians.
Connect outwards: Reach out to your loved ones, your friends and family through the telephone, Skype, FaceTime etc. and schedule daily or weekly chat times. Text messages are invaluable at this time, so check in. Encourage. Ask for help and open the conversation. We are all scared. You are not alone. It’s deeply important for us to talk through how we’re feeling and remain connected to each other, our health relies on it. If you don’t have anyone that you can chat with, there are local resources that can assist you with connecting to others, please read your local newspapers, go online if you can and find out who and where you can chat with someone or set up a virtual phone friend for the time being.
Unplug: Set up a regular daily schedule of unplugging your computer, television and phone every day. Several times a day. Especially before bed. At least one hour, ultimately two, before bed, practice some quiet by reading a book, reading to your kids, slowing yourself down through light household tasks and unplugging from the newsfeeds.
Filter your newsfeeds, television feeds, conversation feeds: Information is rampant and 24/7 and it can lead us down a very dark rabbit hole in terms of value. Follow one or two trusted Canadian newsfeeds like Health Canada or the Provincial Health Unit. There is an awful lot of sensationalistic and false information floating around and what it does is feed our fear. We want to feed our shared compassion and love, so follow and watch things that are encouraging and inspiring. And for goodness sake, don’t get into online arguments. This is fear in action. This is a time of coming together, not dividing.
Get back to basics: Set up a daily routine, from wake up to going to bed at night, that fits for your family. Schedule meals, physical activities, getting outside, alone time, shared activities. Psychologically, developing routines can help create a sense of calm and reassurance both for ourselves and for our families. It helps us to make sense of our lives and create consistency. Perhaps pull out the board games, deck of cards and puzzles and get back to (if you haven’t been doing so) just hanging out and spending time with those who are in our homes.
Use online resources: If you have access to the internet and a screen you can watch your favourite musicians perform live, go to Canada’s Wonderland and ride their rides virtually, listen to podcasts and TED Talks, find inspiration from your favourite writers, actors, and other individuals. Ellen Degeneres has a hilarious daily check in on Instagram. You can tour museums virtually, take free online classes. The world is literally at our fingertips and we might have some time to do a deep dive to find more ways of connecting and experiencing it. Watch Netflix with your friends and write comments to each other – how fun is that?
Be present: If it fits for you, journal, paint, sketch, sing, dance, write lyrics, write poetry, colour, build a garden, build an inukshuk. And if that feels like too much, go back to number one and two. Just simply breathe and get outside.
Learn something new: If you have the chance to read something new, study online, practice a new skill, take a tutorial on YouTube and learn how to play the banjo for example, now might be the time. Our brains require continued stimulation and the firing up of our neural pathways to stay healthy, so maybe that puzzle in the back of your cupboard is calling your name. It doesn’t matter what, it’s simply important to keep our minds engaged and active.
This experience is a massive social experiment on a global level. All humans on our beautiful blue planet are deeply rooted to each other right now. And this connection trickles down to our neighbours and those we social distance from as we live our daily lives. We have all been taken to our knees and become aware of our own fragility. And with that, we can show up as our worst selves or our best selves. The good news is that we have a choice. Even in the tiniest of ways, we can simply smile at our neighbour and take a moment before reacting from fear, if we take a bit better care of ourselves, we can maybe choose love first.
And it’s OK. All of it. How we show up right now is messy and sloppy and jumbled. There’s no prototype. So please, be gentle with yourself. With each other. And I hope that you reach out where you need to. Because you’re not alone.
Nancy Brownsberger B.A., R.S.S.W.,
C.L.C. Counsellor with Grow Optimism