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Surviving the Personal Chaos During the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Heidi Baldwin, MS, RMT

We are all experiencing something unprecedented in our lifetime. No one really knows what to expect, we aren’t sure who to trust for the answers to questions we’ve never asked before, and uncertainty is pervasive everywhere.

Many of you are newly unemployed, or if you are lucky, furloughed for the time being. A lot of folks are working from home (probably in pjs) and finding challenges in their attempts at productivity. Many of you find yourselves trying to be an employee working from home, new home-schooling teacher, and parent all at the same time, and understandably ready to pull your hair out because each of those is a full-time job in and of itself, and you still only have 24 hours a day to work with to make this happen. Perhaps you’re already retired and find yourself more isolated than ever before because you cannot interact directly with family members and your social network, and you take extra precautions due to your age and the increased risk of getting the virus that’s wreaking havoc on everything we’ve come to view as “normal life.” Whatever your situation, and however lonely you’re feeling right now, please know you are NOT ALONE!

Grocery store trips are viewed with mixed emotions. Do I go out and get the bare essentials and risk being exposed, or do I make do with what I have on hand? Do I have enough toilet paper? (Seriously, what were people using before this hit?) When will the stores have toilet paper again? Do they have bread? Do I need bread? Can I use something else instead? Should I make bread? I need ingredients. What do I do to make sure the items I bring into the house are safe? Was I too close to the person in the check-out line? Did I wash my hands when I got home? It’s a quagmire of thoughts, I get it…

Schools and school events are canceled. Graduations canceled or postponed. Conferences, concerts, sporting events, proms, parades… you name it… canceled or postponed indefinitely. We went from running around at Mach speed trying to fit in the insanity that was our life, to hitting a brick wall at about 100 mph… in about 2 days flat; the world as we knew it virtually stopped.

It’s been almost a month, and most of us are still stunned, and still asking, “what the heck just happened?” We could re-write the lyrics to Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” with the events of the last month with very little effort.

Like any traumatic event in life, the shock eventually wears off, and you start to ask yourself: “Where do I go from here?” Most people aren’t there yet… because we still have so many unanswered questions, so much uncertainty about EVERYTHING.

One thing seems certain though, life will never ever be the same again when we make it through this pandemic (and we WILL make it through). We won’t take things for granted that we often did in the busy-ness of life as we knew it… hugs, spending time with family members and loved ones, visits with friends that you put off in lieu of all sorts of other nonsense on your calendar, lunch with your pals, happy hour with your co-workers, school concerts, sporting events, being out in nature without worry of being too close to someone else, etc. etc.

Right now, we seem to be caught in the middle: in the middle of what once was and what we hope will be, an eerie sort of limbo. So, what do we do while we are in the limbo of chaos?

First and foremost, remember to stay in the NOW, which is often easier said than done. With so many “what-ifs” floating around, keep in mind we really only have control over how we react to everything that is really going on in the moment, and sometimes that is hard. Being mindful is always important, but is also crucial at this time in our lives. We always have a choice about how we engage, how we react, and what we focus on, even though it may not seem like it right now.

So, with all that is going on, how can we stay in the now, and how do we choose what to focus on? There is a LOT going on in the world, and it can be easy to fall into the trap of getting hooked on watching the news reports. The news is a scary rabbit hole to fall into, between worries of fake news and media scare tactics, to allowing it to consume all of your time. My best advice is to find an unbiased news source if you can or know the time of a live update from a real person whom you trust or resonate with, and limit your news viewing to 15 – 30 minutes a day. A DAY?!?! Yes. Trust me, you’ll feel MUCH calmer, and if there is anything you NEED to know, you’re going to find out. Ping ponging your mind and your emotions from speculation to speculation in a time of uncertainty just isn’t healthy. CHOOSE to spend your time nurturing yourself and your loved ones, and enjoying this lull in the craziness that had become our lives.

Working from home, if you are so lucky to be able to do so at this time, can have its own set of challenges. You are likely tempted by so many distractions, from household chores like catching up with laundry to the constant reminder that there are others around you who are also trying to make life work from home too. Perhaps you’re working more intently than ever as a distraction, and forgetting to take much-needed stretch breaks or even a lunch break. Maybe you forgot what time your workday ends, and you’re compelled to keep working long into the even hours and not allowing yourself to find balance in life during this very unusual time in our lives. Create some peace and calm in this new space. Do whatever you can to create a home “office” – a workspace where you can focus on work tasks free from distraction. Also set up a schedule for yourself that you are committed to following, with beginning and ending times for required work, as well as other work-related tasks you need to complete.

Even if you are not officially working from home, I highly recommend creating a daily schedule to keep you focused, motivated, and moving. It’s easy to sit around and let depression set in during something unprecedented like this pandemic. Think back to a time when you said: “I wish I had time to (fill in the blank).” Use this gift of time to work those things into your schedule. Mix up your schedule too. Plan time for work type activities (organizing, sorting, and cleaning one room of your house at a time), exercise (taking a walk outside for some fresh air – even if it’s in your backyard or walking back and forth on your balcony if you’re living somewhere that doesn’t allow a solo walk), reading (you know that pile of “when I have time” books sitting on that shelf…), meditative quiet time (if you are someone who has never meditated before, just listen to some quiet music for 10 minutes with your eyes closed and enjoy the calm), self-care (no, you should not go a whole week without showering and sitting around in the same pjs – make an effort to take care of yourself because YOU ARE WORTH IT; comfy clothes should be enjoyed during this time of slowing down – just make an effort to wear some clean clothes – you’ll feel better), and most importantly FUN. Yes, allow yourself to have FUN and give yourself permission to find personal happiness each and every day, despite this pandemic. It’s an important part of raising our collective vibration. FUN can include something you already enjoy doing, or trying a new hobby you’ve always wanted to get into – or it can be BOTH! Schedule time for it. No excuses.

Take time to focus on your health. I know, you’re thinking, well doesn’t that go unsaid, especially at a time like this? Yes, take the recommended precautions to heart: hand-washing, social distancing, and staying home whenever possible… but I am talking about really focusing on you and your health. It’s easy to fall off the wagon and stress eat during these times, and maybe you are having trouble finding healthy things to eat with all that is going on. Please be mindful now more than ever. If you have supplements you usually take, keep taking them. Vitamin C is especially helpful at keeping your immune system working well. Hydrate – with room temperature water, all day every day – and move your body daily. A sluggish lymph system does not move viruses out the way it needs to – be mindful of this. Eat fresh, whole foods whenever possible. Plant container veggies. Have fresh foods delivered, if possible, with veggie boxes or fruit boxes – there are many options out there (reach out if you need suggestions). Keeping our immune systems as strong as possible is important all the time, but now more than ever, so don’t start living on Cheetos and ding dongs because you’re stressed out.

STAY CONNECTED. Practicing social isolation does NOT mean you have to hole up like a hermit in a dark house and not speak to anyone for the next 4 months. CALL your loved ones, especially the elderly who are feeling more alone now than they ever have. Facetime, Skype, or Zoom your friends, family members, and social groups. Your bonds are strong, so use those close connections to get through all of this uncertainty together. WRITE LETTERS or SEND CARDS to those you care about, or someone you know could use a pick me up right now. Do it now, don’t wait.

Remember to look for the good amongst all the chaos… the reports of birds singing in places that have not heard that music in ages… the significant decrease in pollution while factories are closed which is visible from space (how much “stuff” was being produced at the expense of our planet, our home, that we don’t even NEED?)… the decrease in the size of the hole in the ozone… the arrival of Spring… the quality time you have to do fun things with the people you live with… the green returning to the grass… the first flowers of the season popping up everywhere… the leaves budding on the trees… Take time to pause in the midst of all this chaos, and look at the beauty all around you.

When this has all resolved itself, what will be important to go back to? What new habits that you form now will you carry forward with you? What are some of the old ways that aren’t worth going back to? What can we do globally, locally, and personally to help the earth to continue to move in the direction of healing?

Just like the caterpillar moves into a dark cocoon while it rests and changes from the inside out, humanity too has the opportunity to sprout new wings when we emerge from this dark time and emerge more beautiful than ever before.

Pause. Breathe. Remember your inner strength. We will all emerge from this… different, and hopefully better on many levels.

Sending love and light to all…

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