The Covid-19 pandemic has stopped everyone in their tracks. What we knew as normal just a couple of weeks ago is at present, a pleasant distant memory. Up is down and down is up. My mother (god rest her loving soul) always wanted me to wash my hands more and now her wish has come true.
Living each day in this new time is for many an exhausting experience. Many people are heading to bed early not necessarily because they want to, rather they are compelled to do so by a deep fatigue that informs them that they have no choice. For many it is difficult to get to sleep and for a great many the sleep is unsettling. Worry and anxiety are having their way.
Mickey Rivers, a Yankee centerfielder from the 1970’s (who was referred to by Bill White, former president of the National League as being a philosopher without letters) once said, “There ain’t no use worrying about things you’ve got control over, because you’ve got control over them. And there ain’t no use worrying about things you don’t have control over, because you don’t have control over them. So there ain’t no use worrying.” Point made, but that can go only so far in dealing with a pandemic. However, it is imperative to put into action, River’s advice.
One of the strategies employed by sport psychologists is to teach athletes to reframe any and all negative circumstances and to look for the opportunities within them. For example, if a football team finds itself down by 21 at the beginning of the fourth quarter, their job is to play the game within the game of going about defying everyone’s expectation that the game is all but over. The fact is it is not over; there is 25% of the game yet to play. What happens to most teams is that they feel defeated at this point, and in essence concede the game prematurely. Yogi Berra has been frequently quoted as saying, “It ain’t over until it’s over”. While the statement seems absurd in stating the obvious, Yogi, in all his charm, was correct.
Figure skaters may prefer skating first or last in the finals of an event. It is simply the matter of an athlete’s personal preference. Regardless of which position the skaters are randomly assigned to skate, they are trained to re-frame their position as the best one for them in this moment, on this day. There is no time to fret, whine or struggle with having to skate first when their preference is to skate last. It doesn’t matter. In fact, any time put towards this internal suffering is a waste of energy better used to lock in and prepare to skate. Consequently, a skater who prefers to skate first, but is assigned last, might say to herself, “This is perfect. I will know how the others did and I will have a clear vision of what I must do to win the event.” The skater who prefers to skate last, but who is assigned first might say to himself, “I’m going to go out and kick butt and set a high standard and draw a line in the sand that all who follow must measure themselves against”.
Lemonade from Lemons
None of us asked for the pandemic, but it is important to seize some of the opportunities that come with this very strange circumstance in which we find ourselves. As the existentialist writers and philosophers observed: it is imperative to make meaning out of the bizarre circumstance in which we find ourselves.
Does this situation suck? Yes, beyond a doubt.
Does it evoke worry about ourselves, those we love, our country, and the world? Absolutely.
Have we been thrown into this situation without our volition as have the characters in existentialist novels? Indeed so.
We each have a choice to either fall into despair or to create meaning. We create meaning by engaging in purposeful actions. What follows are the beginnings of a list meaningful things you can do.
- Make or organize an effort in your immediate area to make masks to give away.
- Check in on a regular basis with elderly neighbors.
- Seek an opportunity through your local elementary school or library to stream reading books to the kids in your community.
- Donate funds or canned goods to your local food bank.
- If you have a good mask, offer to volunteer at your local food bank.
- Create a virtual Trivial Pursuit game night with friends, family or neighbors.
- Create a virtual book club with friends.
- Reach out to immediate or extended family members by phone, email, text, or video chat.
- Play scrabble or other board games with the people with whom you are sheltering in place.
- Take time to make and share special meals with the ingredients you have.
- Read something you always wanted to get to, a special author, or a unique topic of interest. You can even use an audiobook.
- Make a list of interesting movies and watch them.
- Take the time to get into a regular fitness routine that would include exercise and diet. Walking not only promotes aerobic fitness, but helps to “have the wind blow the stink off you”, as a back-woods grandmother of a friend used to say. She meant it will help your mood.
- This is a fantastic time to take to do chores and work on projects we all have around the house.
- If you have a yard, tend to it and work on the garden. If you are apartment bound grab some pots and plant some seeds. Watching things grow can give us something pretty to look at, or something to eat, but moreover it can give us hope.
- If you are holed-up with a partner, you needn’t avoid addressing what troubles you, provided that you do it as honestly and constructively as possible.
- If you find that you are not “current” with a relative or an old friend, you might want to take advantage of the urgency of these times in which we are all very conscious of matters of life and death, to attempt to put aside old differences, talk through issues and try to set things right in a good way. If the person you contacted is not receptive to healing old wounds, at least you know you tried; that you did the right thing.
- If you have self-doubts, insecurities or other issues that have been nagging at you, this weird circumstance can provide an opportunity for personal growth, either by reading some self-help books or seeking out a therapist that a trusted friend could recommend. There is a great deal of counseling being conducted on-line during this crisis.
The way to cope in a pandemic is by being active, not passive. It is not by falling into negative patterns that may be characterized by withdrawing, drinking or drugging, or being cynical. Each of us in our own ways needs to stretch and be our better selves more of the time. There is no doubt that this will benefit us personally, but also benefit those around us.