Change is hard. Even little changes, like disruptions in traffic or last-minute stressors, can leave us feeling off-balance. What do we do with change when it impacts us so fundamentally that an entire society shifts?
Since COVID-19 erupted in the United States, we as a nation have had to step into the darkness of uncertainty, moment by moment, truly taking it one day at a time. Over the weeks, we have come to experience this different way of being “new normal”, for better or for worse. Staying home more, not being able to go to work, and/or no longer seeing friends and family the way we are used to – all these things require adjusting. Even just the other day, I wore a mask for the first time in the grocery store, and was comforted by the fact that at least half the people in the store were doing the same. Its strange: just three months ago, someone wearing a mask to the grocery store could seem misplaced or bring about curious thoughts. Oh, how times have changed, indeed!
During such fragile times as these, there are a few things to keep in mind when navigating the various changes that surround us. First, what I want to tell you, is that IT IS OKAY TO FEEL WHAT YOU ARE FEELING: scared, anxious, uncertain, worried, Remember that every feeling has a function. The feelings we experience are our bodies’ natural response to life, giving us cues that something is off; something is important; something is worth fighting for. These feelings prompt us to take action even when we don’t know what on Earth to do.
Speaking of action, another thing to keep in mind is that there is always something you can do to feel better, to make an impact. A big change can feel like a big loss of control. But, in moments when control feels like it’s slipping away, I invite you to ask yourself, “What is one thing I do have control over right at this very moment?” You might find answers to your question, such as I can breathe or I can text/call a friend. The list of healthy coping skills and tiny things you can do to feel in control is extensive. You are the driver of your experience, and you have more control than you think you do.
When it does feel that you just can’t steer the wheel, though, that’s okay. Know that the momentary feeling of powerlessness will pass. Also know that you can put change into your own hands by contacting your governmental representatives. Remember, even our elected officials are experiencing all of this for the first time. They are counting on us to let them into our experience during this time so that they can best be of help to us. Don’t count yourself short. Whether it’s big or small, remember to rest when you need to rest, feel when you need to feel, and take action when you feel inspired to do so.
Shaping our experiences
We’ve talked about feelings and taking action. Let us now explore just how much our thoughts can shape our experiences. Our minds tend to resort to unhelpful thinking styles from time to time, especially during big changes. Here are some of the most commonunhelpful thinking styles that you may notice:
- All-or-nothing thinking. Ex.“Either I do it right or not at all”
- Only paying attention to certain types of evidence. Ex. Noticing our failures but not seeing our successes
- Jumping to conclusions. Ex. Mind reading (imagining we know what others are thinking) and fortune telling (predicting the future)
- Emotional reasoning. Ex. “I feel embarrassed, so I must be an idiot.”
- Labelling. Ex. “I’m a loser.”
- Over-generalizing.Ex. Seeing a pattern based upon a single event or being overly broad in the conclusions we draw. “Nothing good ever happens”
- Disqualifying the positive.Ex. Discounting the good things that have happened or that you have done for one reason or another.
- Magnification or catastrophizing and minimization. Ex. Blowing things out of proportion or inappropriately shrinking something to make it seem less important.
- Using critical words like ‘should,’ ‘must,’ or ‘ought.’ Ex. Placing expectations in such a way where it can make us feel guilty or like we have already failed.
- Personalization. Ex. Blaming yourself or taking responsibility for something that wasn’t completely your fault.
Any one of these thoughts can make us forget our worthiness and strip us of our power. Instead, we can reframe them into positive statements that redirect our thinking. Some thoughts you can try on are as follows:
- I am not stuck at home; I am at home.
- I am not failing even though I am having difficulties homeschooling my kids.
- I exist on the other side of this pandemic, and I will come out stronger and wiser because of it.
- I am struggling because I haven’t lived this part of my life yet, and that’s okay.
And these are just a few examples.
Working with the above list of unhelpful thinking styles, challenge yourself to come up with even thoughts than can help, rather than hinder, your experience. When everything feels out of control, remember: you can’t always control a situation, but you can control your response to it.
Could this lead to new opportunities?
On a similar note, here’s something else to consider: amongst all the fear that comes with this lifestyle change, I encourage you to think of how all this can provide you with new opportunities. For example, one of my teenaged clients recently mentioned that the Stay Home Stay Safe order has provided them the chance to learn how to cook. This time can give us space to try things we have been meaning to try. It can grant us opportunities for exploring ourselves and what matters most to us, such as family, self-care, spiritual development, etc..
No matter what life looks like now, know that when things go back to normal, we get to decide what that “new normal” looks like. You can keep the values gained through this experience and pass them into your future’s hands. This doesn’t have to be something we fight through. We can grow through this, too, even if it comes with some difficulties along the way.
Ability to adapt
If there’s anything that defines us as a human race, it is our ability to adapt. We have so much power, individually and collectively. The tiniest act of kindness can cause ripples. The decision to stay home can save lives. Let’s call upon ourselves and each other to help get us through this change.
I know we are struggling. Know that struggling can give rise to creativity and adaptability. Challenges can help us to breathe life into trying out problem-solving skills and developing a gratitude mindset. Let yourself become immersed in exactly who you are and what defines you. Focus on what this life means to you, and use this time to plan out how you can grow into this change — whether that’s more quality time with family once this is all over, or finally putting yourself first. Talk to yourself more kindly, and remember that our bodies don’t know the difference between what’s real and what lives solely in the mind. Change is hard, yes, but we are strong. And we are stronger together. Take care, and know that this too shall pass. Let’s make sure we can stand with grace and strength once we are on the other side of this.
Perspectives Therapy Services is now offering telemental health services to help you get through this time.
Perspectives Therapy Services is a multi-site mental and relationship health practice with clinic locations in Brighton, Lansing, Highland and Fenton, Michigan. Our clinical teams include experienced, compassionate and creative therapists with backgrounds in psychology, marriage and family therapy, professional counseling, and social work. Additionally, we offer psychiatric care in the form of evaluations and medication management. Our practice prides itself on providing extraordinary care. We offer a customized matching process to prospective clients whereby an intake specialist carefully assesses which of our providers would be the very best fit for the incoming client. We treat a wide range of concerns that impact a person's mental health including depression, anxiety, relationship problems, grief, low self-worth, life transitions, and childhood and adolescent difficulties.