It has been more than ten months and we are still dealing with a pandemic, possible shutdowns or actual shutdowns, continued fear of getting COVID or have gotten COVID. The vaccination delivers a glimmer of hope that we will eventually overcome the socio-economic, mental, and physical traumas that this pandemic has brought. However, while we feel like we are at the end of this COVID marathon: out of breath, fatigued, and desperate for that finish line, the end is not in sight.
Clouds of uncertainty linger. When will this be over? Can I travel anytime soon? When can I safely see my family? Will I ever be able to visit a restaurant with my grandparents? Will life return ever “normal”?
As the weeks and months pass, blaming, comparing, and hostile conversations between families and friends around the pandemic continue unabated: Who is responsible? Have you seen New Zealand? Why should we be controlled? Why are we not containing this more? And now continued conversations, debates, and at times descend into arguments about vaccines; whether to vaccinate or not? And more …
Let me repeat; it has been more than ten months …
And life goes on. We have adapted. We have learned. We have appreciated and, at times, have been disappointed. We have suffered a great deal. We have been hurt. We have cried, and we have laughed. We have been human!
As humans, the ability to adapt, suffer, and learn is one of our core traits. We have survived past pandemics, wars (world or civil), drought, tsunamis, terrorist attacks, storms, and more. These times call for us to reflect, learn, and grow. Although this time has been traumatic, the pandemic has been and will continue to be pivotal in all our lives.
There is a psychological theory by Drs. Tedeschi and Calhoun called “post-traumatic growth,” which has found that there is often a “positive growth” after experienced trauma. We have no choice other than to accept this reality as much as we hate it. The only option we have now is to make the next few months tolerable, adaptable, and safe. Having come this far, it is to all of our benefits to ensure that our pandemic experience, although extremely hard, is worthwhile.
Like any ultra-marathon, the end can be gruesome, tortuous, breathless, pushing the boundaries of your physical and mental limits to finish. Time and position do not count; making it to the finish line is all that matters. Even with vaccines beginning to ship, the finish line is not yet in sight, let’s find ways to navigate the road ahead and learn from the past challenging months and year.
Here are some tools to help you tolerate the remaining months of this pandemic with some positive changes on the horizon:
Accept the reality that it has been ten months of staying at home. Embrace the fact that vacations are on hold, be grateful that family members unseen are alive. Even when jobs have been lost, your acceptance is not a statement of defeat. Acceptance is not giving up. Acceptance is not being helpless. Instead, acceptance allows you to take in reality, manage around it and move towards your next step on how you make changes, adapt, and make this time work for you. We have two simple choices; accept the reality or be upset at it for being real.
It is a great and rarely used form of mindfulness. When things get too much, you can sit and mindfully visualize the day you will go out without a mask, go to an indoor restaurant, plan trips with friends and family, and hug and hold your friends and loved ones freely. This visualization brings you to a reality that awaits us in the future. However, we do not know when. It can happen months from now or years. Just holding on to a glimpse of hope always lifts our mood and overall well-being
There will be a day in the future that you will look back and recall what were you doing during the pandemic in 2020? How old were you then? How did you handle it? And you would like to remember and be able to share with some positivity. Being mindful gives you the strength to live fully even during a pandemic. Being mindful allows you to process all your emotions (positive or negative) and improve coping skills during and after these challenging times. Be aware of each passing moment; every blink a moment is gone, let’s not be blind to it all.
In the beginning of the pandemic, most people were great at picking up new hobbies, and making it fun; a lot of face timing and planning chats with friends and family was happening. As time went on, these extracurricular activities welcomed so much at first started to dissipate and lose their interest. People resorted back to being busy, and not making time for some of the things they got excited about and picked up during the pandemic. Distraction is an excellent form of coping when healthy. As this has lasted more than most people predicted, it is our new reality. Being able to continue to find fun activities during these times is essential for your survival, especially when you are at the end of the marathon. You want to focus on the end goal, the price, and reinforce yourself by distraction. Continue those facetime socializations. Go out on walks(masked) if the weather allows. Continue with new activities formed during the pandemic (i.e. language learning, music learning and more) all help. Have distraction be your source of comfort and be healthy management of your emotions.
As we are getting to the finish line, focusing is our new best friend. What does focus mean in this context? It means noting down your goals, desires, and values and focusing on them and how you would like to get them. This focus allows you to be mindful as well as distracted at the same time. Focusing at the end of our finish line will enable you to gain enough strength to power through. To continue working from home with the hope to soon get together with colleagues. To pay attention to your emotions; to apply the right coping mechanism to help you through these times. To focus on the future that awaits us, a future in which people are more appreciative of their time, togetherness, and privileges they have taken for granted for many years and possibly their lives. Focusing on yourself, your goal, what matters. Recognize and acknowledge what you learned during these times, as this will allow for positive growth post-pandemic and be a turning point in your life.
Take solace in the words of Rebecca Solnit:
“To hope is to gamble. It’s to bet on the future, on your desires, on the possibility that an open heart and uncertainty is better than gloom and safety. To hope is dangerous, and yet it’s is the opposite of fear, for to live is to risk… I say all this to you because hope is not like a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. I say this because hope is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency; because hope should shove you out the door… because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth’s treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal… Hope just means another world might be possible, not promised, not guaranteed. Hope calls for action; action is impossible without hope. … To hope is to give yourself to the future, and that commitment to the future makes the present inhabitable”.