This unprecedented time of required isolation is difficult for many. People are used to choosing when they will have alone time, often using it to relax and recharge. Being required to have alone time does not have the same calming effect! What should you do during this crisis to take care of yourself and make it through? Admiral James Stockdale was asked what helped him survive over 7 years as a prisoner of war. He said that you should acknowledge and confront your difficult situation while maintaining faith that you will prevail in the end. He did not lose faith in the end of the story -that he would survive and be stronger because of his ordeal. This is known as the Stockdale Paradox. When faced with a crisis like the current Covid-19 pandemic, try to look at it objectively and maintain faith that you will successfully get through it. If Admiral Stockdale used this concept to survive captivity for 7 years, then you can overcome this crisis too!
Step 1: Take an inventory of your thoughts and feelings
Are they grounded and realistic or are they distorted and catastrophe-focused? Are you optimistic, hopeful, and solution-focused or pessimistic? Get in touch with your thoughts and feelings by meditating or relaxing, journaling, sharing with others, or going to counseling. Share your hopes, needs, expectations and vulnerabilities with people you trust. Create a gratefulness list to remind you of the people and parts of your life in which you are grateful. Remind yourself of your strengths. As I tell my clients, "Promise me you'll always remember that you are braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think"(A. A. Milne).
Step 2: Harness your thoughts
To minimize your anxiety, think in terms of facts (What Is) instead of faulty assumption based (What If) thoughts. Taking charge of your thoughts will help you feel empowered instead of anxious, powerless, and immobile in a time of crisis. For example, instead of using a faulty “What If” thought such as: “What if I touched a doorknob at the store and I’m sick? I will die.” Think, instead, a true, realistic, believable, “What Is” thought: “I did touch a doorknob at the store, but it is possible that it was not touched by an infected person, and I will be fine. Even if I get sick, most people recover.” Harnessing your thoughts is also a useful tool in your relationships. Be objective and mindful about your thoughts and filters to help you give others the benefit of the doubt and be open-minded to alternate explanations of a situation. Practice patience and give others grace during this difficult time. Everyone is trying their best during this unchartered time.
Step 3: Take control over your behaviors
This is done by decreasing anxiety-provoking behaviors and increasing anxiety-reducing behaviors. What does that look like? Reduce the amount of time you watch the news or get updates about the crisis and minimize viewing negative, often inaccurate, stories on social media. Avoid conspiracy theories. Ask for help when you need it and listen to the experts who have accurate information about the crisis. Do more of what helps you feel in control of your thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and environment. People thrive on structure and routine. Set a daily routine for yourself and your family, maintaining structure amidst the crisis. Going for a walk and being active, as well as eating healthy and getting good sleep, are ways to care for yourself during times of uncertainty. Maintaining or developing your spiritual path will ease your anxiety and remind you to never lose faith in the end of the story. This may be a good time to stabilize your finances, finish projects at home, organize and declutter your environment. This is also a time to take care of others in need by volunteering your time, services, food, or other resources. Have patience with others, give others the benefit of the doubt, and have a spirit of cooperation.
Step 4: Allow yourself to relax
For many, this includes meditating, praying, exercising, doing projects and hobbies at home, reading a book, doing a puzzle, reading devotionals, or listening to music. Trying a new recipe or watching a funny movie can be great stress-relievers. Be present with those you love. Play with your partner, children, and pets. Many have found it a good time to foster or adopt a pet. People today tend to be over-worked and stressed out. This may be a great time to slow down and recover from some unhealthy habits like being a workaholic or absent family member. You and your family can take a virtual museum tour or explore other places that have virtual tours. Stay connected with family and friends, support groups, small groups, and fellow hobby enthusiasts with video conferences. Maintaining a gratefulness list helps remind you of the positives in your life on days that may be difficult to endure.
Step 5: Self-reflect and make necessary changes
Taking control and being objective will help you manage your anxiety and prevail through this crisis. Instead of seeing yourself as stuck at home, try seeing this as an opportunity to be home with loved ones and to discover the things in life that truly matter. Like Admiral Stockdale, do not lose faith in the end of the story. You will get through this crisis, prevailing in the end. It just might be a defining moment of your life.
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