February marks a year in quarantine. What initially started as a two-week or one-month shut down slowly crept into all aspects of our lives. The isolation. The household family dynamics. The lack of stimulation. The fear of COVID. The racial tensions. It was a powder keg ready to explode. In other words, a new normal.
It is during this time that we are unexpectedly challenged to sit and honestly look at the life we have been living for months, years, or even decades. You may dislike it, fight against it, and pour all of your efforts to change the situation, but in the end you find yourself staring at your reality in the face.
Without the distractions of going out to dinner, watching a movie in a theater, going to work, or spending time with friends, we are forced to sit with ourselves. So… we sit… and sit… and sit… Until the restlessness sets in and we either rev up or shut down, only to repeat the same cycle over and over again.
It feels helpless or even hopeless so we turn to either fix it or forget about it. You might be experiencing a heightened sense of urgency to sprint to the next goal or even find yourself drinking more and zoning out to Netflix every day. It feels like a repeat of the same day over and over again. Utterly monotonous…
There are a couple of insights that might help you turn lemons into lemonade:
We are facing some larger truths and realities in our lives. It is hard to run because there is really no where to go. So the next best option is to lean in and non-judgmentally see what quarantine is revealing about yourself and your life. It may be dissatisfaction with your job or relationships. It may be feeling torn up about something in the past or where you are in your life. Either way, listen and observe without rushing to fix it or run from it. Tolerate the discomfort as it will allow you to fully understand the issue. From there and with patience, opportunities will arise. When we were children, we were afraid of the dark. But it wasn’t until we started spending more time in the dark and leaning into the discomfort that we realized that it was actually okay.
Retrain your brain to see that the simplified life from quarantine is an opportunity. It is an opportunity to explore new interests that have been sitting on the backburner of our minds. It is an opportunity to build better relationships with ourselves and others in our household. It is an opportunity to reconnect and strengthen friendships with those that live far away. It is an opportunity to disconnect from the busy lives we were leading to refocus our life trajectory (e.g., career, finances, parenting).
Here are the skills that will serve you on this journey:
Radical acceptance brings you into the eye of the storm. The storm is still there, but there is some calm and peace for the moment because you have stopped fighting against it and yourself. You don’t have to like something to accept it, that is why it is called radical. Accepting the situation as it is for this specific moment (kind of like “this too shall pass”). Reminding yourself that these moments are there in your life to show you something about your life. It may be one of those gifts that you might not want, but in the end are good for you (kind of like your friend telling you that there is spinach in your teeth).
Mindfulness trains your brain to not react, but rather respond. It strengthens your ability to stay in the present moment and to separate your judgements from the situation. It allows you to see what is going on more clearly without all of the noise from your thoughts on whether it is good, bad, or ugly. Difficult situations are difficult enough; disconnecting our judgements from the situation allows us to not make a difficult situation more difficult by having to deal with all the other thoughts that come about in our minds about the situation.
Directly ask for what you need. We tend to either send subtle hints to people in our lives about what we hope that they would do for us, or we don’t say anything and assume that the other person is too busy or doesn’t care enough. This is a recipe for feeling unimportant and not prioritized. Practice asking for what you need in a direct yet gentle manner. For example, “I’m having a hard time with this quarantine, I’d like if we could talk more often” or “I feel exhausted with all of the chores, I’d like some more help.”
*The formula here for asking for what you need is: 1) a short sentence stem letting the other person know how you’re honestly doing, and 2) your request in an “I’d like” statement.
Take control of what is within your control. During this time, there is plenty that is outside of our control (e.g., the political climate, others people’s actions during quarantine, finding a new job, etc.). Instead of focusing on what is outside of your control, focus on what is more within your control. For example, I can’t control whether or not I will get a new job, but I can focus on sending out job applications. I can’t control whether or not someone else wears a mask, but I can control wearing a mask and choosing off-peak hours to go to the grocery store.
Willingness versus pride. Cultivate a sense of willingness to do what is necessary. We tend to get stuck in “this is just the way I do it” or “if I can’t do it this way, then I won’t do it at all”. Here, we are allowing our pride to get the best of us. During this time, many things that we used to do are no longer available so we have to exercise increased flexibility in how we approach situations to make the best of it. For example, I was recently talking to a friend that said he didn’t like using video or phone calls, so he decided to stay isolated. Willingness would have allowed him to feel less isolated even though he didn’t like video or phone calls. In many ways, we create our own suffering and willingness takes that out of the equation.
This is all here to provide some tools so that we can all move through this difficult time. There may even be the possibility of emerging renewed and reinvigorated.