So we’re a few weeks into this thing, and we still don’t know where we’re going to end up. It seems the unpredictability of it all is getting to people, some more than others. What is different about your friend A, who is continuing to spread optimism and hopefulness, vs. your friend B, who has been perpetually stuck in all the doom and gloom scenarios? How do some people continue to thrive in the face of uncertainty? Let me try to break it down for you. I’ll start with some more abstract ideas and end with the more concrete.
Something that has become increasingly clear for me is that all we really have control over is what we choose to do in the present moment. Nothing beyond that has ever been guaranteed, even before the pandemic. A lot of the feelings of control we have are really just illusions. I’m not saying this to freak you out, but rather to free you from expectations of what “should be” that might be weighing you down. In times like these, it can be helpful to shift your focus to the here and now in order to detach from the outcome…because there is no way to know what that will be.
I believe that a healthy relationship with control exists when we can simultaneously accept what is, while also focusing on what we can do to effect change. In the words of one of my clinical heroes, Dr. Drew, we have to accept “reality on reality’s terms”. I don’t have to like it or approve of it, but fighting reality is futile. Attaching to projected outcomes can also be detrimental because it makes us inflexible and creates a narrow view of what could be.
This brings me to the idea of locus of control. Where does control lie? It’s really not a black or white answer, but most of us fall somewhere along a continuum between internal and external feelings of agency. Those with more of an internal locus of control (friend A from above) tend to feel like they can make things happen, while people who fall more on the external side of things (friend B) typically have a sense that things happen to them.
When COVID-19 came crashing into our lives, it pushed a lot of us towards the external end of the spectrum. That is to be expected because it was an external event that occurred on a global scale. However, choosing to stay in that mindset for too long can be problematic. My fear as a clinician is that it is going to cause an uptick in overwhelming depression and anxiety for many people. Combine that with new social distancing policies and we could be in real trouble if we don’t act.
Here are some action-oriented strategies you can use to get yourself closer to that internal locus state of being:
- INVEST in yourself. Unplug from that which is overwhelming and find ways to work on personal growth. This could mean reading more, taking an online class, doing at home yoga videos, listening to a meditation, etc.
- NOTICE what is around you. Practice mindfulness and gratitude toward your space, your comfy couch, your adorable pet, whatever brings you joy in your surroundings. If you feel so inspired, rearrange and shake it up a bit!
- TAKE IT OUTSIDE! Here in Texas we are fortunate that springtime means lots of mild, sunny days. Walk, ride your bike, do some yard work, or have your coffee outside. Take in all of the seasonal blooms and changes. Nature knows a thing or two about resiliency.
- EVALUATE the influences you are surrounding yourself with. Seek out friends, family members, podcasts, etc. that inspire you, rather than fuel feelings of fear and powerlessness. Turn their volume up and lower the volume of anything or anyone who is taking your peace.
- RECONNECT or deepen connection with important people in your life. Reach out to old friends you miss, play board games with your kids, and/or have an intimate conversation with your partner. Social distance doesn’t have to mean emotional disconnect.
- NAVIGATE through challenges by seeking out resources and support. Google it, talk about it, write about it, etc. If you’re overwhelmed, ask yourself what the next helpful step you could take might be. Keep it simple and work in small chunks.
- ACCEPT the things you cannot control. If you find yourself stuck in a worry cycle, assess how much control you have over the situation, if the answer is not much, then shift your focus toward something else you can control. We have a finite amount of energy we can use in a given day, so this is about improving your efficiency.
- LIMIT the amount of time you are consuming the news and social media. It is a delicate balance to stay informed and grounded at the same time. Watching 20-minutes or 24-hours of news cycles isn’t going to change the outcome, but it is sure to impact your well-being.
I hope this is helpful. Know that as I am writing, I am also reminding myself to practice this as well. This is a humbling experience we are all going through, but this too shall pass. Remember to breathe along the way.
Stay safe, healthy, and grounded ❤
*It should also be noted that the title of this blog came from a 311 song lyric, and they have long since been one of my favorite bands. Just wanted to give credit where credit is due!*