Last weekend, I laced up my running sneakers for a run on my favorite four-mile loop. Rural New Hampshire roads surrounded by tall pines, the sounds of birds chirping and an early Spring breeze that bounces off your face, but you really don’t care because you know that warmer weather and longer days are coming. It’s that type of run that I dream of throughout the long winter months.
At about the halfway point, things changed. To my left was a huge park that’s usually bustling with softball games, friends throwing frisbees and dogs chasing sticks. Today, there was none of that. I stopped, looked for a solid minute and just nodded my head. This was yet another sobering reminder of this current period of time that I massively struggle to put into words.
Three months ago, if you told me that life would be like it is today, I would have likely laughed and thrown a few adjectives at you. Then probably laughed even more.
But here we are – seemingly stuck in an eerie, weird, scary, sad, unpredictable, numbing, sobering and “seriously, what is going on?!” moment in time.
Listen, no one truly knows how we can 100% manage this COVID-19 pandemic without a fault. There are no sugarcoating things either – life isn’t perfect, nor is it the way it should be right now. But that doesn’t mean we have to hold our heads low. There is still PLENTY of joy and positivity to find around you.
I’m not a medical or mental health professional. I have a bachelor’s degree in Psychology, but that does not mean that any words that come of out of my mouth are guaranteed to be a cure for easing the challenges that we may be having now.
But I did want to share some ways I’ve been using this time to approach things a bit differently, in hopes they may help you too. Because like me, you may be having trouble making sense of this all. So here goes:
- Take breaks. “Cabin fever” is a huge thing for me. I get antsy even on one snow day in January. These days? Yes, yes and yes. The feeling of being cooped up at home, the very limited social interactions and the bubbling ball of anxiety sometimes makes me want to scream. But I’ve found that getting out of the house, even for a few minutes, refreshes my mind and soul. Every day, try to take a walk, go for a run or even take a long drive. 10 minutes of exercise can do wonders in recharging your battery. The run I mentioned above came after a morning that I was feeling a bit more anxious and stressed out. When I got home, it felt like I was a whole new person. If you go outside, though, please practice social distancing, maintaining at least six feet between you and others.
- Reconnect. Over the past year, how often do you find yourself saying “let’s get together soon!” to old friends you haven’t seen in a while? As I’m sure you can relate, the regular hustle and bustle of life leaves limited time to see every single loved one or good friend. Until now – thanks to tools like Zoom, Google Duo and others. When I first used them, I was skeptical slouching in my chair and hands covering my face with the words “why again am I doing this?” scrolling across my brain. But after a few short minutes, I got it. I was seeing and talking to 16 college friends, half of whom I haven’t seen in the past five years, and it was like we were sitting at a table having dinner. While you can’t physically be around friends now, you can still maintain those connections. So, if you haven’t done these, set something up with your family/and or friends in the next week. Or call three friends this weekend who you haven’t spoken to in a long time. You’ll likely be surprised at how they can fill a social void – and quickly make up for lost time.
- Revisit an old hobby. I’m a huge fan and miss sports. Staring at my blank television one day, I saw my video game console under it. When I was in my 20’s, I used to love playing sports games on there. But with becoming a father and many more responsibilities in life, the only action my poor console got was collecting dust. On a recent weekend, I fired up a game of baseball. And let me tell you – it was awesome. Memories of dueling in epic battles with my friends flooded my head. The point is, with more time at home, why not take up something you loved in the past? Maybe it’s crafting, woodworking or something else. Inevitably there’s an old passion living in your house. Next weekend, I’m totally dusting off my baseball card collection.
- Appreciate the good in the world. As the great Mr. Rogers said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news. my mother would say to me, ‘look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'” I find that incredibly relatable at this moment in time. I generally love to watch the news and stay informed. But these days, while the information we’re receiving is important, it can be emotionally draining. It’s okay to supplement your life by seeking the “good news” – such as the stories of the many healthcare workers and first responders doing incredible work. Or even things like SomeGoodNews (a must-watch). Know that no matter where you look, it’s not all bad news. There’s plenty of love, hope and optimism no matter how dark the day may be.
- Be present in the moment. Take things day-by-day. While life is drastically different and can be a bit chaotic, try your best to appreciate the now and make the most of it. Are you at home with your kids? Enjoy this “extra” precious time with them knowing that you may never have it again. Is it a beautiful day outside? Make the most of it and spend time outdoors. If you are feeling healthy, focus on that. At the end of the day, ask yourself, “what was the best thing to happen today?” Make that the last thing that you think about before going to bed.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. This is a period of time unlike any other that we’ve faced before. It’s difficult for every single person, in their own way. We’re all hurting, sad and anxious to some degree. They are normal and shared feelings. Now is a better time than ever to talk with your spouse, share how you’re feeling with family and friends, and together, help each other out too. You can also connect with a counselor online – and you don’t have to leave your own home! Many therapists (like ours) are offering telehealth services online or by phone. Like us, they are also learning how to navigate these uncertain times and will be able to offer you an objective perspective on how to best handle tomorrow, the next day and so on.
Hopefully, these suggestions help, because like you, I know it’s tough to have the most positive outlook right now. But know this is all just temporary and better days are ahead of us. If we stick together, we can and will get through it.
Are there any tips you’re taking to get through these uncertain times? Feel free to @reply us on Twitter or email me directly – and who knows, we might just share them in our next blog!Michael McDonough is the Executive Director of Marketing & Communications for Catholic Charities NH. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.