Sunday morning, since church was canceled for gathered worship, I decided to go to the grocery store and pick up groceries for the week. HEB had changed their hours so that they could restock their shelves for the demand of items. Originally the grocery store is opened at 6:00 am but this Sunday the hours were revised from 6:00 am to being open from 8:00 am.
I arrived at the HEB parking lot at 7:30 am and a line had already formed. I got my basket and stood in line outside the store as a light rain began to fall. There were in fact 80 people in front of me ( I only know the exact number because they counted us off as we went in the store). By time the line began to move at 8:00 am the HEB staff had informed us they were only letting in 40 customers in at a time and that there were restrictions on water, and toilet paper and they were out of eggs and milk. By the time my set of forty reached the front entrance, the line of people reached all the way down the end of the row of shops the length of at least 2 city blocks. The entire experience from the time I arrived at the grocery store until I got in my car took 2 hours. I was able to get what I needed, and I was grateful.
This grocery shopping experience capped a week in which universities across Texas had decided to extend Spring Break by another week and do tele-learning for a month or in some cases until the end of the semester; nursing homes in our area were put on lock down and two friends couldn’t see love ones face to face and our office among many was trying to determine how to serve clients in safety. How do you stay calm during such times when so much is unknown, and the news is swift often misleading, and the consequences can be dire?
In times of extreme circumstances, it is difficult not to feel the stress and worry of everything. I think it can be helpful to acknowledge what we can do in these circumstances and face what we cannot and take comfort from those who faced hard times before us. When I work with anxiety clients, I say let’s look at the situation in small pieces and deal with each individually. I think that may be helpful now.
What we can do:
- Prepare not panic – Some of this comes down to the questions we ask ourselves. What does my family need in the next week or few weeks? Have my circumstances changed? Will I be working from home and are my kids home? Even in line at the grocery store line this morning a discussion ensued whether it was the media’s or government’s fault for all of this. The truth is in the here and now of our lives what matters is how we react to the situation. Not that we don’t need to hold government and media accountable, but we must look at is what we can control. We can control our reactions and actions in the next few days.
- Try to keep family rituals and schedules the same. This helps kids keep a sense of normalcy in the days and weeks ahead.
- During the call for social distancing keep making connections. Big social, entertainment and sporting activities have been canceled and people have been encouraged to stay at home which seem to be essential for the common good. That means each of us has to work hard not to feel so isolated in the midst of all of this. Looking online and seeing the people in Italy sing from their balconies to fill the neighborhoods with song is a reminder that we can each find a way to reach out to each other. It would be good to reach out to relatives and loved ones and see how they are faring through all of this. Make an extra effort for the elderly and those who are pregnant or hurting in your neighborhood or apartment complex and remember those who live alone. Call and text more often. With small children if events have been canceled share their solo or song with family through skype and zoom. Send cards or jokes or stories via mail and e-mail. When you start to feel alone, reach out and remind yourself you are not alone. The entire world is facing this together. All of us together.
- Remember the medical community. The front-line responders on this are our neighbors and family members who are doing their best in extraordinary times to help everyone else. When you are picking up subscriptions at your drug store why not drop off a thank you note. Send thoughts prayers and good wishes to the pharmacist and nurses and doctors and emergency personnel who are working the front line for our safety and good health.
- Remember yourself. Do self- care. These are times that none of us have ever faced before. It is important to share feelings with trusted friend and family and trusted professionals. Remember deep breathing and meditating and prayer and taking time to do what you need to do to stay centered and calm. Get good sleep. Eat nutritionally and exercise. Some people not watching the news for a cycle is helpful. Keeping yourself calm and centered is the best way to prepare for the uncertainties that are present and before us.
Face what we cannot do:
- We cannot tell the future. It is important as we heed medical professional’s directives and take cautionary steps for our own health and that of our families that we do not catastrophize. Catastrophizing is a term that describes seeing the worst-case scenario in each situation. It leads to sleepless nights and panic and doesn’t solve or make present situations any better. What can you do? When doing grounding exercises with PTSD or high anxiety clients it is important to engage the mind, center the body and sooth the sympathetic nervous system. We ask anxiety clients to take deep breaths but to count the breaths as they go. That way their mind can’t race while doing deep breathing. For PTSD client we ask them to name the colors in the room and to feel the back of the chair so that they can orient themselves to here and now. We ask client to tense different muscle blocks in their body and release them. All of these exercises are to help orient to the here and now and deal with what is right in front of the client; to calm the breathing which will lower the vitals of a client and engage the mind so that thoughts don’t escalate emotions.
- Live continually in despair, fear and panic. Things are happening very fast and we are facing an uncertain future. A lot of the solutions may be out of our control. That is why I started with what we can do and how we can each of us in small ways can move forward. You may feel really really down and hopeless and that is understandable. If despair descends on you, treat it as a visitation, and not a place to live. Seek help find others to join you and don’t stop until you get the help you need.
Take comfort with those who have faced hard times before us. The title of this blog is “Keep Calm and Carry On,” which is taken from a slogan that the British adopted during World War II. Great Britain was among the last countries standing against the invading armies of Germany. By many accounts they were doomed to fail. It took military and historical alliances of course to make a difference but the people also in their own way contributed. As a people, they made it through to the other side and so will we.
Keep calm and carry on.
By Michelle Goodwin, LPC, Therapist, San Marcos location