by Jennifer Newton Martin, LPC
Along with the many challenges of living during COVID, comes the challenge of coping during uncertainty. This has been a big struggle for me and many others, as having kids out of school has impacted various aspects of life. Every plan that I had made prior to COVID has been complicated, every resource has become out of reach. There is no aspect of my life that isn’t currently in a state of flux. Most days I find myself stuck on a barstool overseeing three elementary school e-learners and one preschooler. Since I am responsible for monitoring their coming and going from their online learning sessions it’s been hard to even do things around the house, so often I just sit.
In addition to the daily aggravation of being confined to a bar stool, is the aggravation of not knowing how to move forward with decision-making. I enjoyed the summer months with the kids. I ate up the time we had together, relished the days out in the yard with no schedule and no busy activity. I told myself to soak it up because, come Fall, everyone would be returning to school and work and things would be back to normal. Then I could make decisions, then I could move forward. That was before COVID forced schools in Illinois to go virtual. I didn’t have a plan for this. I don’t have a plan currently, and I am unable to plan for the future since I don’t know when they will go back to school or when I will be able to work normally.
This really has made me think about our emotional capacity to cope with uncertainty. How do you plan when you don’t know what is coming next? How do you cope when you are constantly unsure of what’s ahead? How do you settle your nerves when you feel like you are losing it? I don’t have a magical solution or answer to any of these questions. The whole world is trying to figure out this new normal, not just me. This newness goes beyond individuals. It extends to families, businesses, organizations, government. Everyone is in this together. We are all trying to cope and move forward with zero certainty.
Last night I went for a walk after a long day. I only walked for fifteen minutes, in my neighborhood, but what I noticed almost immediately was that I breathed out a deep breath. It was like I had been holding my breath for weeks. I breathed in the fresh air and I immediately felt like crying. I was thinking about this while I was walking and came to the conclusion that I can’t process my feelings when I am with other people. At home, surrounded by activity and kids and noise and need, I don’t feel myself. I am completely out of touch with my feelings because I am in survival mode. I am also rarely ever alone now, which impacts my ability to be mindful of my feelings. I am guessing that many, many people are in survival mode right now.
So what can we do to survive this season and foster our resiliency? One thing that I have been thinking about is this pervasive obsession with “all-American self-sufficiency”. This is an aspect of being American that I think has become a trademark of our lives. We value our independence, our self-directedness, our autonomy. While none of these things are bad in and of themselves, I do wonder how this is hurting us during the COVID pandemic. This is a time where many of us desperately need others.
We need new supports, new plans, new routines. We need to work but we also need to be home. We need community but we also need to be safe. How do we learn to juggle these things, manage these tensions?
“This is a time where we desperately need others. We need new supports, new plans, new routines.”
I have a hard time asking for help. When I am deep in the thick of things, I am out of touch with myself and I don’t know what I need. When I don’t know what I need then I certainly can’t ask for help. Maybe the one thing that we can practice doing differently during this season of life is to practice learning to get in touch with ourselves. We can figure out what we can do in our lives to allow ourselves to really feel our feelings and address our needs. Maybe we need to take a walk. Maybe we need to do yoga. Maybe journaling or talking to a friend would help us to clarify our feelings and needs. But once we do that, then we can practice asking for help.
This may be an entirely new skill for many people, especially if you are American, as this really goes against the American way. I imagine that letting go of control and allowing ourselves to receive help might be difficult for many of us for various reasons.
“Practicing asking for help may be an entirely new skill for many people since this really goes against the American way.”
However, in this season of uncertainty and constant change, our needs from day to day may change drastically. Perhaps one day asking for help means letting someone else watch our children. Perhaps it means borrowing money from someone. Perhaps it means letting someone bring us groceries or take us to the doctor. Maybe, it means something much smaller, like having our partner watch the kids so we can go for a walk or simply sharing how we are feeling without trying to seem more together than we really feel. Whatever it means, and however uncomfortable it makes us, I think it’s time to admit that we all need things and right now we need each other. Being clear on what we need and asking for what we need may be the best thing we can do for ourselves. It may be the work that will ultimately get us through this new norm that we are living in and the best thing that we can do to cope.
Some things to consider:
Do your beliefs about self-sufficiency, neediness, and your identity prevent you from asking for help or make you feel badly about yourself if/when you do? If so, it might be time to challenge some of those beliefs. For more information on fighting self-critical thoughts, see my post on fighting negative thoughts.
How do you feel that living in American society, or another culture, has impacted your perspective on community and utilizing supports? Perhaps during this season, there is room to adapt to a new perspective.
Do you struggle to ask for help because you have an overall understanding of relationships that involves you being the helper, or un-needy partner/friend in relationships? If so, read more about schemas in my blog post Cognitive Consistency and Schema.