If the pandemic feels endless and overwhelming, you’re not alone. In this Verywell Mind article, Mindpath Health’s Julian Lagoy, MD explains how grounding exercises and gratitude can help us cope with continued uncertainty.
From March 2020 onwards, my brain focused on one thing: survive the pandemic until the vaccine is available. Life was undeniably miserable, terrifying, and isolating, but the long-term goal was clear. Common rhetorics were “Once we have the vaccine, I’ll do this” or “After I get the vaccine, I’ll go there.” This clear marker of when life would go back to normal made the waiting—almost—bearable.
“Living in the short-term and a state of ‘temporary’ can create a sense of anxiety and dis-ease. It can feel extremely unsettling when nothing feels permanent, and things are fleeting,” says Jaynee Golden, LCSW, CADC-I.
Letting go of plans
Now I’m not sure what our leaders want us to be working towards? Herd immunity, despite the fact that most people who will get the vaccine probably already have? Or, darkly, an understanding that some people will die? That is a simply unacceptable outlook.
While I feel comforted that being a generally healthy, fully vaccinated, and boosted person lowers my chances of having a severe case of COVID-19, that only provides a limited amount of comfort. I think of my older relatives and friends with comorbidities who are at higher risk no matter how many vaccines they take. Personally, I worry about experiencing a mild case only to be saddled with indefinite long-COVID symptoms.
The lofty hopes I held onto at the beginning of the pandemic are long gone. Now I only seem to be capable of focusing on short-term goals:
- Don’t get sick today.
- Have enough at-home tests.
- Try not to spiral when faced with the overwhelming feeling that our governments have all but given up on protecting us.
I say the latter in response to everything from the government’s lack of financial follow-through to cancel at least a fraction of our student debt or provide additional stimulus checks when other measures fail to pass Congress to the public bearing the expense of masks and having little enforcement that people will use them in public spaces.
Finding joy in unpredictability
This isn’t to say that all my short-term goals are negative. Some may even be considered cautiously optimistic. For example, instead of thinking about seeing a friend or going somewhere a few months from now, I consider what safe but enjoyable adventure I can take in the next few days—no matter how small. Or I’ll set a three-day goal for meditating instead of a week.
Dr. Sabrina Romanoff, a clinical psychologist, credits the shift to our resilience and ability to still find joy in unpredictability.
There may be some merit in shifting focus to the present day in the pandemic—especially when it’s towards beneficial goals. “I see a lot of individuals with anxiety who are always focusing on distant things in the future and worst possible scenarios,” says Dr. Julian Lagoy, a psychiatrist with Mindpath Health. “I tell them to not worry about the future obsessively and to instead focus on the present and what they can achieve daily or in the short term, and this is generally helpful to their mental health. I recommend this shift in thinking for everyone who is in an endless cycle of distress.”
Finding ways to cope
If you’re like me and struggling to cope with the shift from long-term potential to short-term goals, Golden has advice:
- Focus on what you ‘can’ control versus not – this will help you feel empowered and less anxious.
- Get grounded and centered through mindfulness exercises such as breathwork or meditation.
- Focus on the present. Pandemic or not, the only guarantee in life, is this very moment, the ‘now.’
- Remember that the pandemic is not your first hardship — even if it’s the longest — and reflect on what helped you through previous challenges.
- List your assets and strengths to help build your self-esteem and practice self-compassion.
- Do your best with the information you have.
- Practice gratitude. When we come from a place of ‘enough,’ or abundance and appreciation, we can feel at ease, see opportunity, and feel hopeful.
Read the full Verywell Mind article with sources.
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