Thriving Through Uncertainty

We are living in a crazy time with Coronavirus seemingly right outside our doorsteps. Whether you believe its all media hype, some sort of government conspiracy, or all true and wish people would take it more seriously, it is greatly impacting all of our lives. Things like “social distancing” that didn’t exist a couple weeks ago now have people cracking jokes in the grocery store isles and have others refusing to open the door to someone who delivers groceries to their house. Kids aren’t able to go to school, the elderly aren’t able to have visitors in their nursing homes, and a lot of people in my age range have kids, schooling, work/teams, bills, parents, or even grand parents to worry about. That is a recipe for some pretty serious anxiety and fear.

If you’ve read my introduction post you know that I have 3 little dudes and lead a team at work. I am blessed to be in a position to work from home when I need to albeit maybe not as productively. My husband’s work is also flexible but relies heavily on face-to-face interaction which is no longer an option. I respect the heck out of teachers with their patience and ability to lead and mold the minds of tomorrow, I am not one of them. So with my kids and lessons coming home for the foreseeable future, it will be an interesting combination. There is a reason I chose to work with adults and it is not that I don’t like kids (remember I created 3 of them, on purpose) its because I lack the abilities and skills that it takes to be a great teacher and I only want kids to have great teachers. I do have a whole lot of people that I love who are “at risk”. These loved ones range from friends with chronic illness and compromised immune systems, to people with new babies, my kid’s friends at school who now don’t know how their getting breakfast and lunch, my friends with strong anxiety, and elderly family members. Note that not all of the groups I listed are what the CDC would consider high risk for the illness. This is so much bigger than getting sick at this point. At risk people includes those who are at risk of being isolated, at risk of panic, at risk of not having basic needs met, and quite frankly, at risk of making horrible decisions out of fear.

As I read that all back to myself I can note a couple of things.
1. I am one fortunate woman. I essentially listed inconveniences for myself and then many ways this new, temporary, normal will be so much more difficult for my friends and family.
2. It is easy to breeze right over the blessings and stick to the scary stuff if you just let your mind do what it does.
3. I missed a step (spoiler alert it was somewhat intentional for dramatic effect). If you re-read it you’ll notice there is a cadence there. Blessing, challenge related to it. Blessing, challenge related to it. The final step in each one of those sentences should be, creative solution. I am a stickler for offering solutions. Even if you don’t think the one solution you have in your head will be effective, offer it because it might be the best we have, it might cause people to jump off from it, or worst case scenario it is scrapped but at least it got you thinking.

I know that this sounds like something that is a nice theory but I promise it works in practice. I do it literally every day. Start with a blessing, identify the challenge, and then come up with a creative solution. The most simple example is when you’re just fixing the problem, “My kids have great teachers who put in a ton of time and effort to create lesson plans, I don’t know how to teach the new math, I will reach out to my kid’s teacher prior to the start to find resources.” That challenge can now be corrected because I’ll be able to teach math.
Some times when you start with the blessing, the beauty is (Yes I do know that word sounds churchy but its the best way I know to describe it. Also, I do believe that all blessings come from God and this is my blog so, sorry, not sorry.) that the solution is really just accept it. “I can work from home, I’m just not that efficient, accept it and move on.” Now that doesn’t mean that I just continue to be inefficient, it means that this is a very new venture and I don’t know what I don’t know yet so I’m starting where I’m at. If it is still a concern in a week I’ll try to find another solution.
Further, the solution doesn’t always have to be to fix what is wrong. “My husband has flexibility but can’t meet customers now which will impact his ability to work, determine what our emergency fund is and what would happen if he truly wasn’t working.” In this example, the solution doesn’t have to be keep him working. Just ensuring that we’re safe and have an understanding of where we’re at is a solution. For some, this may present a new challenge, there isn’t enough money. I would urge you to try the exercise again. “I have $500 and I’m still working (blessing), $500 is not enough to cover a month’s worth of expenses (challenge), we will put every penny into the emergency fund for as long as we’re working(solution).”

I do this with in one of my courses, Stress Management, when I go in to speak to high schoolers. In the course we take time to identify what the stressors/challenges are, rephrase starting with the blessing, and then find a solution. Then I help the kids take it one step further to call out the resources they’ll need to get there. I know that even when I share this with kids, (who’s stressors are so much bigger than I imagined) they are skeptical, so I use an illustration for them.

With a 5×9 card and a large Sharpie, write down your biggest stressor in big, black letters. Have a friend hold it up to your nose. It is right on top of you, right? Whatever you “thing” is it’s so big you can’t see anything else at this point. Truly, you can’t even see “it” anymore but you know what it is. It is just baring down on you staring you in the face and you can’t see past it. If you stand there long enough you might even forget exactly what it was that you were stressed about in the first place but you’ll remember how it feels. It makes you uncomfortable, afraid, and maybe even helpless.

This, friends, is how I know that anxiety is real. Having that word that they wrote down themselves staring back at them, mixed with my talking about stress sometimes creates a down right panic for them. That is what is going on in our country and the world right now. I’m not saying that Coronavirus isn’t something to be scared of, I’m saying that continuous focus on the challenges it will pose is only going to compound the issue, because that is how stress works. It’s true for the 1st grader stressed over who will sit with them on the bus, it’s true of the high schooler who is stressed about how to maintain a relationship with their dad after a divorce, and it’s true of those of us living in this upside down Coronavirus world.

Again, I know that this sounds overly simplistic to deal with a problem of literally pandemic proportions. Sometimes we need to go back to basics to remind ourselves that we are stronger, and more resilient, than we think. With students that I work with, as we go through the class, they use that same card to write down their gratitude, challenge, solution/resource statements. It is amazing what this can do to empower the kids to go out and improve the situation. I hope some of us can do the same.

Things I’m reminding myself of

Focus on what you can control and show gratitude for the blessings you have. I wish I could turn this into a short paragraph like I typically do but, um, for detail see above post.

Go back to basics on more than just your thought patterns. (Also, science does show that your behaviors, even if at first you’re just going through the motions, can/will change your thought patterns.) This is a time to take care of ourselves not to let that slide. Drink all of the water, get enough sleep, keep your body moving, eat food that will fuel you, and keep a routine. You may not have to get up as early for work, or get the kids ready for school, or whatever it is, but having some structure to your day and a plan for how you’re going to get all of the things done will have lots of benefits. You really will get more done and when you miss something it will have been in the schedule so you’ll know what it is. Finally, having the routine is like a gold mine for dealing with your stress and anxiety. You intentionally choose where your focus will be giving you control, you can schedule in all of the basic self-maintenance that you need, and you can skip the scheduling in of “catch up on the pandemic status” so you don’t have to have that at the forefront all of the time.

Look outside of yourself. This one is so important to me. Look outside your circumstances, your life, your immediate community’s culture, and understand what others are going through. Ask questions and talk to people who are going through the different challenges or have different perspectives. Opening your view to the world outside your doorstep will help you understand gratitude on a new level. It will allow you to help others find those creative solutions that they need. It will help take your 5×9 card away from your nose so that you can see the big picture, the whole world, that lay behind it.

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