Why Is It Getting Harder? The Corona Virus Is a Time of Uncertainty

 “From where comes the strength to finish the race;
it comes from within.”
Chariots of Fire

Why Is It Getting Harder?
The Corona Virus Is a Time of Uncertainty and Change, Loss of Control and Grief

“This is not fair! It’s stupid. I’m not afraid of it.”
The repeated all-day mantra of a very angry and unhappy 14-year old teen.

This teen is missing her graduation, hanging out with friends, going to church choir practice and performances and so much more. Hers is just one of many comments I’ve heard since my last article that suggested coping with the pandemic is growing harder as time goes on.

We’re realizing that adjusting to this can no longer be seen as a temporary inconvenience. We must adjust for a long haul of indefinite, indeterminate length. Here are a few of the other comments I hear. What are yours? Email or text me. I’d like to help and hope this information will.

“I can’t plan anything. Everything changes before I can even carry out a new plan.”
“I don’t get anything done. I’m sort of in a fog. Like I’m on automatic pilot.”
“I’m scared for my Grandpa. He eats breakfast at his favorite restaurant every morning.”
“I keep feeling I’m about to go over a precipice of just giving up. I have to keep pulling myself back.”
“I’m having trouble sleeping.”
“We’ve got cabin fever bad.”
“I like staying at home but now that I
have to I want to go out.”
“No one can keep me from visiting my friends. That’s just false news. I’m going anyway.”
“We’re having church services. It’s only about 20 people.”
“I’m here all day but nothing seems to be getting done.”
“This is a New York thing. For older, sick people. Not me. This is California. I’m young and healthy.”
“Crammed together like this, we’re getting on each other’s nerves. It feels like we’re in a pressure
cooker that’s about to explode.”

I think I can explain why it’s growing harder for us and the young teen who blames her beleaguer mother for “ruining her life” by making her stay home. They are the same reasons it’s getting harder for me too. It comes down to four things:

                        Uncertainty – Change – Loss of Control – Grief

These four things make for a perfect storm for emotional and psychic difficulty.
Certainty provides us with a sense of security and safety and enables us to predict and plan. Our brains are wired to create certainty and neurobiological research has shown
that uncertainty disrupts habitual, automatic mental processes that create conflict in the brain and produce a heightened emotional response.

Some researchers even argue that the existential fear of the unknown is the bedrock human fear — the one fear that gives rise to all other fears.

Right now we have a lot of uncertainty. Uncertainty about the virus itself. It’s so new that no one knows enough about it to predict when it might have run its course. At least nearly everyone is on the same page now about what we do know.

1)  We know it’s bad and it won’t end soon. No one has to immunity to it. The number of people affected is growing in every state and it affects all ages. At this writing over 400,000 Americans have contracted the disease and over 12,000 died. But these numbers go up by the minute.

2) If we want to shorten how long this scourge will take, we have stay at home except for essentials like food, medicine,  and essential jobs; keep at least six feet distance between ourselves and others when we do go out and wear mouth and nose coverings. Among other hygiene steps. At this writing.  the national Task Force on Coronavirus is urging us to even limit grocery shopping to every two weeks and get our medications by mail.

None of those behaviors are appealing or part of normal human behavior. This means we have to change the way we live. That is a big change. For many of us, it’s turned our lives topsy turvy. Leaving us with more uncertainty about our health, our finances, our jobs, our loves one’s well-being.

And worst of all, we’re not in control of any of this. Feeling in control gives us a sense of competence and confidence. But right now there is so much we are no longer able to control. The virus is in control. As Anthony Fauci from the national pandemic task force tells us, scientific, medical and governmental professionals are all trying to get some control over this virus to save lives and restore our economy as soon as possible.
But what they’ve learned so far takes away our ability to control our day-to-day life by mandating limits we don’t like.

The lack of control, the uncertainty of knowing what will happen and having to make unwelcomed change results in a lot of loss. Loss of freedom, loss of choice and loss of things that were important to us. No proms, no church services, no school activities. No days at the beach. And worst of all sometimes loss of loved ones.

The particular losses differ from one individual to another. We may lose our health, our jobs, our financial security, and our loved ones. The resulting feeling is grief.  Grief is the mind and body’s way of getting us to a place where we can live with the loss in a healthy way.

We understand the wrenching grief of losing a loved one, but often we overlook the grief that accompanies other degrees of loss, whether it’s a job¸ the chance to go to a much-anticipated prom or our regular familiar way of doing things. To some extent, we are grieving for all such things and we don’t like it. Grief is like a painful tunnel that the only way out of is to go through it.

So what do we tend to do?

 Here’s what I see in the comments I’m hearing. I see survival behavior. I see what we tend to do when we feel threatened by any traumatic assault –  which this certainly is  – fight, flight or freeze.

Fight– we get angry, rebellious, defiant.
Flight – we avoid, discount, distort and deny the reality we don’t want to accept.
Freeze – we space out, dissociate, pull the covers over our heads and shut our eyes.

These are primitive survival protective mechanisms. They are understandable, this is a big threat. But like so often in our modern times, these responses don’t help us to knuckle down and do what we need to do.

Fight – leads to attacking and blaming ourselves and others. Like the teen who blames her mother and
thereby robs herself of her power to make things different. And like those that defy doing what they
could do and thereby placing themselves and others in danger.
Flight – cuts us off from the options and choices we have. Like those who deny, discount and avoid the
reality of this crisis and thereby leave themselves naked to the risk and isolated from others they
could help.
Freeze – leads to being immobilized by our fears and stuck in our worst projections. Like those who space out
and cut themselves off from their power to adapt and participate in solutions. Yes, I mean power.

Consider this. We have the greatest power right now to stave this pandemic.

– We have control over the only things that are now known to protect us from this virus and shorten
its scourge. Until there is a vaccine or cure, we are the only ones with the power to make the
difference experts and scientists and health care providers can’t do yet.

– The powerful ability to control what happens to us and others is the only reliable certainty we have
right now. Those who are using this power are already starting to make the only progress on the
horizon.

We can take pride in using this power and shift our focus from what isn’t certain or isn’t in our control to this amazing power and certainty we do have.

Yes, this requires making undesired changes. But let’s take pride in making the changes our power gives us to protect ourselves and improve the chances for everyone else. Yes, we are enduring the grief of what we are losing but, as all our leaders are saying, this will end and by doing our best we can make it together until it does. We will have the things we’re missing again. We will be with friends, be in school, have proms, enjoy sports, go to church and attend gatherings, shake hands, share a hug and so much more. Just not now.

It’s weird to think we’re doing this together when we can’t be together, but by doing your part and enlisting all those you know to do their part, we are doing it together though apart. Polling shows that nationwide 85% of us are working to claim our power to carry out the important role we’ve been given.

Try This.

By shifting our perspective in this way we become less identified with our struggle and discomfort. To calm our of fight/flight/freeze reactions so we can assume our role, here are three mental mantras of compassionate self-encouragement that can help.

1) Acknowledge the struggle by saying something to yourself like “This is difficult.  It’s a really hard time.”

2) Acknowledge your part of humanity by reminding yourself,  “I’m not alone. We’re all going through this now. We’re going through it together and like me, others suffering too. Many even more than me.”

3) Say something kind to yourself, something supportive that you might say to a loved one like or that you’d like to hear from a loved one, some like, “You’re doing the best you can. It may not seem like enough, but I’m proud of the effort you’re making.” Something you to would like to hear.

This is our time to dig deep into what Governor Andrew Cuomo calls our Best Self. We can find our Best Self to get through the day. When we each do this we will find the strength to finish the race and win this battle.

And invite our friends, family and particularly your children to join you in rising to this challenge. Help your children to be brave and bold heroes, not nagging brats. Let them know how important their role is. How important they are.

Staying home, wearing masks and gloves, diligently washing hands and surfaces

 in your home etc. to protect yourself and your family is your most important way

to help.

If you’d like to do more, here are some ways you can help and your kids and friends might get involved, while taking all safety precautions, of course:

Deliver food: Help a senior citizen in your community by delivering a meal through Meals on Wheels. Or from local take out restaurants.

Write a letter: Search for a senior center, memory care center or nursing home in your area and e-mail or call them to let them know you’d like to write some letters. They can let you know any specific requests, and where to send the finished product. (This works even better if several people participate.)

Check in: If you have elderly neighbors or friends, call them to see how they’re faring. Offer to do some non-contact chores, like putting the trash out, getting the mail, shoveling snow or mowing the lawn.

I’d like to close with the words of Queen Elizabeth II, speaking to the nation. She said “I hope in the years to come everyone will be able to take pride in how they responded to this challenge. And those who come after us will say [we} of this generation were as strong as any.”

We can do it!

Footnote: I found Queen Elizabeth’s speech to the nature most inspiring so, because applies to us as Americans as well, I share it here in its totality that it might inspire you too.

By Telegraph Reporters 5 April 2020 • 8:31pm

I am speaking to you at what I know is an increasingly challenging time. A time of disruption in the life of our country: a disruption that has brought grief to some, financial difficulties to many, and enormous changes to the daily lives of us all.

I want to thank everyone on the NHS front line, as well as care workers and those carrying out essential roles, who selflessly continue their day-to-day duties outside the home in support of us all. I am sure the nation will join me in assuring you that what you do is appreciated and every hour of your hard work brings us closer to a return to more normal times.

I also want to thank those of you who are staying at home, thereby helping to protect the vulnerable and sparing many families the pain already felt by those who have lost loved ones. Together we are tackling this disease, and I want to reassure you that if we remain united and resolute, then we will overcome it.

I hope in the years to come everyone will be able to take pride in how they responded to this challenge. And those who come after us will say the Britons of this generation were as strong as any. That the attributes of self-discipline, of quiet good-humoured resolve and of fellow-feeling still our future.

The moments when the United Kingdom has come together to applaud its care and essential workers will be remembered as an expression of our national spirit; and its symbol will be the rainbows drawn by children.

Across the Commonwealth and around the world, we have seen heart-warming stories of people coming together to help others, be it through delivering food parcels and medicines, checking on neighbours, or converting businesses to help the relief effort.

And though self-isolating may at times be hard, many people of all faiths, and of none, are discovering that it presents an opportunity to slow down, pause and reflect, in prayer or meditation.

It reminds me of the very first broadcast I made, in 1940, helped by my sister. We, as children, spoke from here at Windsor to children who had been evacuated from their homes and sent away for their own safety. Today, once again, many will feel a painful sense of separation from their loved ones. But now, as then, we know, deep down, that it is the right thing to do.

While we have faced challenges before, this one is different. This time we join with all nations across the globe in a common endeavour, using the great advances of science and our instinctive compassion to heal. We will succeed – and that success will belong to every one of us.

We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return: we will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again.

But for now, I send my thanks and warmest good wishes to you.”

If you have any other ideas or questions or wish to comment on the subject on this blog, please contact me.