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Wellbeing in a time of collective panic? Yes, it is possible.

Updated: Mar 26



The best use of imagination is creativity, the worst use of imagination is anxiety. - Deepak Chopra


Compassion


Peace is a process that involves the stopping of trying to control others and the acceptance of uncertainty. It starts with self-awareness in order to move beyond the self.


Reactivity to other people's coping styles and emotions can be difficult to manage in times of anxiety, but it can be done. There is no doubt that emotions are shared, and we cannot hide from intense feelings arising from within ourselves, or from external sources.


Given that approximately one third of us are over-reactors, one third are under-reactors, and one third have a proportionate or shifting reaction, we're going to need to get our empathy in good working order, so that we can support each other and thrive during this challenging time!


Over-reactors are trying their best to manage and prioritize health and safety needs. They may be frustrating to others who don't share this style with their seemingly harsh hygiene and dictatorial opinions and solutions.


Under-reactors are trying to defend against their fears, loneliness, and to live out a sense of freedom. These individuals can frustrate and frighten others by their perceived lack of care for public and personal wellbeing.


Proportionate and shifting reactors are trying to predict, accommodate, and respond to ever-changing needs. These people may be emotionally oscillating, and taking others on an emotional roller coaster ride with them as they continually seek information so as to stay informed and "responsible."


It's important to know our own preferred style, and to see its strong and weak points. It's only when we apply this empathetic and holistic view to ourselves, that we can radiate our compassion outward, so that we can shelter under shared umbrellas of understanding and comfort.


Practical Tips for Coping


  • Get OK with other's reactions. Feelings aren't good or bad, they just are, and they seek to inform us. Embrace them with curiosity and as little judgement as possible. Make people feel heard by seeking commonality. Try to understand other's coping styles. Ask gentle questions, and choose in return, to think thoughts that are kind and compassionate.

  • Recognize the need for helpers, vulnerable people, and children to receive extra support. It's a marathon not a sprint. Do your best to encourage, but not be overbearing or smothering when recommending wellness strategies and interventions. These individuals may have prolonged trauma responses and may need continuing support after the crisis passes.

  • Pace yourself! Do not try to tackle all at once the back-logged "to do's" you've had intentions to accomplish, because you suddenly find yourself with less structured time. Don't force yourself to accomplish something on a list if you're not feeling up to it. Be kind to yourself and ask for help or more time if you need it.

  • Accept the fact that some things will remain unresolved for an undetermined amount of time. Closures, reduced staffing, and set backs are the new normal. Do your best to just breathe and be patient and flexible with pre-determined deadlines. Adjust to the new reality. You will find that others are more understanding than you'd think.

  • Watch for patterns. It's critical to allow yourself permission to be indulgent, so go ahead, finish those chips, stay in your PJ's, skip the workout, and cuddle your dog all day if you need to nurture yourself. Just don't stay stuck there. Watch for, and scale back, excessive compensatory behaviors.

  • Stay alert for process addictions. Do make efforts to not engage in addictions. If something becomes a habitual use pattern, seek professional help! Monitor the following behaviors: Over-eating, under-eating, over-working, over-exercise, online shopping, online gambling, substance abuse, sex/pornography addiction, as well as over-use of technology including social media, video games, binge watching TV, and news combing.

  • Manage interpersonal contact time. Be alert to trends to over-contact others, or conversely, a desire to isolate. Aim for the same level of contact you'd ordinarily desire, and use technology to your advantage. It's OK to reach out to people needing more support, though listen carefully to their hints about how much contact, and in what form they desire. Set clear boundaries and expectations with others, especially if you are feeling socially overwhelmed, or are needing more contact than usual.

  • Try something new. Try that new recipe, take part in an online course, Zumba class, or look up that gardening or home improvement how-to you've been meaning to research...now is a great time to try something new to lift your spirits, and give you a sense of accomplishment.

  • Accept that this is a stressful time for relationships and families. Whether it be because of increased distance or an unusual level of closeness, wearing a shared emotional skin during times of disruption can be very difficult. Provide calm support to others who are struggling, and seek (or refer to) professional support if needed to manage intense relationships - before they further deteriorate! Please be aware of the increased risk of interpersonal violence during such times, and safety plan and enact emergency plans as appropriate.

  • Nourish your spirit and your body. Be aware of the need to maintain healthy rhythms for sleep, eating, exercise, and spiritual practice. There are loads of online supports and resources available, if you are in need of ideas and inspiration. Do not put yourself on the back burner. No excuses!

  • Reward yourself. There's nothing like a treat to keep our spirits up. Build in a special reward for yourself and your family at least once per week, even better if you can manage it every few days. A batch of cookies, reading a book, or having a bubble bath can really go a long way in re-energizing ourselves.

  • Reach out. You owe it to yourself and to others who care about you, to try to stay in good emotional form during this challenging time. If you need support, ask someone you trust, or seek professional resources.


Be Well, Be Patient, Be Kind, Get Help if you need it.


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Dr. Marie C. Dumas, Psy.D.