To Look or not to Look: That is the Question
In times of uncertainty, when there is so much out of our control, one of the things that is within our control is how we show up for others. And how we show up for others often has a lot to do with how we show up for ourselves. Since my posting last week, my self care regimen has taken on a whole new look — prayer and yoga are now online rather than in person. Each day I have decisions to make about how I spend my time, who I am in contact with via phone and video conference, and how I interact with others.
Child life specialists are trained to acknowledge and respect the many and varied coping mechanisms of children and families in hospitals. We are trained to assess, respond to, and expand these coping skills. For example, some children like to watch when they are undergoing an iv insertion. Others would prefer to close their eyes, blow bubbles, or search for items in an I Spy book. Some children want to know every detail about their diagnosis and treatment, while others prefer to skip the details.
Well, when it comes to coping with uncertainty and isolation, we all have different ways of self soothing. My husband likes to watch the news, but I find my anxiety ratchets up considerably when I hear statistics about numbers of coronavirus cases and upsetting information about the financial challenges in our midst, especially in the evening before I go to sleep. It occurred to me yesterday how it might be helpful for us all to:
- Reflect upon our coping mechanisms – what helps us? What upsets us? Knowing what triggers our anxiety, worry, or sadness is a vital step to being able to protect ourselves and self soothe. You might wish to journal about this, create some art expressing your preferred method of coping, or even a 3-D loose parts representation of your hope and resilience.
- Explore the coping preferences of your family members and friends. Whether you are all at home together, or you live separately, it is a good thing to know what your family and friends need to feel safe and calm at this time, especially if it is very different than how you cope. The only way to know is to ask.
- In accordance with what information your loved ones share, make a concerted effort to self edit when you speak to others. When you are in conversation with someone on the phone or online, instead of launching automatically into virus-speak, ask them how they want the conversation to go. This isn’t meant to make COVID 19 talk taboo, but we all need a break at some point during the day from the constant barrage of news.
- Tell loved ones what your favorite method of coping is, and what is a challenge for you. Sharing coping strategies can ignite great ideas in others. As far as challenges go, I asked one friend to not discuss financial news with me. I told another that I am avoiding the news in general, and that I would appreciate it if we didn’t discuss the news when we speak.
What Role Will You Take?
Another way to approach this issue is to ask yourself, what role do I wish to play in this adventure?
- Newscaster: If you are keyed into the latest breaking news, you might be able to be a trusted source of information for your loved ones. They can ask you for the latest updates. But do your best to leave any dramatic flare aside, and to set aside a time to share, rather than shouting out every news banner that appears on your screen
- Advice Giver: This is one of my favorite roles! Can you tell? Haha. This is fine when it comes to blogging, but when a friend needs a little empathy, jumping in with advice could make them feel overwhelmed and invisible. Your friends and family might appreciate it greatly if you ask them, “Do you need advice or empathy right now?”
- Listener: A good listener may hold back on advice, but the role is still an active one. You can express caring in so many ways as a good listener. Here is a link to a brief handout on active listening skills.
- Comedian: Some people are blessed with a great sense of humor. Jokes, quips, memes, and funny videos are appreciated by most. A good laugh is great for your immune system!
- Worrier: You might be tempted to share all of your worries with people. Instead, consider creating and decorating worry jars from empty jam jars. Whenever you have a worry about something outside of your control, write it on a slip of paper and put it in your “Big Worries!” jar. When you have a worry that you can do something about, put it in your “To Do Worry” jar. Then, when you have the energy and time, address the manageable worries with action.
- Expert: Do you have a specific skill that may be helpful to others? For example, many people, especially the elderly, may need tech advice and expertise during this time of isolation.
- Volunteer: In the same vein, where are your expertise, energy, and hands most needed? How can you serve your community at this time? You might want to reach out to a school, a religious community, a shelter, or a food pantry.
- A Good Neighbor: If you are going to the store, ask a neighbor if they need anything. If you have neighbors or friends far away who live alone, check in on them. Ask them what they need.
- Little Light: It doesn’t take any expertise at all to shine the light on people’s strengths, helping them see their own hope and resilience. Whenever you are in contact with anyone, look for opportunities to be the light in the darkness, and encourage them to light their own candle for themselves and others.