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How to Manage Gracefully in the New Normal

Eight ways to stay sane and grounded.

Being a psychologist and psychoanalyst during this unfolding experience of the COVID-19 pandemic, I am struck by the ways in which we are both struggling and managing psychologically, both as individuals and as a human society. Traumatic stress often brings out the worst and the best in us.

Source: Pixabay
Source: Pixabay

As I listen to my psychotherapy clients and pay attention to my own process, I notice waves of feelings from the early weeks of panic, paranoia, and phobia, folding later into anger, acceptance, and the need for answers, and interspersed with jolts of creativity, inspiration, generosity, and kindness. Patience and resilience are prized capacities, and blessed are those who can foster and sustain them.

This week, there seems to be a mix of heavy-heartedness in the face of tremendous loss, a weariness of the daily grind, helplessness in the face of uncertainty about the future, and frustration about how both leaders and neighbors are handling themselves and one another. What comes through loud and clear is the awareness that we are profoundly interconnected, for good and for ill, and that we need to call upon our best judgment to find our way through.

It is not an exaggeration to say that we are having the psychological fight of our lives, taxed as we are beyond imagination as we move through the vicissitudes of this global pandemic. As we gear up for a re-opening of the country (and the world), many are seeking ways to keep sane and grounded. We must ready ourselves for the "new normal" as this will be a gradual, two-steps-forward-one-step-back, long-haul process. Here, I offer you some simple guidance, which I hope will help as you move through the months ahead.

First and foremost, manage as gracefully as you can. Accept the fact that this is hard. We are going to have ups and downs; that is the natural course of a psychological struggle like this. All we can do is try to take care of our mental and physical health. Here are a few ideas:

1. Breathe more intentionally, even for just 10 minutes a day. If you need some guidance, there are free online resources that will walk you through the basics of mindfulness meditation.

2. Get some fresh air. Go for a walk. Sit on the porch or the balcony. Get some sun. Smell the rain. Even if you have to be creative about it, connect somehow with Mother Nature. She will help hold you and heal you.

3. Indulge in the tastes of your favorite things, at least a little and not too much. Treat yourself. Make that favorite recipe or get takeout from a special place. Maybe you don't usually eat pizza. Now is the time for pizza.

4. Take on a small project around the house. Clean a drawer, fix a piece of furniture, change a light bulb, organize that stack on the corner of the kitchen table. The feeling of satisfaction will lift your spirits.

5. Do something good for someone else. Call a neighbor and ask if they need anything. Check on an old friend or the elderly parents of an old friend. Send someone a box of chocolates or some tea. Wave hello to a stranger. Put some positive energy out into the universe.

6. Laugh. Play games, tell jokes, pull a friendly prank, send around funny and uplifting stories and cartoons on your social media.

7. Talk about your feelings to someone you trust, and listen to those who share their feelings with you. Don't try to solve anything. Just be present to one another.

8. And don't forget the basics. Wash your hands. Don't touch your face. Keep a safe distance from one another. Get a good night's sleep, as best as you can. Eat regularly and healthfully. Drink lots of water. Take your medicine. Move around.

One of my childhood friends from New York City shared that he has been washing his hands for 20 seconds to the song, "You are my sunshine, my only sunshine." It is very comforting for him, not only because it is better than the Happy Birthday song but because his mama used to sing it to him. We all need our mamas right now, whether the one you call your mama is the one who gave birth to you or a teacher or pastor or friend or partner or coach or sponsor or therapist. In the months ahead, turn to her in your mind's eye. Talk to her like you used to. And during the ups and downs, when your own efforts fail, let her carry you through.