In week seven of quarantine, how are you managing your time? Are you contemplating new projects around your home? Catching up with old friends? Or are you despairing, listening to the news all day, falling under tidal waves of anxiety? Both reactions are common and understandable, but the first is clearly the one to shoot for. Let’s talk about how.
This is the third of a five-part series on building resilience skills, based on the mnemonic G.O.A.L.S. In my laziness, I was hoping I could reuse a blog I wrote last summer about coping, entitled “What is an Internal Locus of Control, and how do I get one?” (https://www.lisedeguire.com/post/what-is-an-internal-locus-of-control-and-how-do-you-get-one). That blog provided a perfectly good explanation of Active Coping, the A in G.O.A.L.S.
But reality has completely transformed from August 2019 to May 2020. What I wrote last summer was useful, but we live in a new world now, a COVID-19 world. So, I will try again to explain the importance of active coping in resiliency, in the context of our current crisis.
In the beginning of the pandemic, many of us managed to be upbeat. OK, we would stay home. OK, we would cancel our vacation. OK we would work from our kitchens. We joked about cleaning dusty closets and shredding 10-year-old MasterCard bills. We made Zoom calls with college roommates and festively downed margaritas. We waited.
Seven weeks later, those of us lucky enough to be safe in our homes, healthy and employed, feel … not so great. Tensions rise. Tempers flare. TV bores us. And the rain seems endless.
“I’m done,” declared my college friend, in our second pandemic Zoom call. She is usually a tower of strength, a woman equal parts intelligence, humor and chutzpah, who would stop at nothing to defend her family and friends. She is absolutely the funniest person I know. Last night however, she was in bed by 8:00, in her bathrobe, nursing an upset stomach. Her deep brown eyes, usually dancing with humor, stared mournfully into the screen. “I’m done.”
I hear you. How can we cope?
Active coping is the ability to approach a problem by asking, “What can I do about this?” and then endeavoring to do it. Active copers excel at analyzing problems. They can break problems down into components and assess the components over which they have influence. And then, active copers do their best to alter whatever is under their control.
Passive copers, in contrast, approach problems with discouragement. Crises just seem to happen to them. Maybe it is God punishing them. Maybe it is their fate. They just have bad luck. Passive copers do not assess what they can do to address their problem. Instead, they cope through avoidance and waiting for the issue to go away.
This pandemic is a unique circumstance in which we all are going through a terrible trauma, all together, at the same time. There is no one in America, or even the world, who is unaffected by Covid 19. We are all suffering (some more than others, granted). We are all anxious. We all have nights that we crawl to bed by 8:00, declaring “I am done!”
For those of us lucky enough to be physically and financially safe, our worst problems are boredom, uncertainty and anxiety. We are bored with so much unstructured time on our hands, with no social plans or obligations. Without active engagement, our minds easily drift toward anxious, catastrophic thoughts. Boredom easily transforms into anxiety.
When we feel passive, this unstructured time can seem like imprisonment. If we are feeling like active copers, however, this time represents an unprecedented opportunity. Right now, you have more free time than you ever dreamed possible. And you didn’t even have to retire to get it.
What would you like to do?
My dear friend Kathy has challenged herself. She already speaks two languages, having been an American in France for 20 years. She is married to a Swede and makes regular trips to Sweden to visit her in-laws. So, Kathy has immersed herself in on-line Swedish classes. Seven weeks later, she can now converse on the limited, but possibly useful, topics of dogs, moose, and turtles. Over the phone, in careful Swedish, Kathy informed me that she likes turtles, also that she doesn’t like turtles, and also that she loves turtles.
Last night in her bathrobe, my college friend declared that she has no interest in learning any language, she just wants this to be over. Yes, I get that. So, if the thought of learning how to discuss turtles in Swedish has no appeal, fear not. There are lots of ways to be an active coper.
First of all, forgive yourself if you aren’t feeling it today. Everyone has down days with little energy and no patience. If I have one more argument with my kids about picking up the house, I think my head might detonate clear off my body. Some days are like that. When you are having this kind of day, going to bed at 8:00 isn’t the worst idea. It’s better than screaming your head off.
Perhaps the next day, though, the sun is out, and you have a bit more gas in your tank. Great. What can you do today with this time? Call your best friend from fifth grade? Do a sewing project? Update your financial records?
Learning Swedish does not make the quarantine easy, but it does make it more interesting. But you don’t need to learn a new language or pick up the violin. Focusing on any productive task will help. I suggest focusing on positive goals not because you need to master some skill, but so you have something positive to think about, to spend time on, something (unlike the virus) that is actually under your control. (For more ideas on how to structure your stay-at-home time, see: https://www.lisedeguire.com/post/five-grounding-tips-for-a-strange-time)
Our national situation requires both acceptance and action on our part. We must accept the need to follow guidelines, to limit socializing, to keep each other safe. But within those limitations, we have endless choices. We can try to be positive. We can see this time as an opportunity for learning and growth. Remember phone calls? We have time for them now. We can call those friends that we always mean to call. We can exercise our poor middle age abs. We can learn Swedish and talk about turtles. There is still so much that we can do.
Please stay tuned for part 4 on this series about resilience skills, G.O.A.L.S.
-O is for Optimism (https://www.lisedeguire.com/post/o-is-for-optimism-building-resilience-skills-part-2)
-A is for Active coping
What do you think L stands for?
Lise Deguire's multiple award-winning memoir, Flashback Girl: Lessons on Resilience from a Burn Survivor, is available for purchase on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Newtown Book Shop and The Commonplace Reader.