Finding Control in Uncertain Times
Updated: Mar 31, 2020
Our world has effectively been turned upside down in the past few weeks. Loads of people have been laid off, many are working from home, still more are working on the front lines trying to take care of those who need their help. On top of all that, we have no idea when this situation will subside. It's obvious that our mental health will be impacted.
Even before COVID-19 I had been working with folks to find areas in their lives where they have some control when it seems like all control has been taken by some outside force. First and foremost, we have control over how we respond to any given situation. Each day, we wake up and make a choice of how we are going to face the day. As we continue through the day, we may be given challenges to face or other opportunities where we exercise our ability to respond either effectively or ineffectively. Now sometimes our emotions can hijack us and this turns our thinking brain off, so we may react impulsively and either say something we don't mean, or act out in a way that makes us feel shame or guilt. Often times people will argue with me and say they "can't control" their emotions. Which is true, we can't, but we can control our awareness of them and how we respond when we are feeling those uncomfortable emotions.
Let's look at an example of this. So, lets say you are working from home on an important video meeting when your kids are being kids in the other room, loud, laughing, and yelling. You may be embarrassed that the people on the other side of the call can hear this. Your mind starts racing from embarrassment and worry about judgment. As the meeting progresses, your agitation increases. Once the meeting is over you are angry because you have asked the kids to be quiet and they completely disregarded your request and now you add disrespect on top of the embarrassment and anger. At this moment you have a choice. One, go out and yell at the kids and tell them how angry you are and how awful they are for not listening. Two, take a moment, recognize your emotions, take some deep breaths, ask yourself "what am I truly mad about and how can I express that without uncontrollable anger and yelling?". This is the choice and the control we have in those intense moments.
One more example. Let's say one parent has been laid off and is waiting on unemployment to come through. The other parent is self-employed and hours have decreased significantly. Of course this is a SUPER stressful and real scenario. The easy and possibly typical thing to have happen is to become stressed about missed bills, lack of food, and being locked in the house for days and weeks. This stress turns into arguments and outbursts that wouldn't happen in other circumstances. What control do you have in this situation? One, you have control in recognizing that this situation is stressful and keeping as much routine as possible. Keep up on sleep routine, get some physical exercise which goes a long way in relieving stress, decrease alcohol use. Those are all things within your control. Be proactive, you are not the only one experiencing this financial burden and stress. Call companies to find out what aid they have available, make payment arrangements, keep lines of communication open. Find supports. Find other people you can connect with to vent or distract yourself from how difficult the situation is.
No, we will not respond to every situation perfectly. But, when we take a moment to breathe and become aware of our emotions and ask the question "how do I want to respond to this?" we then take back the control of our response. We can't control much of what is going on in life right now, but we can control what we focus on and how we respond to what is happening.
Be safe and stay healthy!