With the world around us a chaotic mess, it is getting harder and harder to avoid becoming a giant, swirling, ball of anxiety. The current pandemic has disrupted our lives and the world as we know it is on hold for the foreseeable future. It has interrupted routines, forced schools to close, and sent many of us to work from home or not at all. It feels as though the rug has been pulled out from under our proverbial feet.
If you are feeling a growing sense of dread, you are far from alone. Most of us are feeling overwhelmed and afraid, as we are being bombarded with changing facts and statistics on what feels like an almost hourly basis. Yet, it is hard to think about anything but our current crisis.
I am here to remind you that you have a choice in how you respond to the pandemic and its fall out. I am here to remind you that you already know better than to let yourself fall victim to the “what ifs”. I am here to remind you that when you feel most lost, afraid, and overwhelmed, it usually when you are focusing on things you cannot control, like the past and future. Finally, I am here to remind you of the three simple concepts that will help you calm the chaos.
Sure, the world around you has become very loud and that makes it extra hard to hear yourself, but that just means you need practice more. Take the time and energy to check in with yourself regularly. Acknowledge any feelings you might be having, any thoughts, and any sensations in your body. You might find you are pushing your feelings away or ignoring body signals. Mindfulness practice will help ground you in the present and force you to address your immediate needs. This is great time to do some interoception exercises to keep that mind-body communication line open and clear.
Worry lives in the future and the present is the only reality you will ever know. In other words, anxiety is created when we focus on the unknown of the future. Similarly, depression is created by focusing on the unchanging past. The only way to begin limiting your anxiety about our current crisis is to put all your energy into the now. Now is all we can actually control. The best way to combat the anxiety is to make use of now. Ask yourself, what could I be doing now? Who could I be connecting with now? How can I make now enjoyable? Make use of the now, it is all that you are guaranteed.
It is easy to lose yourself in a crisis like this. Inundated by a constant barrage of media telling us how to feel, it is often hard to remember that we all process stress and chaos differently. Each of us is going through this with our own sets of challenges and our own set of strengths. There is no right way to feel about the trauma we are watching unfold, there is only your way. It is important to remember that we will all respond differently over the coming months and that there is space for all kinds of reactions, including yours. Give yourself, and those around you, permission to respond authentically. You are allowed to feel however you are feeling, even if it is different from the majority.
Putting It into Practice:
Here are some great ways to practice these strategies right now:
Control your input: You get to decide what gets in. Limit your news check ins to 2-3 times a day. Trust me, you will only miss the fake news. The real news gets repeated. Also, make sure that the coronavirus news isn’t your only input. This is a great opportunity to binge Netflix or read a book series.
Take advantage of the slow down: Seriously, the world is on pause, demands are less, and you can benefit. With so much stuff cancelled, you should have ample time to delve into a new special interest, spend some quality time outdoors, enjoy the company of family and pets, or do more self-care. The time is now.
Make a schedule: Keep yourself from falling into inertia by making something of each day. The best way to do that is create a new routine for yourself. Pick a wake-up time and plan out your day. Even if part of that plan is a nap, consciously choose it. Never let a day feel like a waste to you. Intentionally choose how you are going to use your spoons during this new normal.
Music is the answer: There is nothing that can shift your mood faster than music. Use music as a catalyst to lift your mood and ground you in the present. Go ahead, sing out loud and dance like Elaine, a little fun and laughter goes a long way.
Stim out: No better way to create harmony within than to let your stims out. That’s right stim away! For many of us, stimming is a regulator and we are in desperate need of some regulation. Try new fidgets, exchange stims with friends, make a stimmy video, but whatever you do, do NOT hold those stims in.
Get serious: What about taking this time to plan for when it’s over? That’s right, this, too, shall pass, so why not be ready when it does? Use this pause to evaluate your life. What are you missing? What are you NOT missing? Take advantage of the interruption and think about your life. Do a ‘Wheel of Life’ exercise. Create bucket lists. Simply, decide what changes you would like to make and plan how to put those changes in place.
Here’s to hoping this passes quickly. In the meantime, don’t waste time on worry. It’s your one nonrenewable resource, virus or not. After all, there’s no time like the present.
About Becca Lory Hector, CAS, BCCS
Becca was diagnosed on the autism spectrum as an adult and has since become a dynamic autism advocate, consultant, speaker, and author with dual certifications as a Certified Autism Specialist (CAS) and Cognitive Specialist (BCCS). With a focus on living an active, positive life, her work includes autism & neurodiversity consulting; public speaking engagements; a monthly blog, “Live Positively Autistic”; a weekly YouTube news show, “Neurodiversity Newsstand,”; and being an Assistant Editor/Feature Writer for Spectrum Women Magazine. An animal lover with a special affinity for cats, Becca spends most of her free time with her many animals, her husband Antonio Hector, and their Emotional Support Animal (ESA), Sir Walter Underfoot.