We’re fortunate to have Malia Hirshmann on the Kenzai Training team. Malia has a PhD in Clinical Health Psychology and has worked in a variety of settings such as hospitals, medical clinics and schools. When people are dealing with stress and anxiety, Malia always has insights and wisdom that we all benefit from.
We asked Malia what her education and experience tells her about dealing with the pressures of Coronavirus isolation and the uncertainty of a world dealing with the pandemic. Here are her thoughts:
Many will feel the urge to want to ‘get back to the way things used to be’. People might feel paralyzed waiting for that to happen, or like they're fighting a losing battle as they struggle to get back to normal. It’s better to carve out your life in the here and now. It will look and feel different depending on your lifestyle before all of this began, but you can’t put life on hold for a future that will never be what it once was before. Even if most everything goes back to the way it was, YOU will be changed as a person just as everyone else around you.
This is a time when it seems like you wake up each day to a new reality. There’s no playbook here. No one knows how this will all shake out. In the face of all these unknowns, it can help to remind yourself of all the things you do know. Make a list of those important things in your life that you can be sure of, and you’ll find that there’s a lot of substance there. You can post this list up where you’ll see it as a reminder that while so much has changed, some of the fundamental things about you, your loved ones, and the world have not.
Battling fear and anxiety is no easy task. It takes a concerted effort to keep those feelings – which are totally normal – from overtaking your mental health landscape. One practice I’ve put into place is scheduling one moment in my day to consume information about COVID-19 and allowing myself to worry over it as much as I want and talk to my husband about it (usually going around in circles). But then when that time is over, I’m done. I don’t read any news, social media (I’ve actually gone off that completely, preferring to get any information from the most reliable sources as possible). I also avoid talking ad nauseam with friends and family about it. I schedule this time (30-60min) first thing in the morning because I found that if I read the news later in the day, it was keeping me up at night. I also want to see if there are any new developments that might affect my day, such as new government advisories. Sure, there might be other things I do through the day that relate back to COVID (what doesn’t these days) but these are actions and problem solving. (Be mindful that sometimes problem-solving is actually worrying masked as problem-solving). This choice to limit my COVID reading and discussion has been the single most useful thing I’ve done.
On Being in Quarantine or on a Shelter in Place Order
Keep a journal. I was already journaling myself when I read an article about NASA astronaut Scott Kelley’s tips on spending time in isolation. Here’s an excerpt from the article:
“NASA has been studying the effects of isolation on humans for decades, and one surprising finding they have made is the value of keeping a journal. Throughout my yearlong mission, I took the time to write about my experiences almost every day. If you find yourself just chronicling the days’ events (which, under the circumstances, might get repetitive) instead try describing what you are experiencing through your five senses or write about memories. Even if you don’t wind up writing a book based on your journal like I did, writing about your days will help put your experiences in perspective and let you look back later on what this unique time in history has meant.”
Accept your new social life. Social connection is not only good for your mental health but your physical health (including your immune system). It’s kind of like socializing when you’re doing a Kenzai program and not drinking – you can still socialize, but it’s not going to feel the same (at first) nor be the same kind of activities, but you still do need that human connection. FaceTime and Zoom are great tools. It’s going to feel clumsy at first, but try a lot of different kinds of arrangements and activities and see what sticks. Interestingly, my daughter who has a tight group of friends from school is spending more time socializing with other folks rather than her usual circle. I think that it was easy for her to do this new type of virtual socializing with people she didn’t really socialize with before. I think as she becomes more used to the medium, she’ll then start up with her friends, but it’s a good reminder that you might be forming new connections just as easily or even more easily than with the people who were part of your inner circle.
Kindness. This one is obvious, but doing something nice for others can make you feel a whole lot better when you’re feeling down and depressed. If you can’t think of something grand, just start with your family or your neighbors. Even just reaching out to see if there’s any way you can help – the offer alone might give you a little boost. My sister in law is home with two young children. Her husband (my brother) is a firefighter out on the front lines dealing with the effects of the virus. She’s a very very patient mother, but I’ve been wanting to help her and give her a little breathing room each day when her husband is on one of his 24 hour shifts. So we started a Story Hour where I use Zoom and either myself or one my kids reads to her kids a chapter book that they love. She can then go do something to take care of herself – most often then not she goes and does a Kenzai workout! It helps her, but also very much makes me feel connected to their family.
COVID Connects Us
It’s going to sound a little corny, but my family and I have been talking about how this horrible thing that is happening to our planet affects EVERY SINGLE PERSON alive. We are, as a species, going through this together. That can feel scary, but we’ve chosen to embrace a connection between all of us over the world. I like to go out in the yard and plant my feet in the grass an imagine a connection that runs through the earth to everyone else around me. There’s something lovely and soothing about that.
For now we’re stuck with Coronavirus as a part of life. But it doesn’t have to rule your life.