Leading means keeping your cool, as Dr Eve Merceda shares. Peer groups are safe places to lose your sh*t and get support to get back in the game.

How to Not Lose Your Sh*t During the COVID-19 Crisis

How do you hold your sh*t together in the midst of a global pandemic, when it seems like the rest of the world has already lost its mind? (I’m looking at you, toilet-paper-hoarders.)

If you’re reading this article, you’re already well aware of the uniquely challenging stressors that the COVID-19 pandemic has visited upon nearly everyone around the world. For many (most) of us, this highly fluid situation is testing our emotional, financial, physical, and psychological resources in ways we wouldn’t have dreamed possible just a few short weeks ago.

Unique challenges call for unique solutions, and in this article, I’ll share several creative approaches to holding your sh*t together amidst the current craziness.

Emotions Suppressed … Lead to Pain Expressed

When we’re faced with intense stress, many of us shut down emotionally, stuffing our feelings of fear, anxiety, and anger deep into the dungeons of our psyche. We think, “the show must go on!” – and so we pretend (even to ourselves) that we’re handling everything just fine, thank you very much.

We are, however, completely kidding ourselves.

Research on the mind-body connection clearly indicates that suppressed emotional energy can (and very often does) transform itself into physical energy – often in the form of pain that doesn’t appear to have any underlying physical basis. The first law of thermodynamics (also known as the law of the conservation of energy) states that, “energy can be neither created nor destroyed; it can only change form.” And this law is as true for us as it is for everything else in the universe.

The only solution (or preventative) is to find a way to get in touch with all of the scary, negative, yucky feelings that you really don’t want to feel right now – before they show up as a mysterious pain or ailment somewhere in your body. The most effective approach seems to be some form of writing or journaling. And it absolutely does not need to be anything fancy; just do a brain dump of all the crappy feelings you’re experiencing at the moment, writing them out in their rawest, messiest, most honest form. 

The good news is that we don’t have to completely RESOLVE all these emotional issues to keep them in check; we just have to ACKNOWLEDGE them. Somewhat surprisingly, our subconscious minds are relatively easily appeased in this sense. As long as we’re willing to say, “I feel scared” or “I feel vulnerable” or “I feel anxious,” we can generally prevent those emotions from transforming from emotional pain into physical pain.

Personally, I have found the Curable app to be quite helpful for working on mind-body stuff, although I initially bristled at some of the exercises, which seemed a bit too woo-woo for my Spock-like nature.

You Cannot Pour from an Empty Cup

In the heat of a crisis, when it seems like the entire world is on fire, it’s easy to let ourselves get lost in the process; to let our own needs drop to the bottom of our priority list. Although well-intentioned, neglecting our own needs is a ticking time bomb (and we know this, often from extensive past experience). Generally speaking, we MOST need to engage in whatever counts as “self-care” at those times when we think we can LEAST afford it. Like now, when it feels like literally every. single. thing. is on fire around us.

The reality is that you will not “find” time for self-care activities right now; you must MAKE time. Make sure that you are doing what you need to do to replenish your emotional, physical, and psychological reserves. Because you WILL need them – for yourself and for others. Many of us will need to get creative with how we meet our self-care needs right now, given the increasing restrictions on normal life. Personally, I’ve replaced time at the gym (which is closed indefinitely) with 5-mile walks on the trails near my house and a “snack toll” system. My rule is that I can have as many snacks as I want during they day, but they’re not free. There’s an exercise toll to pay for each one. So, for example, if I’ve got a hankering for a piece of chocolate…well, that will cost me 25 squats. Or 30 ab crunches. And so on. At my current chocolate consumption rate, I figure that I’m going to be completely ripped by the time this pandemic is over.

Bottom line: DO NOT SACRIFICE YOUR OWN SELF-CARE. You may have to get creative, depending on what counts as self-care for you, but it’s the only way you’ll make it through this time with your sanity intact.

Helping Others to Help Yourself

Henry David Thoreau’s beautiful observation about happiness and butterflies provides a wonderful guidepost for these troubled times:

“Happiness is like a butterfly. The more you chase it, the more it will elude you. But if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.”

As much as we may be tempted to get lost in our own struggles and concerns, focusing exclusively on how we can relieve our own anxiety, suffering, and stress, there is tremendous hope and healing to be found in being of service to others.

Every one of us has unique gifts to offer the world – and those gifts have rarely been more needed than they are at this exact moment. Whatever you can do for your fellow humans right now, try to do it. No matter how small or insignificant it may seem. Sometimes, when all of the big things in life are going wrong, it’s the little acts of kindness that get us through.

This Too Shall Pass

Several years ago, in the midst of an intensely painful personal challenge, I created my own, modified version of the Serenity Prayer and had the key words inscribed on a ring that is getting a LOT of wear lately. In its full form, the saying I created is:

Improve the things I can. Make peace with the things I cannot. Focus my energy where it’s worth it, and let go where it is not.

Hang in there, fellow humans. Acknowledge the crappy emotions that you’ve stuffed down in the dungeons of your subconscious. Keep up with your self-care in whatever creative ways you can. Help others as a way of helping yourself. And know that this craziness won’t last forever…because nothing does.

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