Overcoming adversity in an uncertain world

Guest post by Lachlan Brown from hackspirit.com

Waking up every day to the news of thousands of new infections and deaths, of second waves occurring in places where the virus was thought to have been defeated, of economies crashing because of forced lockdowns – it’s not easy.

For all of us around the world, this has been our reality for the last several months. How do we move forward and how do we plan for a better tomorrow when the world seems to be crashing down all around us?

In this article, we explore widespread adversity and how to overcome it even when nothing seems to be going right.

Collective Trauma – The Shared Psychological Trauma You Might Be Feeling

For many of us, the transition from normal life to global lockdowns, thousands of daily deaths, and distressing reports felt like it happened overnight. We barely had the time to adjust to a new world filled with daily stress and bad news that personally affected all of our lives, and this has led to a phenomenon psychologists refer to as ‘collective trauma’.

Trauma is generally associated with psychological trauma, when a person experiences a horrific event and becomes permanently scarred by it. But trauma can also exist in the form of shared or collective trauma. This occurs when society experiences a significant and abrupt negative change.

In barely any time at all, everything we knew about our world – the world that affects us personally every day – changed. Our routines, social structures, day-to-day responsibilities and expectations.

These sudden, once-in-a-lifetime disruptions invalidated the reality that we trusted in and knew all our lives, and this in turn invalidated the frameworks of our own lives: how can we build towards any kind of better future if we don’t even know if our world will still be the same tomorrow?

For billions of people around the world, the disorientation caused by COVID-19 has been enough to plant the seeds of what might be lifelong emotional trauma and PTSD. According to researchers, the coronavirus pandemic will affect billions of us through this shared trauma, and our next biggest responsibility after overcoming it – if we can overcome it – is dealing with the widespread emotional distress.

Re-Centering Your Reality: Helping Yourself Get Back on Your Feet

Maybe you knew on Day 1, or maybe you tried your best to avoid the reality of what was happening to you as the lockdown weeks went on. But either way you realized – the dark cloud over your head caused by the post-COVID-19 world wasn’t like anything you’d experienced before.

It’s a feeling that needs more than just your usual “pick-me-ups”, one you are probably still dealing with today. But how do you shake it off when its claws are dug in so deep? You need to re-center your reality and live more consciously of the stress if you want any chance to get rid of it. Here’s how you can begin:

1) Stop Guilting Yourself

Our world runs on productivity – those who are most productive are usually most successful. We encourage ourselves everyday with positive affirmations reminding us that we can do it and we are the best.

But in this post-lockdown world, productivity has become a source of pain and stress rather than one of accomplishment. We are simply incapable of being our old selves with the weight of this global tragedy on our shoulders. But instead of accepting this, we guilt ourselves, saying:

  • Why can’t you work? You aren’t sick.
  • You finally have all the free time you wanted. Why don’t you do anything? Are you just lazy?
  • You’re so pathetic. You can’t get anything done.

Stop. If you are doing this to yourself, stop. Accept your pain; you are traumatized, and until this is over – or until you finally have the time you need to truly accept this new world – you won’t be your old self. And that’s okay. No one is their old self right now.

If you mustwork or do anything productive, remember the line: Anything worth doing is worth doing badly. What does this mean? It means that a 15-minute jog is better than no jog at all. Getting up and practicing an instrument or reading a book or making art for half an hour everyday might not be the kind of productivity you are used to, but it’s better than doing nothing at all.

Be kind to yourself, and celebrate even your smallest victories.

2) Stay Connected with Those Important to You

Isolation is tough enough on its own for most of us, but isolation on top of daily tragic news is enough to make even the biggest introverts yearn for companionship. What we don’t realize is just how much passive and automatic connection we get from our daily lives, and when our normal daily lives are stripped from us, we must reach out more actively to keep our connections going.

Stay in touch with your friends and family. Chat with them, video call them, and make more of an effort to stay involved in their lives and keep them involved in yours. Don’t lose out on face-to-face contact, even if it’s done completely through screens.

3) Feel What You Need to Feel

Your pain is your pain. When you wake up and feel that pain in your heart another day, that pain is real and that pain is a part of you. Don’t run from it; don’t hide from it. Pushing it down will make your situation worse. As the popular line from John Green goes, “Pain demands to be felt.”

And this includes both mental and physical pain. This collective trauma can force us to feel physical symptoms like heart palpitations and shortness of breath. If you start feeling any of these, embrace it, but don’t spiral. Give yourself the moments you need to cycle through these emotions, and let them pass through you whenever they demand it.

For added relief, start chronicling your daily feelings in a journal. Not only does this give you the time and space to truly reflect on what you are feeling, but it sets a record you can look back on to study the evolution of your emotions.

4) Pace Yourself

It can be tempting to stay on the news sites, forums, and social media channels all day, every day, to keep yourself as informed as possible. For some of us, this would be our go-to coping mechanism, with the belief that by knowing exactly what’s happening, we don’t give ourselves any time to wildly speculate.

But this can also be detrimental to your mental health. Checking the news can quickly spiral into obsessing over the news, adding artificial stress to your life on top of the many real sources of stress you already have to deal with. This obsession can turn into anxiety, resulting in sleepless nights, compulsive behaviors, and depression.

Step away when you start to feel overwhelmed. The world will continue to spin regardless of where your attention may be.

Check in from time to time to stay informed, but realize this: the universe will do as it pleases, regardless of your mental health. This is the kind of situation where how much you know will change nothing about what happens. So let go and free yourself from the minute-to-minute worries.

5) Inject Rhythm in Your Life

Ask yourself: what day is it today?

Did you know the answer immediately, or did you have to pause and think about it? Maybe you counted the number of days from the last time you did something. Or maybe you checked the calendar.

If this is you, then your life has lost rhythm. The little bumps that go across the weeks have gone flat; Mondays are the same as Thursdays, Sundays are the same as Tuesdays. Our Thursday yoga class and our Tuesday deadlines and our Sunday church visits have been wiped out, and now all we’re left with is a blank calendar and lazy but anxious days with no real rest.

Your life needs a schedule, and when you don’t have the events passively giving you that schedule, you need to put yourself in charge of making those events happen. Schedule weekly virtual meet-ups with your family or friends. Turn Wednesday nights into taco and movie nights. Make Saturdays your intense workout day, and Tuesday your new book day.

Your life needs rhythm – those up and down beats that punctuate the days – or you’ll stop listening to your own song.

Accepting the “New Normal” – Moving Forward in a Different World

This is a new world, whether we like it or not. It’s one we were rushed into, one none of us asked for, and one where thousands of people get sick every day. It’s time to look forward and find ways to move on rather than put our lives on hold indefinitely.

It’s time to accept the reality of the situation.

Stop living in complete fear of the virus, but don’t live recklessly, either. A vaccine may take years – the fastest vaccines ever made were the Zika vaccine (7 months) and the mumps vaccine (4 years). There is no reason to believe a COVID-19 vaccine will be ready in a year or two years.

Are you willing to put your life on pause for the years it will take for a vaccine to be developed? Years of no travelling, years of no eating out, years of no going to the movies or hitting the gym. No new relationships, no new experiences, no new cherished memories. Can you truly wait that long before getting back to the things you love?

Most of us can’t. Eventually we’ll all come to accept our new reality, and instead of living in fear, we can learn to live in caution. A world with social distancing, face masks, and with a virus we all need to work around. The sooner you accept that, the sooner you can begin easing your distress.

And finally, allow yourself to grow from this experience. Become a better version of you for those who can’t, for those who may be less resilient or those who may be holding onto the pre-COVID world. If you’ve ever wanted to be a good person, if you’ve ever wanted to make that serious change in the way you act and the way you treat others, now is the time to do it.

Because others need you, and the world won’t recover until we all find our way back on our feet.

By Lachlan Brown

Lachlan Brown is the founder of Hack Spirit, a blog on mindfulness and practical psychology. He loves writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. He has a graduate degree in Psychology and he has spent the last 6 years reading and studying all he can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. If you want to get in touch with Lachlan, you can follow him on Twitter or Facebook.