Psychologist, author and speaker Dr. Robert J. Wicks offers this insightful reflection today and provides really helpful information about monitoring our mental health during the pandemic. He will be presenting “Simple Care of a Hopeful Heart: Strengthening Your Inner Life In Challenging Times” at our Center on Saturday, November 14. You can click here to read more about this retreat and Dr. Wicks.mental health during pandemic

The “Small Things” During a Pandemic

There has been a great deal of coverage as to the quite serious problems during a pandemic. Sickness, the possibility of death, financial losses, and the absence of a clear path going forward. However, the so-called “small things” that result from being in the midst of a pandemic are important to note as well.

Lock downs that limit movements, change schedules, have us put on masks, and spend much more time either alone or in close proximity to those we live with for longer times, can have impacts that we often don’t want to speak about. After all, health care workers are risking their lives, others are fearfully cornered in assisted living housing, and small business owners are fearful of losing everything.

While this is true, and good to keep in mind, as a way to enhance a healthy perspective, limit unnecessary complaining, and improve our awareness for all that we should be grateful for, not acknowledging the “small things” that are tough in our own lives in not a good idea. If we ignore or bury what we are feeling about what is going on around us, it can have an impact on both our mood and how we interact in a dysfunctional way with those we love and with whom we meet in the grocery store or other venues we venture out to visit.

And so, several things to keep in mind that may be helpful are:

Monitor your mood more closely and seek not to react to others immediately. At times like this, we want to be careful so our mouths are not close to our unconscious. By that I mean, that we quickly speak or say something we might regret later which may hurt others unnecessarily. The approach to be considered is: when you feel something, don’t immediately react. Instead, do a double-reflection. First reflect within yourself as to what and why you are feeling the way you are. The first answer you give yourself to this reflection is usually too shallow. Push yourself to see what it is that is REALLY causing your reaction. Others with different personalities and concerns might not respond this way. Second, if the opportunity presents itself and it is appropriate, then reflect with the other person about what is concerning you.

Now that you have some time and space in your schedule that you might not usually have, seek to use it in planning about how you want to live differently once the restrictions of a pandemic are largely lifted. For instance, ask yourself: What part of the “past normal” do you NOT want to return to? Drifting back into your style of living may feel comfortable but it will also waste uncovering and incorporating possible lessons in meaningful living that could only be offered during what you are going through at this point.

Finally, as you live during these uncertain times, seek to develop a new structure for your day and week that is more in line with the changes you are enduring. Just stumbling through each day while waiting for the virus to plateau and lessen may result in you psychologically and spiritually tripping over yourself. An example of this is eating, drinking, and not exercising in ways that would be helpful. “Medicating yourself” with mind and life numbing TV or indulging in ongoing negative conversations with others over the phone or in person will also not make you feel better even though it may temporarily help you alleviate a sense of loneliness since “misery likes miserable company.” However, in the long run it will not be helpful to you. Instead, it will simply be a waste of the short time we all have in life.

Surround yourself with as many positive influences as possible: in person, electronically and in what you read. You have been forced to take a mini-sabbatical, now use it the best you can. You won’t regret it. As a matter of fact, you will look back when the new normal arrives and say to yourself: “That was truly a pain in the neck…but it opened me to life in ways that would not have been possible had it not happened in the first place.” Not a bad deal, eh?…especially since you have no choice about being in it now.

Dr. Robert J. Wicks is the author of PERSPECTIVE: The Calm within the Storm and BOUNCE: Living a Resilient Life (both from Oxford University Press).