Grace in Uncertain Times
by Lisa Tyndall, PhD, LMFT
In the midst of COVID-19, most mornings I wake up unsure of how the day will find me. I know what I am supposed to do, and how I am supposed to feel. The experts say I should slow down, take time to be grateful, some say to meditate during the day, and we have all heard the ever-present suggestion to get outside and exercise. Don’t get me wrong, I like all of these suggestions – it is just that ironically sometimes it feels impossible to do these tasks that are supposed to make life easier right now. How hard is it to just take a time out for 10 minutes to breathe?
Turns out that 10 minutes can actually be hard to find indeed. Everyone has different working situations right now, some are working more than ever on the front lines of the healthcare system, some are working remotely, some are dividing their time between the office and home, some have been furloughed, and some have lost their jobs entirely. Our work environments have changed dramatically. Clinics can be deserted, and some may be overrun. Co-workers can become second family if they were not so already, and those at home may be squeaking out a somewhat professional and quiet work-space that invariably will compete with the other life demands peeking from behind the cracked door. For me it is a new “work from home” environment, which includes children home from school but yet somehow still in school. While there have always been best practices as far as remote working is concerned, these days I come across even more “work from home” tips floating around various websites and depending on the day I am either fairly receptive or I want to tear them up into little pieces.
If you are at home, be sure to keep a schedule. Shower and get dressed every work day. Wherever you are, be sure to take a daily meditation break. Be present with your family, either in person or through a glass door. Slow down but meet your work expectations. For those of us with kids, don’t forget to add to that parenting, refereeing fights, fending off questions about hanging out with friends, teaching, and don’t forget to flagellate yourself for the increased screen time.
You get the picture – there are a million potential directions a day could take and often does take – during this time where we are supposed to be adjusting to the “new normal.”
When you read all of the advice columns – it seems like it should be simple. And yet, what we are often missing is the layer of uncertainty that drains the energy from each of us like an app open on your phone which can never close. It isn’t the same right now. We aren’t just working from home some, changing our clinical workflows, having lots of zoom calls and for some, working in pajama bottoms. Whatever your environment, a large percentage of our energy is going towards emotionally processing the uncertainty that looms over the entire world. What will it be like when the world re-opens? How long will it look like this? Will we get back to celebrating life’s milestones? Or will we even get back to being able to be at someone’s bedside during their last moments? Surely the basic human needs for touch and connection won’t be forever gone from our reality…will they?
I do believe that this collective trauma will eventually be settled. What “settled” looks like I am not sure – but I know that developmentally and all through life when the hardest of times has come as people and as a country, there is a pendulum of reaction and response that swings but eventually finds the middle and settles. We all wish for the return of the freedoms we once took for granted, but are currently hazardous, to stop being afraid of seeing people in masks in the store, to wish to start seeing more people in masks, to learn how to work from home while missing live human interaction with others, we all want to feel productive and balanced again. As human beings, we always want to rush through the uncomfortable parts – and it is very uncomfortable right now to say the least. How in the world do we sit in the waiting for this pendulum to settle?
In those moments where I feel guilty for not being more productive, guilty for not parenting better, guilty for still having a job, yet afraid of the very clear temporary nature of jobs we never deemed temporary, there are so many conflicting emotions and states of being. In these moments, I do my best to choose grace. That also sounds simple – but it isn’t. It takes my village of people to remind me to choose grace for myself. It takes my spiritual practice to remind me to choose grace. It takes what I know as a therapist to choose moments of grounding and gratitude to eventually get lead back to grace. The irony here is that I also have to forgive myself for the moments I forget to choose grace, when my pendulum swings too far to one side or the other.
There are enough suggestions out there in the world for how to handle and cope with the current situation, both personally and professionally, a few even on our own website! And with May being mental health awareness month, we are particularly aware of the importance of taking care of not only our mental health, but our behavioral and relational health as well. My experience has been that those, as well as our physical health of course, are all connected. Keeping those connections in mind, how you choose to manage the swings of the pendulum is up to you. But overall I would say listen to your heart, give yourself and others large amounts of grace, and take it one day (even one minute if need be) at a time.
Stay tuned for more from the COE team during Mental Health Awareness Month 2020!