March 2021 marks one year of coping through a pandemic. Can you believe it? I often ask myself, “What would I have done differently had I known it would go on this long?” I will always remember the timing of COVID-19 because it was my birthday weekend and I never got to enjoy the decorations my co-workers arranged in my cube because that Monday we began working remotely. I have not worked in the office since that day. I converted a corner of my music room into a home office. I have gone into the main office to retrieve files and supplies, but it’s been in and out, masked and armed with hand sanitizer. How do I find anything positive in that?
Research has found overwhelming evidence for cognitive, emotion-focused strategies, which are defined by positively reinterpreting a situation. Examples might be people who experience a “wake-up call” after a traumatic event or find the positive after a life-altering event. They are found to reorder their priorities and discover what is truly important in life. Finding benefit in negative life events is a tremendous coping strategy. It can influence physical health as well as happiness. It’s the power of the mind over the body. Research also has found that those who believed they had grown and matured from a negative traumatic event were more likely to be healthier, in contrast to those who blamed the negative event on something. “That which does not kill me makes me stronger,” may be true. Some claim to have a transformative experience after a profound life event — not only can you survive, not only can you recover, you can flourish (e.g., books like Proof of Heaven, The Shack).
I encourage you to take a look at the evidence-based practices outlined in the positivity project’s March toolkit for coping. And here’s my experience, in hopes it somehow inspires you. At the beginning of the pandemic, running on the treadmill was my saving grace. It energized me, reduced my stress, kept me feeling strong and allowed me to let my mind wander while I’d run. Around October I got an injury from repeated stress. I didn’t take sufficient time to let my body heal and by mid-December I did a full stop. I lost my desire to run, my body was physically exhausted and I had a pain in my left hip flexor that wouldn’t heal. I happened to listen to a podcast that was focused on the benefits of Yoga and how it is for every kind of body. I had always poo-pooed yoga as “not for me.” Something about the way this Yogi talked made me think it might be worth a try. And then as I was browsing through Amazon Prime Video, I happened upon a 30-day Yoga Challenge. I decided to go for it. It was like breath for my soul. I couldn’t believe the satisfaction and enjoyment I felt stretching my body, lifting my body and connecting to my breathing. I didn’t know the flexibility or strength I had. It has calmed me and energized me in ways I didn’t know possible. It has helped me to continue to work with and through this pandemic.
I also found journaling helpful. I’ve never been very good at journaling for more than a few minutes, yet I found something that worked for me: At the beginning of each day I finish these three statements on a 3×5 index card: (1) I will focus on… (2) I will let go of… and (3) I am grateful for… This has helped me to focus on what’s essential that day, let go of what is beyond my control and offer up a token of gratitude. It’s something that resonates with me and it’s something I can sustain.
I guess you could call this my “practice-based” evidence of what has helped me cope through this pandemic. I’m excited for what’s ahead. I’m stronger and know when the next challenge hits I have learned different tools to help me through.
I would love to hear what has helped you through this time. Please share your own journey with me if you’d like. Be well!