Regaining Control

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Imagine you’re a passenger in a car that’s careening out of control down the highway. Your initial response is fear for your safety. Perhaps you scream at the driver, you grab hold of the seat in front of you and brace for impact. Then, suddenly, the car starts to slow, and you realize that there are no other cars around, and there are guardrails on either side of the road, so the likelihood of your imminent demise is not as great as you thought. You don’t really know if the car had a malfunction or whether the driver had a seizure, but you do know that you still want this car ride to end. Now.

This metaphor describes the way I suspect many people felt during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, pandemic-induced reactions are various. Some people fear getting sick. Others fear that they might run out of money or might not have safe access to food or medicine. Some people are paralyzed by panic, while others feel the need to jump into action. Regardless of whether you fall into one of these camps or somewhere in the middle, I believe it boils down to anxiety, at least partly brought on by loss of control.

Those working, whether from home or at the job site, probably have a greater feeling of control than do those who aren’t working. Still, the anxiety is there, and the new stresses faced by those who are still employed are every bit as real as those faced by the newly unemployed. Working from home while your three year old roams in and out of your office is not without its difficulties!

No matter your personal situation, it’s likely that your ‘normal’ day-to -day life may have disappeared, and you have no idea when it might return, even to a small degree. This state of uncertainty is where we find ourselves. As I often tell clients, we can only control our own behavior and our reactions to the behavior of others. That’s pretty much it. In that vein, following are some thoughts on how to achieve some level of control during the remainder of the pandemic, while also positioning yourself to come out stronger on the other side.

• Develop a plan and execute against it. The kind of plan is less important than the acts of planning and executing against the plan. My wife and I decided we would clean and organize one room in our house per pandemic weekend. We’ve made some decent progress in throwing out many items or marking them for donation. Each week we feel a sense of progress, and we are in control of that progress, which is very helpful in both providing structure and reducing stress.
• Do something that you have always wanted to do, but never felt you had the time for. Maybe it’s read a Harry Potter book or binge-watch Schitt’s Creek. Or, maybe it’s a project around the house, such as planting a vegetable garden or repairing the stone wall in the backyard. Perhaps you now have time to put together your resume and re-think your career. The activity you choose doesn’t necessarily need to be “productive,” it should just be something you normally would not have done. Regardless of the activity you choose, crossing it off your list will provide you with a sense of progress.
• Do something for another person from time-to-time. Call an old friend who is truly shut in and may not have Internet access. If you are going to the grocery store for yourself, pick up some items for your elderly or infirm neighbor. Text people with whom you’ve lost contact over the years and check in with them. Doing something nice for others is one of the best ways to lift your mood. Who knows, maybe you will re-kindle a long dormant friendship.

As you contemplate these ideas, be mindful to create a plan or set goals that are achievable. Making plans that are too grand to follow through on will only lead to more frustration and anxiety. Notice I said that my wife and I planned to do one room per weekend. Even if something intervenes and we miss a weekend, we’ve still made progress and controlled the outcome. If we would have set out to “get rid of all extraneous items from the entire house” during the pandemic, we could easily have ‘failed’ to meet our goal.

Pandemic anxiety is real, and it can be tough to battle. Taking controllable, bite-sized steps is a powerful way to begin to combat the anxiety and help you to come out the other side in a less fragile state. We’re here and happy to interact at 301-520-9511 or bob@epi.coach. If you would like to speak, but are currently not working, we can gladly make an arrangement.

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