Notes on the Pandemic:
I was driving home from a hike with my dog the other day when the anxiety hit. I had just spent an hour hiking on a beautiful trail by the ocean, listening to an audiobook, and feeling pretty damn good. But as I got in my car and drove home, I felt a familiar tightening in my stomach. Oh hello, anxiety.
I wasn’t anxious about anything in particular, although my mind quickly found things it could grasp on to: I haven’t finished my taxes yet, I need to order a birthday present for my friend and have it shipped, I need to set up an appointment with the vet, etc. And while I admire my brain’s ability to find things to be anxious about, this isn’t my favorite place to spend time.
This sudden mood swing wasn’t an unfamiliar pattern and lately I’ve noticed it’s been worse than normal. One day (or hour) I’m fine and then the next, I’m anxious or depressed.
What is going on? Is this some sort of spiritual upgrade or slow ego death that’s making my emotions swing from one extreme to another?
And then I realized, oh no – this isn’t a spiritual upgrade. This is my ability to maintain reliable emotional regulation breaking down in the face of an entire year of pandemic and lockdown.
Emotional regulation is the ability to “influence which emotions we have, when we have them, and how we experience and express our feelings.” Good emotional regulation looks like being able to put things in perspective, comfort ourselves, and find support in friends, family or activities.
So many of my usual coping strategies that I use to stay even-keeled and release the pressure of life have been thwarted by the lockdown and the pandemic. I can’t go to cafés to work and people watch, I can’t go to movies and plays, I can’t hang out with friends and laugh and hug and physically support each other.
One whole year of being deprived of so many of my best strategies for helping me influence which emotional state I’m in has finally taken its toll. The result is an emotional rollercoaster unlike that which I’ve felt in my recent adult life.
Once I realized this I was able to take a deep breath, send some love and compassion and appreciation to my poor body and mind that has been through so much in the last year, and give myself permission to be a bit more of a mess than I usually am.
It’s okay my sweet bodymind, I’m here for you. This has been an exceptionally hard year. Rest if you need to. Play silly games on your phone if you need to. Do the rest of your work tomorrow if you need to. This is hard, and we can do hard things, but we must do them without pushing or forcing or shaming ourselves. We must do them with love and patience and care.
So be kind to yourself, my friends. Self-compassion is one of the golden keys to happiness and I think we could all use an extra dose right about now.