This is a new and strange time for many of us (although my dad reminds me he lived through the Polio epidemic). Most of us outside of the medical profession don’t have experience with a virus like COVID-19. School closures, tele-education, panic at the grocery store, worry for those we love who are vulnerable, uncertainty, and doubt all accompany this new normal we find ourselves in. And it feels difficult to orient properly to it because there are a lot of unknowns. The ironic thing is that the future is always unknown, but we are usually better at creating a sense of predictability. (If only it were as easy as creating a lesson plan!)
The onslaught of media reports, social media, and pervasive anxiety (which spreads much faster than COVID-19) makes it difficult to sift and sort all the data in order to make smart, informed decisions on the fly.
It is easy and normal to feel overwhelmed, scared, and upended.
As an educator you have a unique opportunity to role model for your students how to stay calm during uncertain times. The first step is to know how to do that for yourself before you can do it for your children, spouse, family, and students.
Here are some ideas to consider as the coming days and weeks unfold:
- Lead with empathy and compassion for yourself and for others.
It’s okay and normal to feel unsettled, anxious, even frightened. However, beating yourself up about the internal messages you have, like “I shouldn’t be anxious” or “there is something wrong with me because I am not sure how to respond to this” is not helpful. Notice your inner critical voice and gently redirect it with your words, as though you were soothing someone you love. We all react differently in times of stress. Find what comforts you and do it for yourself. Self care matters now more than ever.
- Become more aware of your breath.
Taking long deep belly breaths sends a signal to your nervous system that it is safe to relax. When we feel anxious or distressed, breathing becomes shallow and “chesty.” Deepening the breath (put your hand on your belly to notice your breath on an inhale and exhale) for a few minutes will help encourage the body’s natural response to calm down. If you have a daily meditation practice, use it. If you don’t, try downloading a free meditation app and start with just a few minutes, a few times per day. It is a quick and powerful reset.
- Limit your news and social media exposure.
It’s easy to find yourself in the never ending loop of cable news, social media posts, and fear mongering. Continually watching traumatic and scary news creates a trauma response in the body and mind. Make a decision to get the information you need from the experts (like the CDC.gov or WHO.int), and lay off the media. Although talking with friends and family about your fears might feel comforting, too much of that can intensify feelings of fear. Get support for your media diet by encouraging those around you to do the same. Accountability partners help!
- Remember that you can’t control everything.
Focusing on things you can control, like maintaining healthy habits, accomplishing normal daily tasks and responsibilities, as well as limiting exposure to things that you can’t control, will help to ground you in reality vs. getting swept up in the unknown. Make a list on a piece of paper of what you can control and what you cannot. Identifying these things will help reorient you to what is actually possible and what is wasted energy.
- Connect with those you love and adore.
Because one of the recommendations from the CDC is “social distancing” it might be a little too easy to isolate, which can feed fear. Social distancing does not equal social isolation. Instead, stay connected with your people via phone, Zoom, text, or FaceTime. Be mindful to keep connection time focused on positive things like creative ways to spend “social distancing” time, things you can get accomplished with a little extra time at home, new recipes, and maybe even a little Netflix binge watching.
In times of crisis, less is more. Pare down. Focus on what matters most. Nurture yourself and those you love. We are all in this, and will get through it–together.