I said, what can we learn from this pandemic?
I was determined to get something out of this terror of a pandemic, so I bring you these 5 life lessons I squeezed out of the lemon of the covid pandemic. I’m a Licensed Psychologist and mental health therapist in Austin TX, and I work with LGBTQ+ and QTBIPOC adults and couples to build their relationship health, coping skills, and self-compassion. When concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic spread to my office as a therapist in Austin, TX, I made the transition to doing all of my sessions over telehealth (that’s video). A few weeks later, I’ve been continually inspired and amazed by how my clients have all been coping with the pandemic.
Through this process, my clients have underscored several life lessons that have helped me (I’m human too!) and other clients during these unimaginable covid pandemic times. Allow me to share just a few takeaways with you on the life lessons we can glean from the covid pandemic.
COVID Life Lesson #1. We can’t choose the struggles we face, but we do have the freedom to choose how we respond.
Victor Frankl, who survived the Holocaust, shared some powerful ideas on what gives life meaning and spoke to this idea. Frankl identified three basic sources of meaning: (1) contributing effort in times of crisis (through work, volunteering, some kind of help), (2) giving love and care to others, and (3) showing courage in the presence of suffering.
You can choose how you’d like to respond to the despair of social distancing and staying at home indefinitely. Do you have the resources to contribute through joining a mutual aid network, filling your friends’ feeds with #seeapupsendapup, giving blood, or donating to a food bank? Maybe you’ll find meaning through writing letters to elders in a nursing home, bringing your friends together for a virtual birthday party, or sending someone a virtual hug. Regaining a sense of meaning through purposeful action WILL help you get through this.
Lesson #2. Self-care is not just a hashtag.
I thought I knew the importance of self-care before, but wow did this reality strike me when the pandemic hit. All of a sudden, with my usual routine evaporated and my everyday coping skills attached to an “everyday” that was no longer, I found myself floundering and in the same anguish I see in some of my clients. All of that turned around when I became mindful of my own suffering, offered myself the compassion I needed, and asked myself how I could help. Stage left, enter #treatyoself2020.
Thus, my list of 50 Things I Can Do (At Home) to Survive the Pandemic was born. This menu of ways to cope with despair, stress, and boredom became a new routine of self-care practices. Perhaps you too can use this pandemic as an opportunity to develop new routines and self-care practices. As an exercise, try creating your own list of ways to cope with today’s challenges.
COVID Lesson #3. The most important moment is this one right here.
Life before we worried about going to our favorite coffee shop or congregating around the proverbial water cooler seems decades away. The vacations, weddings, and milestones we expected are no more. So when the virus-free past is gone and the future we anticipated has disappeared, all we have is this present moment.
Yes, we’ll probably survive until tomorrow, so we should all keep brushing our teeth and getting good sleep. But the uncertainty of when this isolation will end puts the focus on the present. That means, firstly, right NOW is the best time to exercise those self-care muscles or try a guided meditation focused on the here and now.
What’s more, this means that thinking about the past or future is a distraction from the only time that’s real, the only time we’ve really got. Realizing this fact might be a relief to those of you who experience worry about the future or if your past left invisible scars. Or, it might be scary if the present moment feels unbearable—but sit with it, mindfully checking in with your feelings, and look!—the moment’s already past. Focusing on the present moment is critical to coping with difficult emotions and sensations.
My clients hear me yammer on about meditation and mindfulness, and for good reason. Thousands of studies support the positive impact of meditation on stress, anxiety, depression, self-awareness, attention, physical health conditions, and so much more. How can you focus on THIS new moment to get the care you need?
COVID Life Lesson #4. Develop a practice of gratitude.
Before the pandemic, we all enjoyed small pockets of our day that contributed imperceptibly to our ways of life, like seeing the same server at a favorite restaurant or enough space to miss pets, partners, and kids. As these little rituals have become inaccessible, many of my clients have remarked on how much they took for granted.
At this point, most of us are a few weeks into this new way of life, and we don’t need to wait until it’s over to appreciate what we have now. I often speak with clients about developing a daily gratitude practice, one form of which is writing a list of 3-5 things they’re grateful for that day. Research shows that gratitude practices lead to immense and innumerable benefits to physical and mental well-being. There is no better time than this period of upheaval and change to pay attention to even the most subtle parts of each day and express gratitude for them.
One thing I’ve been grateful for lately is having the chance every day to notice the new leaves on the Texas redbud tree in my backyard. Parents of young children may find themselves appreciating the opportunity to be home for bedtime every night. We can all be grateful for pretty spring days and a bit of added flexibility to take in a breath of fresh air outside as the neighbors pass with their dogs or infants in tow.
As life has slowed down, we have the opportunity to use gratitude to squeeze out the juice of our days. Now, all this isn’t to say that we don’t get to acknowledge our suffering, and there’s no need to feel guilty for not being “grateful enough.” But when the practice of gratitude can be so rewarding, why not give it a try by creating your own list of 3-5 things you’re grateful for right now?
And finally, #5. There is no wrong way to cope with a global pandemic.
In the last couple of weeks, I’ve seen clients who are typically on top of their world struggle with angst, depression, panic, and worry; I’ve seen clients who live their lives dysregulated find comfort in increased communal empathy; and I’ve seen every reaction in between. The ways of reacting to this crisis are as varied as the personalities I encounter every day, and none of them are wrong (besides literally disregarding safety guidelines––#stayhome).
A global pandemic doesn’t come with a rulebook on how to stay sane. We are all doing the best we can. Maybe the above lessons and ideas will land with you, or maybe you’ll craft your own approach to making it through. Either way, I care about you and I am here to support you in your journey.
What important life lessons would you add from the COVID-19 pandemic?
What’s working for you to get through this? Share your comments and your own list of 50 Things You Can Do to Survive the Covid Pandemic with me below.