This is being written as March Break, 2020 is coming to a close, or normally would if not for the self-isolation we are all encouraged to be a part of. Spring sprung days ago. This year, it seems like the acknowledgment of winter ending and the coming of spring that promises warmer and more comfortable days ahead is largely disregarded by the ongoing news of COVID-19. It’s a little like being too busy taking care of the kids to acknowledge the arrival of a loved one whom you would like to spend more time with.
Let’s face it. We have been hearing a lot about this pandemic. Hearing the words ‘coronavirus’, ‘COVID-19’, ‘pandemic’, ‘self-isolation’, and ‘quarantine’ over and over again can result in a sort of dulling of their impact. Imagine being in a school or other public place and having a fire drill. You line up dutifully and quietly, as you have practised before, exit more or less in the way that you should, have some fresh air, and then return inside. Then the alarm goes off again. And again.
Or imagine taking a ball—tennis ball, baseball, any ball—and throwing it as hard as you can, whether against a wall to see how far in return the wall will send it or into an open field, testing for distance. You put a fair amount, even a large amount, of energy into that throw to get the desired result. Then you do it again. And again. With each subsequent throw, there’s just that much less energy left to use.
Or ask any child who repeatedly has heard the refrain clean your room. As many parents can attest to, it loses its impact after a while.
So when we hear the directions of health officers and government officials that, for the time being, we need to self-isolate, et cetera, et cetera, it can reach a point where we become that child who dismissively says ‘yeah, whatever’ to the instruction of room cleaning. It can quite easily reach a point where we lack the energy to shine on each fire drill follow-through, and where the energy to do more and go farther just isn’t there.
Now add two other ingredients to this mental and/or physical exhaustion: fear and helplessness. “How long will this last?” becomes seasoned with a fear that this will go on for longer, and longer, and with helplessness at not being able to do more than we are doing now. Add fear and helplessness together, and they can result in excess energy that seems to have no natural outlet—restlessness, anger, impatience, frustration.
By this time, we are used to the fast pace of media messages that reach us. Whether this is a good or a bad thing is debatable. Whether they are “spam”, advertisements, news, sports, or entertainment, some screens simultaneously have more information on them, or even types of information, than we can count on our fingers. That, for better or worse, is something we are somewhat accustomed to. What we are not accustomed to is the lack of stability, the seemingly ever-changing COVID-19 landscape. Numbers of cases change, numbers of those who have recovered and who have succumbed to the disease both keep climbing, and changes are seen in the geography of those cases as well as personal, company, and government responses trying to stay on top of this situation. We are more accepting of such uncertainties when it comes to weather reports. We simply don’t expect the weather to stay the same, even if we would like it to (in the warmer summer months, please and thank you). Yet we expect more consistency and stability when it comes to what we are experiencing now. We all do. And yet there are more unknowns than usual right now, in spite of consoling or resigning ourselves to the view that ‘it is what it is’.
There are concepts used in a wide variety of contexts called the sphere of influence and the sphere of control. You can picture it like a donut, a smaller circle within a larger one. Our spheres of control are much smaller than our spheres of influence. While ‘it is what it is’ can come across like a dismissal or a resignation to one’s current situation, what matters are the next words: So now what? First, take the time to gain a sense of clarity about what is within your control—and, let’s face it, it might not be much or as much as you would like—and what is within your influence. For now, even that sphere may have shrunk in size.
In the previous article, we talked about the value of bringing things back to basics at a time of potentially heightened stress as this. We recommend to use a systematic ‘back to basics’ theme when going through that mental exercise about what resides in your sphere of control or your sphere of influence. You can approach that exercise based on the layout of your home, a schedule that you follow, or categories such as relationships, work, school, self-care, and social interactions. Having clarity around what you can control, what you can influence, and what exists outside both of those spheres can help to regulate oneself in the face of, say, potential information overload.
So perhaps now is a good time to take a breath. To pause, and to inhale, being aware of the air filling your lungs, and to exhale slowly and fully, before drawing in breath in a more relaxed fashion. The reality as we see it now is that, for the time being, this is our situation. We have the ability to care for ourselves, reach out to those who can help us to do that, and reach out to those who are not able to do that for themselves so easily, for whatever reason. It may take some time, but we’ve got this. We will continue to find ways—creatively, thoughtfully, compassionately—to look after ourselves and others.
Continue to look after each other.