Never Mind the Thinkpieces, Here’s the Coping Skills.

This is my third attempt to draft and complete something useful about the resurgent pandemic, so I’m going bare-bones. (For a longer intro, just go back and read what I posted when this all began.)

The tips below are informed by the (possibly CPTSD-tinged) experiences I had as a dementia caregiver: isolation, worry, boredom, disappointment, and hopelessness. Some worked for me as a caregiver, others helped me get through last year’s major lockdown, and the rest I just wished I’d tried sooner. Take what’s useful, leave the rest — they are no more or less than emotional triage. I write this to individuals, but hopefully it’s broadly applicable: caring for yourself, caring for loved ones, caring for strangers on the street… I also write to help people who have been vaccinated and who mask regularly to channel our nervous energy into action items and build our endurance for another lockdown, if necessary.

black and yellow text on yellow and pink background (in the style of Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols)

Don’t borrow trouble. The future doesn’t exist, not as you (or anyone) planned it, at least not for now. To resume your five-year plan, you not only have to survive the pandemic, you have to do so unchanged. I’m not saying throw it out if it serves you, just stretch the deadline out (as many times as necessary). Maybe you’ll get to resume it, undeterred, after a few more months. Maybe your whole world will get turned upside down and you’ll have to start over from scratch. Most of our realities will likely fall somewhere in-between. But aspirations based in the old paradigm are not going to suffer if we just put them off for a while — everyone else is having to do so, whether they acknowledge it or not.
This includes everything from career track to credit score. If you remove social pressures, the most age-sensitive activity in most people’s lives is procreation, but six months or even two years are not a huge difference if you can approach it with peace of mind and a healthy relationship.

Streamline and reinforce the basics. Lay out your logistical and financial minimums: what do you need to eat, sleep, work, touch, etc., with as little outside contact as possible? For a week? a month? six months? Start by making sure you have enough for today, then figure out how to get it in the short-term, then start building contingencies (or stockpiles, if you can afford them) for the long-term. As your plans come together, coordinate with others to see if your respective strengths can build upon each other.
Include emergency aid programs (federal, state, local, or corporate), but also be cautious as such programs have a way of drying up without warning whenever politics or profits are involved.

Silence the noise in and around you. Did you know that processing all the sights, smells, and sensations around us heightens anxiety and stress, just as much as holding a lot of scary thoughts? I won’t rehash mindfulness here (if you can’t sit still, try walking or crafting as meditation) so lets focus on space and intrusions. Nobody needs to become a minimalist non-consensually, but think about what your space can be in ways that strengthen and nourish you. Organize your living space to keep your work and your rest spaces as far apart as possible. Make your home office ergonomic if you’re stiff, boil some lemon peels to freshen the air, clean your car if the dust makes you sneeze — the internet is full of ideas for your particular living circumstances. Take problems in bite sizes wherever possible, because a little progress every once in a while is better than none at all and can have a cumulative effect. If you struggle with executive function, enlist a friend as your accountabili-buddy; it can be easier to coax and be coaxed than to try to coax ourselves.
If you find you’re naturally good at regulating your own space, consider helping someone else with theirs.

Connect and disconnect carefully. This warrants its own message, because the “noise” of digital and social media have revolutionized our concentration in the time it takes to raise a child to adulthood: we’re bound to have picked up some bad habits and missed some good ones along the way. Give yourself permission to walk away from anything or anyone that isn’t keeping you safe and stable in some way and to invite more of that which nourishes you. Make a screensaver that makes you smile or gives you hope; make a new Pinterest if your old one was all about travel or being married by Fall 2020; reset your feeds if all the music/movies/friends you used to love are bringing you down; delete apps from your phone if they’re unhealthy distractions (I do this even when not in a pandemic).
While you’re rethinking your follows, I highly encourage you to find, follow, and donate to some of the immuno-compromised and disabled activists who have often forewarned us about what was at stake and how seriously to take it and have yet to be proven wrong.

Set benchmarks for the passage of time. I don’t know about you, but weeks and months just didn’t hold much meaning for me by the end of 2020. If you don’t work rigid hours and rigid days, it can all run together, and any sense of the passage of time must come from routines and rituals you set. Rather than trying to enforce the old system, you can now set them for yourself. Sure, do goal-setting if that works for you (what’s that like?). But I’m thinking more like… Build intervals into your routines: make every 5th day working from home a “no-pants” day, or dress hyper-formal every 7th gig shift, or implement a daily dance break at 2pm. When a month doesn’t have enough holidays, find one you didn’t know about or make up your own — at least two per month — and anticipate them with planning and decorations just like you might do for Halloween or Christmas. These are all just silly ideas, but the reality is that mundane days can run together and mess with your head — we all need SOMETHING to look forward to and to separate one time-period from the next. That is the social function of holidays, vacations, — and even clocks. Use it to hack your own rhythm of life.
Perhaps most important, since many of our state and local governments are no longer inclined and/or empowered to declare lockdown or other circumstances warranting specific reactions, you have the opportunity — the duty — to do so yourself. You can talk with your family, your neighbors, your coworkers, and negotiate what kind of social pod or bubble you might need AND you can negotiate your vaccination/testing/quarantining standards AND you can use a whole year of extant data on rates of infection and other risk factors to make and regularly reevaluate these decisions. Just don’t wait to devise and implement.
If you need somewhere to start, just look at last year’s numbers where you live. It’s not foolproof — it can’t be foolproof — it’s just data that is more useful than having no data at all.

Build movement into your life. Another expansion on a previous point. Play music that makes you dance. Do one yoga position when you get out of the shower. Walk around the block during coffee breaks. Mimic YouTube videos or see how much you remember from warm-ups that one time you played sports. “Dance as if no one is watching” because literally no one is watching.
Any movement is better than no movement, and more movement is generally better than less.

Mix and match the above. There’s no protocol here; do what works and keep doing it until something else works better!

Expect the unexpected. You know what? I’m going to have more to say on that soon.


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