COVID-19 Staying Connected: Weeks 6-9

Angry this week? Have you said, perhaps more than once, “I was OK before but now I am mad”? Or what about tired? We. Are. So. Tired. We now know that we are not back to school, back to work, back to 2019 normalcy. We are too tired to think about much positively, let alone think much at all. But, this past week, what went right? What is going right? What was good? What worked for you? You have 2 choices: Evolve or Repeat.
Our brains are so very busy being worried about our children, worried about our parents, worried about the health and loss of others, the outcome on our country, the restrictions and the uncertainty. When, this week, did you make room to think about the things that made you smile, laugh, and forget? What memories have you made that you want to take with you when you look back on this time?
I asked myself that, so I googled a bunch of Pandemic Time Capsules. I copied a bunch of questions and added some of my own and did this with my own family (I found that if I am the writer, they are more willing to cooperate… and if it is around a plate of snacks, that helps too). I attached the one I made to this email, but if you want to do the traditional shoebox kind or a different one, google it. There are several out there. It might pleasantly surprise you what you learn about your own thoughts, but also about the people you are sheltering with.
The other consistent coping strategy this week has been around time. Time: What we want to rush through to get through this pandemic, but that thing that we are beating ourselves up over for not using the way we expect of ourselves: Kids on iPads “too much time”; sleeping at night “too many hours”; hours lost when we should have been (fill in the blank here: organizing, cleaning, home schooling, studying, learning a new language, zooming with others, exercising, baking… etc etc etc). A lot of what we are doing is surviving. And a way to do that is to have a sense of control over what we can control. We can’t control the passing of time or the outcome of all of this, but we can control our expectations for ourselves and celebrate how we have been surviving this time. I attached a pdf of some time management sheets I copied from a website that I subscribe to and am sharing it with you. It is called “Staying Motivated While Sheltering in Place” and there are some fill in the blanks there to help you get started.
My last two points are suggestions, as you survive your next week.
Follow an effective schedule: Go to bed by a time you know is in your best interest, and wake up 7-9 hours later. Don’t look at your phone until you have woken up for 20 minutes minimum. Get dressed. Eat nutritious foods. Get outside at least once a day even if all you can do is stand in your backyard.
Make time to say yes to people you want to say yes to. Say yes to phone calls with people you enjoy talking to even if for only 10 minutes. Say yes to zoom calls with people whose faces you miss. Say yes to walks with the people you live with, even if only to the end of your block and back. Several of you have told me about your dreams this week. They are vivid, or are about your past. It is because your brain is craving stimulation after being inside your home all day. Give your brain new stimulation, and make it about relationships you enjoy.
Important to note this too: Many of you are sad. Many of you are feeling nervous or tense amongst family members who are sad or anxious or angry. Take time each day to take care of yourself while you take care of so many others. It is not selfish. It is survival.

I asked a few people who were struggling to find joy in their relationships this week what they have to offer others in terms of bringing joy. Do they see what I see in terms of their strengths and unique awesomeness and inspiring way of just being themselves? This question stumped them. I could not even get them to give me generic answers. I posted this question on facebook (I phrased it this way: ” Some people have trouble describing themselves in a positive way. I want to make a menu of words they can choose from that they feel are genuine and authentic to themselves personally. What are some of those special words you love when people describe you as….X. For example, “I love it when people say I’m…(fill in the word)” )and people told me about their kids but when I pressed on to ask for words that describe themselves personally, I got some private messages letting me know that it stirred up all sorts of feelings to have to think of themselves so nakedly beautiful. I am compiling a list of those words because they gave me a lot of insight into my friends and it gave them insight into themselves. How you describe me is not necessarily why I celebrate myself. Same goes for you. So… I ask you… What words describe the reasons you really truly celebrate who you are when you like yourself most? I am making a list of these words and will send it next week. If you want your word included (not your name, just your word), send it. I would love another reason to celebrate you.
Boredom has led to sadness. The amazing people who share their thoughts with me and trust me to say what is really on their mind and in their hearts have been articulating something really important: Boredom can easily lead to sadness, and filling boredom with tasks and people is only partly helpful. It does not seem to be fulfilling without these components: Talk to people who don’t need you but that enjoy you. Do tasks that give you a sense of accomplishment rather than the generic “did laundry: Check!” If you are feeling sad, reach out to a therapist and remember they sometimes have insights and strategies to offer, and more importantly they offer a guilt-free opportunity to focus on you and only you.
Two articles that aligned with this week’s themes of what I have been hearing in therapy are:
I have paid a lot of attention to my own reactions to social distancing to try to better understand the people I support. One person told me that wearing masks is like seeing the world through goggles. That resonated. Why does the mask make some of us have emotional reactions? I found this article to confirm a lot of what I hear and even feel myself, and perhaps it will help you too: https://phys.org/news/2020-03-experts-evolution-social-distancing-unnatural.html
More times than I can count, I have reason to think of Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning. As a therapist, I am reminded daily by your resilience as you gift me with your trust. Maria Shriver also was reminded of his words “tragic optimism” and can tell you better than I can how to continue to be OK right now: https://mariashriver.com/the-4-pillars-of-meaning-that-will-help-us-emerge-from-the-pandemic-better-than-before/
And a heartfelt thank you and appreciation to State Rep Jennifer Gong Gershowitz for including some of my tips and updates in her mental health newsletter last week.
Last week I asked you for “Your word” and I am so thrilled to send you the list of all that you came up with. Thank you. See attached and let me know which ones you identify with. Interestingly as I look at these, I can’t help but think a couple other words to describe this week but not appropriate for this list: Impatient. Sad. Despair. Lonely. I still hear about a lot of compassion and sincerity and love, but so much of the other feelings too. While you may very likely feel these four words a lot this week, remember that those are feelings, valid feelings, and who you are are these intensely special words on the attached list.
Three tips I have repeating this week:
20 min of music a day. Sing, dance, or just listen. But give yourself the gift of 20 min of any playlist you want, each day
Want to feel better, just a little closer with the people you live with or talk to regularly? Tell them one thing you have appreciated about them this week. “I noticed you did X” or “I see how you are X”. And then finish that with “and I appreciate (you for) that”
My list for today includes ordering more journals for you! I have run out as I have passed them out so often these weeks. I love talking about boredom, and I found an article that sums it up a bit: https://liberationist.org/why-boredom-is-so-powerful-in-your-life/
Boredom is not a lack of stimulation. Ironically, the more distractions and external stimuli we pursue, the more bored we get.
Boredom is a clean slate. Being bored is escapism — it’s a mental state that we choose to avoid self-reflection.
We feel bored because, deep inside ourselves, we know we can give more. Boredom is the pain of unused potential; it’s a disconnection to everything we can offer the world and vice versa.
Boredom is a powerful tool that invites you to rethink your relationship with the world.
Research shows boredom to be responsible for increased risk of overeating, gambling, alcohol, and drug abuse, among others. Individuals with high boredom-proneness scored significantly more prone to suffer from anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and depression.
So, I pass out journals and I suggest that next time you are bored, embrace the opportunity. Write. Here is a prompt to get you going: As I write this…Or, I wonder… Or, I am… and don’t stop til the page is full.
Being home, with uncertainty and impatience, is difficult. You know yourself. If you are not OK, reach out to a mental health provider. We are here, we are working, and we are ready to listen and to help.
From the beginning of these weekly emails, there has been a lot of comparisons to a grief cycle. If you have ever grieved, you know that the cycle is not an A to B to C to D to E type of cycle, but more an ABCABEDCABBACE type of unpredictableness. Similarly, I have heard a lot of anger again. Aggravation with those we live with, with the situation, with our parameters, with our feelings of being controlled. Sound familiar? Want “your life” back again?
Here’s something to try to get it back:Talk about it. Talk about your feelings. Express your frustration, what you are angry about. What you wish for, what you miss. Make sure that it is not being taken personally by the listener. Then, listen to others. Don’t try to fix anyone’s feelings or problems. You can’t. Just listen, and say you get it. Acknowledge them. Most of you have been sent this video from me before, and I am sending it again. It is 2 min, and it is how to talk to your parents, your children, your significant others and your friends. It is definitely a favorite of mine: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Evwgu369Jw
One more thing. I had this statement in a week 7 email. Then I left it out and decided to come back to it. I think it is important to say. People are drinking a lot. I hear this amongst colleagues, friends and at work. I had been saying this observation quietly but it is time to say it louder. As you look forward to your happy hours, winding down, rewards, whatever you want to call it, ask yourself one question and try to be honest with yourself: AM I DOING SOMETHING THAT IS MAKING SOMEONE AT HOME UNHAPPY. The reason I decided to include it this week is because I read something similar in the Tribune last week, and realized it was not just me hearing this about alcohol. It talked about Zoom Happy Hours, and cautioned that moderation is key. I am going to share something personal with you that I have shared with a few clients: The reason I don’t drink every day is because I would love to drink every day. Be careful of how much you are loving drinking.
I am signing off now because it is Mother’s Day. If you are not a mom, you know a mom. Many miss their kids today. Many miss their moms today. Whatever your relationship was or is with your mom or your children, today is a reason to remember why relationships matter.

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Lynn Zakeri

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