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Staying Sane Through COVID: 3 Ways To Reframe The Experience For A Healthier Relationship…With Yourself

Amy Stanton

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2020 has been challenging in just about every way possible.

No matter who we are or where we live, we’ve all felt the impact of COVID-19 in our lives this year. We have felt these challenges with our health, some people not being able to get the care they need in a timely manner. We have felt these challenges economically — whether you’re a business owner like I am, or an employee in search of work. And we have also felt these challenges mentally and emotionally: adjusting to working from home, navigating chaotic news cycles, evacuating areas of the country struck by fires, participating in important racial and gender equality discussions, the list goes on and on.

Through the process of managing all of this over the past six months, I have learned a lot about myself. And also that I’m the only person that can shape my experience of this pandemic (or anything else!).

And I have learned that, above all things, we must feel supported — regardless of what’s happening in the world — even if we have to be the ones providing that support. How do we nurture a positive relationship with ourselves? How do we avoid the trap of feeling like a victim, actively remembering we have control over our destiny? How do we allow ourselves those moments where it’s ok to feel sorry for ourselves and acknowledge that things are sucking right now?

For some people, 2020 has been an opportunity to reinvent themselves and take stock of what truly matters. For others, 2020 has been a year of suffering, stress, sickness, and loss of hope. For many of us, it’s a combination of both.

Wherever you fall on the spectrum, here are three ways you can continue to build a healthy relationship with yourself — and create a feeling of abundance versus scarcity.

1. Understand your coping mechanisms, and give yourself new (healthy) ways to “cope.”

We all have coping mechanisms, and at the beginning of the pandemic, I immediately became clear on what my coping mechanisms were.

  • I missed going to my dance classes.
  • I missed getting to spend time with friends and family.
  • I missed going out to dinner and having a fun meal out.
  • I missed being able to plan a trip to look forward to.

All of a sudden, all the ways I would have coped with a long day of work, or just stress in general, were taken away.

We’re creatures of habit, and these habits, routines, and “coping mechanisms” in our lives are real and reasonable — it’s not about denying them or punishing ourselves for having reliable ways to make things feel better. But given circumstances that take away these opportunities, we’re presented with an opportunity to both acknowledge our “dependencies” and also to find new ways to destress, relax, find fulfillment, be social, and support ourselves with the things we need to live a happy, healthy life. For me, this meant finding new ways to feel connected with others, to exercise, and to feel stimulated and inspired.

  • I set up a regular virtual workout with my trainer and some of my close friends, which is great because I get my workouts and simultaneously see some of my nearest and dearest every Monday, Wednesday, Friday.
  • I started calling up old friends and acquaintances I hadn’t talked to in forever, happily reconnecting and with plenty of time to be present in those conversations.
  • I started sitting in my garden each day, watching the birds and enjoying nature.
  • I started watching foreign TV shows on Netflix to get my European fix (specifically recommend Call My Agent and The Restaurant… so good!)

Do I prefer staying at home and engaging with most of my friends through a screen? Of course not. But for the time being, it has been an intentional way to appreciate the time we have together — and to maintain a positive outlook on life.

2. Practice openness and remain flexible with change.

This year has taken meaningful things away from us, but it has also given us some incredible gifts as well.

For example, in a matter of months, every single company in America became more open to the idea of people working from home. In a matter of months, video conferencing technology went from being a somewhat stigmatized form of communication to an everyday (or every hour) occurrence. In a matter of months, hiring remote employees became a viable option for all sorts of companies, businesses like at-home grocery delivery have accelerated, and entire communities have been created for people to connect from afar.

Our world is changing before our very eyes.

When things are all doom and gloom, it can be easy to forget the possibility that some of the challenges we’re experiencing right now might actually affect change in a good way. Even though we all love to have in-person experiences and relationships, there is a lot to be said for the ways we’re now able to connect, work, talk, and collaborate from afar. Employers and employees check in on each other differently today than they did a year ago. Friends care a bit more, appreciate each other a bit more, today than they did a year ago. Relationships, although distanced, have also never felt closer.

I heard this really interesting Kabbalah recording the very first week of the pandemic, and it was very helpful in terms of framing things for me. There were two key components:

  • One was this concept in Kabbalah called the “Proactive Formula.” It explains that, in all circumstances where you might normally react, you have the opportunity to take a step back and ask how you can be proactive in that circumstance. This allows us to move out of a victim mentality, and instead act from an empowered space.
  • Second was how, in so many cases, some of the biggest creative ideas have come out of moments of desperation — and how, even though pressure feels difficult in the moment, it almost always leads to some sort of breakthrough and positive result.

We are feeling this pressure right now, but it’s important to remember the ways in which we are growing as well.

And one of my challenges is that I tend to judge myself if I’m not happy and optimistic all the time. That’s not healthy either. It’s ok to feel tortured right now and to acknowledge the reality of that pain. It’s not always about reframing everything in a more positive light. Part of being open to the change is about accepting the good, bad and the ugly. And it’s ok to feel emotions of all sorts along the way.

3. Find new ways to practice self-care.

Self-care is at the absolute top of the list for “things to do in 2020.”

Self-care means different things for different people. It could be as simple as amping up your beauty routine with regular at-home facials. Or a consistent workout regimen (I’m nothing without this). Or quality time with yourself to read and decompress. Or for some, binge-watching a new show on Netflix is self-care. Bottom line: anything goes. It’s about doing something that makes you feel good, cared for, and relaxed.

One of my self-care habits has always been my nightly bath. Another is my dance classes (even Zoom dance classes count). Recently, I started incorporating a new self-care routine with my friend, Sheila of @sketchpoetic, which was 21 days of sketching. Every evening, I sketched as a way of expressing my thoughts, releasing the unconscious stuff I’d been carrying around all day onto the page. It’s pretty amazing and I highly recommend it — I definitely expressed and unloaded (and we all have a lot of expressing and unloading to do these days).

The reason I am such a big believer in self-care rituals is because, in addition to the benefits of the rituals themselves, we build a consistent practice over time. Our rituals demonstrate commitment…to ourselves. Every time we sit down to do the thing we said we were going to do, we not only are taking care of ourselves in the moment, but we’re training ourselves, making it easier to take care of ourselves again the next day, and the next day — until all of a sudden, self-care has become an integral part of our lives. It’s not some big event we have to force ourselves to do — it starts to happen naturally. The nightly bath (or sketching or reading or meditating) can be just twenty or thirty minutes before bed, the same as any other night.

When big events like COVID-19 happen in life, they really put our self-care practices to the test. We’re far better off taking care of ourselves consistently, little by little, day by day, so we can handle anything that comes our way.

At the end of the day, COVID-life is challenging. There’s no way around it. But as is always the case, if we can support and take care of ourselves, we will be better both for ourselves and for others… and the world needs us right now.

Amy Stanton is the founder and CEO of Stanton & Company and co-author of "The Feminine Revolution."

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