6 ways to give yourself grace one year into the pandemic

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This year, the month of March marks one year from the time our lives were unexpectedly and incomparably disrupted. Isn’t it uncomfortable when we are forced out of our safety and routines? 

Do you remember the moment when the reality of all that was unfolding hit you personally? If you’ve been remembering the last places you visited, the celebrations you had, the memories of the days prior to the lockdowns, you are not alone. 

Your brain and body remember that a year ago something shifted—and an ongoing uncertainty began in this global crisis. When you watch the news or see a specific date on the calendar, do you have more intense feelings of anxiety, sadness or irritability? What you may be experiencing is known as being triggered. Those reminders reinvigorate a time when fear, grief and confusion invaded our lives—when the pandemic closures took effect and case numbers started to rise.

You may have heard of many people hitting the “pandemic wall”—that point when they are simply done. This year has been a hard adjustment, and the load can feel heavier than we feel capable of handling. We were forced into unknown territory for longer than most anticipated and we’re still here. If you are feeling the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual exhaustion even more during these days, that is normal. 

Going through difficult situations that feel overwhelming and keep us on edge for a long period of time is exhausting. The worry about what will happen, when will we “return to normal,” what will that look like is anxiety-producing. How have you been feeling? Is it hard to describe it and name it? 

Here are six things to keep in mind to offer both yourself and your loved ones the grace you need during this stage of the ongoing pandemic:

1. Do a basic needs check-in.

Doing the basic things on a daily basis may feel more challenging than usual because we’ve been doing this for a year. It may take more effort to get up and feel motivated to do what you’re supposed to do. One way to go through this check-in is to be aware of what we are needing throughout the day. Ask yourself: am I getting enough rest, food, water, sunlight, physical activity, and connection with others? This is a good starting point to identify your need at the moment before you try to push through bigger daily tasks. Once you are able to identify and meet those basic needs you can then provide the foundation you need for the next step.

2. Have intentional self-compassion.

Once our basic needs are identified, it’s necessary to check in on our thoughts and emotions. Doing this may require a bit more intentionality than other times because, again, we are tired and simply trying to function! It is OK. Take it slow and allow yourself to experience what you need at the moment. If you are having negative thoughts about your personal pandemic situation, it is OK. Pay attention and remember that thoughts are not facts—they may come but they do not have to stay.

If you catch yourself thinking: “I can’t do this for another year!” try saying instead: “I’ve done this for a year, I can handle today.” Breaking your thought down into the present instead of worrying about how much longer this will last in the future can help you feel more motivated and focused on the next right thing instead of feeling overwhelmed or caught in a spiral of fear and despair. Practicing self-compassion is not feeling sorry for yourself, it is acknowledging that we are all in the midst of a difficult situation.

3. Validate your own emotions.  

The uncomfortable emotions you may be having—such as sadness, anger, frustration or confusion—are valid and you are allowed to have them. Self-validation entails self-acceptance and you don’t have to feel shame or guilt for experiencing either positive or negative emotions. You can feel both frustrated and grateful, tired and hopeful. It’s best to give yourself permission to feel what you need in the given moment and accept it instead of judging yourself or shutting it down.

Although it is important to maintain a healthy balance of emotions, this pandemic season is not a time to beat yourself up or deny what you are feeling. We don’t need to “just find the positive” and good in everything. You are allowed to have good and hard days. For example, if you are feeling worried or stressed out about the re-opening process or the vaccine, pause and be curious about what is causing the feeling. Pay attention to your emotions and look at them as communicators of a potential unmet need underneath.

4. Practice healthy outlets.

Once you are able to identify your emotions and thoughts, it’s necessary to find healthy outlets for expressing them. To process and express those feelings of discomfort, try talking with someone you trust, praying, writing, drawing, going for a walk or talking to a mental health professional. When we lack healthy outlets, the chance of channeling those negative feelings in the wrong direction and having them show up in other ways increases—such as arguments with others, overeating, substance use, extreme isolation and so on. The power of allowing yourself to release your emotions does not mean they may not return, but if they do, they will not have been accumulating and making the load feel heavier than it needs to be.

5. Keep realistic expectations.

It has been a year of a lot! Not only are we going through a global pandemic that has added losses on so many levels, but other events such as racial injustice, elections and natural disasters have also been stressful. Remember to keep realistic expectations of the situation we are going through. Do not expect to be functioning at the usual rhythm or try to pretend everything is good. Although it is great to feel motivated and hopeful, it is also important to be mindful that this unexpected time has impacted everyone in different ways. Be kind to your journey and that of others. The pandemic experience has been different for all of us and it would be insensitive to try to put everybody under the same category. It simply has hit some harder than others.

6. Unplug and recharge.

Engaging in self-care practices looks different than usual. Remember that self-care is not just a day at the spa or a weekend getaway. During this season it is necessary to look into small ways to add meaningful and intentional self-care throughout your day or week. What makes self-care effective is identifying what helps you feel renewed in a consistent and sustainable way. Self-care goes beyond meeting your basic needs. Effective self-care refreshes your soul and nurtures, renews and restores you to prevent pushing yourself too hard or to the point of exhaustion. Self-care looks different for everyone and it’s vital to identify what works for you.

The pandemic’s one-year anniversary may bring you a wide range of emotions. Let me remind you that there is no right or wrong way to feel about it. Everything you are feeling is valid and important. Keep in mind: The collective trauma we are going through is not over yet. Take it day by day. Everything doesn’t need to be all negative or all positive. Whatever your personal experience, this event is shaping our worldview. You are not alone! Give yourself permission to embrace your own journey.

Do Good:

  • Listen to Kelly Rodriguez, LMFT, share seven tools to stop the spiral of toxic thinking on the Do Gooders Podcast.   
  • Have you felt fear during this coronavirus pandemic, or any crisis you might be experiencing? You’re not alone. The overarching response to this crisis is fear. And fear is a funny thing, as fear can also become an enemy in itself. So, how do we, as Christ-followers, maintain the right focus in uncertain days? Download this study, “God With Us,” and follow along to see what Scripture has to say. 
  • Give to support the Fight for Good in your community.
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