“These are mad times we live in. Mad!”
These words, spoken by Professor Slughorn in The Half-Blood Prince, have been tumbling around in my head for weeks. In the film (and perhaps the book, I don’t recall), Slughorn relays this message to Dumbledore as the imminent threat of Lord Voldemort grows stronger. In this story, the imminent threat is COVID- 19, rather than an extremely powerful wizard.
I don’t know that there is a “chosen one” to defeat COVID-19 as Harry Potter defeated Voldemort, but I do find comfort in knowing some of the smartest folks in the world are working on a vaccine. In the meantime, the rest of us are scrambling to find relief from the madness and hope in the days to come.
This is why I am writing today. I want to share the ways I am finding peace and stillness. Most of all, I want you to know you are not alone.
I have been feeling more than a little overwhelmed in the past weeks as the reality of what is happening in the world has sunk in - and I know I am not alone.
This novel virus has taken the world by storm and brought lives and economies to a screeching halt. People everywhere are facing the same fears and uncertainties, as well as learning how to navigate a new way of life - which seems to consist mostly of chapped hands and anxiously browsing the grocery store isles.
Personally, I have been undulating between feeling immobilized by anxiety and being stuck in a sort of survival mode where I feel like I have to constantly be preparing for the apocalypse (Don’t worry, I’m not hoarding toilet paper and cleaning supplies, just obsessively washing my hands and thinking about how my horse and I should probably go live in the wilderness for a while).
I know remaining in a state of panic is not healthy or helpful. I don't need to tell any of you this either. We all know it to be true. Yet, panic is still so hard to move beyond. Uncertainty is frightening and most of us no longer feel the security we have been privileged to know for so long. So, what can we do to keep moving forward, to find peace and a little bit of normalcy, perhaps?
Put Down Your Phone
First things first, as soon as you finish reading this article, put your phone down for a while. It is important to stay informed, but you also have to take care of yourself.
The constant scrolling through social media and news sites is not helping anyone, especially you and your mental health. I have been making an effort to leave my phone in one place all day. This way I am not tempted to grab it every time I sit down on the couch or wait for the water to boil.
News of the virus changes constantly, it seems. This makes it hard to not check your phone every time you walk by it, so allot yourself an amount of time to spend on the web and stick to it, even if you have to set an alarm. I have set myself a limit of no more than fifteen minutes before I have to move on to another task.
When you find yourself on your phone despite efforts to stay away, try looking at something uplifting. I have found hope in the photos and videos of my local coffee shop showering love on the community, or the encouraging words of friends and people I follow on social media. The number of people coming together through this event has been nothing short of inspiring.
If you are looking for genuine and encouraging people to follow, check out @hillaryliannamcbride and @mikemchargue. You could even join Mike's online Dungeons and Dragons campaign.
Stay In Touch
I know I just told you to put your phone down, but that was in regard to media consumption. It can be remarkably helpful to talk with family and friends. Spend some time each day catching up with the people you care about, talk about how you are feeling and try to laugh some, too.
Stay in touch with your community.
Many of us are concerned about the health of those who are older or immunocompromised. If you know of people in your town or neighborhood who need food and supplies brought to them, ask how you can help. Find out how you can support local businesses, as well. Perhaps your favorite restaurant or coffee shop is offering take-out, or you could purchase gift cards to use at a later date.
Feeling connected during this time of social distancing will help bring a sense of normalcy and purpose to your day. It is an odd feeling, but as I pass by people on the street (keeping my distance of course) or read stories from people all over the world, I cannot help but feel united in knowing we are all facing the same uncertain circumstances.
This feeling is not out of the ordinary. It is why soldiers often say they feel more alone upon returning home and getting back to everyday life. There is a lot of risk at war, but there is also camaraderie and belonging (If you are interested in learning more on this topic, check out these books - Tribe & Why Honor Matters).
Hard times bring people together. Fewer lines are drawn; we stop seeing how we are all different and instead, focus on how we can all be there for one another. This is possible even in a time where social distancing is absolutely necessary.
Do What Brings You Joy
Taking care of others is important right now, but so is self-care. Many of us have found ourselves with extra time on our hands due to quarantines and lock-downs. I know this has left a lot of you with more time to worry. I’m with you. As I am going about my day, sometimes I am suddenly stricken by anxiety and find it hard to move forward.
Take a deep breath. We will get through this.
To counterbalance anxiety, I have started making a list of a few things I want to do everyday - activities I enjoy and can immerse myself in, such as reading or writing, sketching, spending time outdoors, and meditating.
Mindfulness meditations have been extremely beneficial in helping me relax and focus my attention away from worrying. I find meditations through The Liturgist podcast (listening to their talks will also put a smile on your face and lighten your heart). If you do not want to become a member of their Patreon to access the meditations, you may also find free mindfulness meditations on youtube.
Exercise is another great outlet for anxiety. With gyms closed, you may have lost your normal workout routine, but social distancing is easy to do outside. Go for a run or hike to clear your head. Find a workout video online and exercise in your own home. Join doyogawithme.com and start practicing yoga - they offer sessions for all levels of experience, the instructors are wonderful, and a majority of the videos are free.
Whatever brings you joy, do it. Having a bit of a routine will help you focus and find flow. Create something. Learn a new trade. Paint with Bob Ross - a task almost equal to meditation. Work on a project you have not had time for in the past. Have a dance party with your kids, your partner, your friends, or just you and the music. I promise you will feel better for it.
Holding On To Hope
These are strange and uncertain times we are living in right now. You will have good days and not so good days. My hope is that, in the good and the bad, you can find stillness and peace throughout your day. When things are looking particularly hopeless, remember the wise words of Samwise Gamgee,
“In the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer.”
This too shall pass, and, when it does, perhaps we will have learned how to better love our planet, our communities, our families, and ourselves. Hold on to hope and remember, light can be found, even in the darkness.