Surfing the Emotional Wave of COVID-19 — “Taking the Path to the Right”

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I don’t know about you, but for me this month has been a whirlwind — a roller coaster — of emotions! One moment I feel “Okay, I can do this” …. The next moment I am like, “WTF? I have to move my whole business online; I suck at technology” …. The next moment I am like, “I want to cry” …. The next moment I am like, “I am so grateful; I have such amazing people in my life” …. The next moment, “The world is ending” …. The next moment I am like, “What a great opportunity to learn more about technology” …. The next moment I want to cry again. Then I go to sleep only to be woken halfway through the night by an anxiety dream. Then I go back to sleep only to wake up feeling like, “Okay, I got this …. I am stronger than a stupid anxiety dream!!!”

Know that if you too are feeling all the feelings, that is not only okay, it is SO FORKING NORMAL. To paraphrase the awesome Brené Brown, none of us has ever managed a global pandemic before, so OBVIOUSLY navigating it is going to take some work. It is all a LEARNING PROCESS. Doing anything new is always a challenge. Have realistic expectations; processing something as massive as a global pandemic is going to be a FORKING challenge. It is going to take all of your emotional resilience and fitness. Brené’s podcast on FFTs — fucking first times — REALLY helped me.

Or, to paraphrase Robin Arzón, one of my fave Peloton instructors, give yourself some grace … we are all doing the best we can. To be honest, I am impressed that we all have not crawled into bed and never resurfaced. We humans are amazingly adaptable.

Now, that said, I try to live by the rule that “all emotions are okay but all behaviours are not.” I am working to feel my feelings while also making decisions that my future self will be proud of.

What is my strategy, you ask??? Well, I challenge myself whenever possible to “take the path to the right.” With every obstacle comes a decision: to veer left or to veer right. The obstacle exists on both paths. Obstacles can be anything from the fear of doing something new to a fight with a friend or, in this case, a global pandemic.

Whenever I started to freak out I’d say, “Kathleen, you are at a crossroad. Which path are you going to take? Take a breather. Be intentional with your inputs, thoughts, and actions. Take the path to the right.”

To the left?

Think emotional reactivity — actions and thoughts that feed the anxiety and make me lose perspective. Think lashing out and doing things that compound the problem such as emotionally eating and skipping a workout. The problem with this path is that the OBSTACLE IS STILL THERE, BUT when I take it I FEEL LIKE SH*T about myself, I have done nothing to fix the problem, AND when the obstacle subsides or a solution is found, I am left with ALL of the secondary problems — weight gain, health complications, a hurt friend, etc.

To the right?

Think emotional resilience — intentionally doing things that manage anxiety, fostering perspective, controlling what I can control, and doing things such as exercising and eating well. This path doesn’t magically make the obstacle disappear, but it does set me up for success; it allows me the calmness to have the perspective needed to address the issue. Plus, I haven’t actively compounded the problem — my future self doesn’t need to deal with a hurt friend or 20 extra pounds.

Now, I am NOT arguing that any of this is simple — I can easily start down the rabbit hole, weaving anxious, unhelpful narratives about the future or negative self-talk. Taking the path “to the right” is HARD — ESPECIALLY when one is in a negative physiological state (tired, hungry, angry, depressed, etc.).

So, when I start down the rabbit hole I think, “Kathleen, change your state!!!” I use the 3-S rule (thanks, Tony Robbins): state, story, strategy. First, I change my state (exercise, eat, etc.), which helps me create a helpful story or understanding of the situation. Only THEN do I create a strategy. Let me explain …

When one is in a negative physiological state, it is easier to create a negative emotionally reactive story. You might create a disproportionate story like, “My day sucked. This pandemic is the worst. I am stuck at home and I hate this and it will never end” versus, “Yes, I have had many bad moments and this is a REALLY stressful situation BUT I have lots of things to be grateful for and this too shall pass — nothing lasts forever. I WILL get through this. This is a particular moment in time. I need to control what I can control and let go of what I can’t.”

When we create a negative story, it becomes easier to justify an unhelpful strategy — it becomes easier to think things akin to “I should deal with my bad day by eating” or “I ‘deserve’ to skip my work out and drink because my partner is an asshole and my kids are all up in my grill.” These less-than-ideal strategies don’t actually fix the root issue AND they leave you feeling like a stuffed, unfit, and/or hungover piece of crap. Just because you think you should binge or skip a workout doesn’t make that thought correct!! Thoughts are just thoughts — not truth!

When I feel myself wanting to spin a destructive story I say “HALT” and instead make myself do something to change my physiological state — I work out, listen to a podcast, have a shower, meditate, or put on music and dance around. It is amazing how I ALWAYS feel better once I have changed my state.

The awesome part is, as soon as I feel better, I concoct a more appropriate and objective story, which causes my strategy to be more productive (I don’t send the nasty e-mail, I don’t binge eat, I don’t yell at James, etc.).

Changing my state changes my thoughts, which changes my actions!!!

Try it — then message me your thoughts and experiences!!

In conclusion, this past month has solidified my belief in the importance of two things. First, “controlling what you can control.” Think, exercise, your responses to events, your mindset, your nutrition, etc. Need a few workouts you can do at home? Try Tabata intervals /and/or resistance band workouts. Second, remember the importance of working on mental fitness not just physical fitness; two books Everything is Figueoutable and Reboot really helped me build my mental fitness).

Basically, blah, blah, blah … go work out! Control what you can control. Drink water. Dance around your living room. Do some squats as you FaceTime a friend. Do something that will give you a semblance of normalcy.

I am not arguing any of this will be easy!!! Building emotional resilience and the ability to pause and step away from your immediate desire to make an unhealthy decision requires practice and the right strategy. That said, while it might not be easy, it sure is worth it!!! In practice, intentionally work to change your state and take the road to the right — your future self will thank you!!!