We’re in uncharted territory. Most of my psychotherapy sessions with clients seem to be heavily focused on the pandemic we’re currently experiencing. My empathy as a therapist has evolved – we are truly in it together – in different ways, of course, but together nonetheless. I don’t have the answers that some of my clients ask me. I don’t have nice, clean-cut solutions for our current problems. What I can do, though, is look at the feelings underneath it all. I have noticed themes with my clients and in my personal life as well.
There’s a complete lack of control, here. It’s scary. There’s loss at least in some way. There’s also a ton of self-reflection, though. Now that we don’t have our usual distractions to keep us away from our feelings that lie underneath the surface, those feelings seem to have now all burst through the door. I’ve noticed a lot of learning and clarification of values. Quarantine is certainly not all good, or the ideal way we learn about ourselves by any means. There are deaths, bankruptcies, huge terrible shifts in plans. I absolutely don’t want to dismiss any of that. Quarantine doesn’t have to be all bad though, either. Those two things can and should co-exist. There’s an entire experience here that we can integrate all into one.
To help facilitate some self-growth during this time while also fully acknowledging the unpleasant feelings as well, I’ve created an 8-day journaling exercise that I’ve been using with some of my psychotherapy clients that I have outlined below. Take it one day at a time, or spend several days contemplating each one – whatever works for you!
Day 1 :
Again, physical distancing, quarantine, and restrictions that we’re facing are far from ideal. We don’t have to try to find a silver lining or pretend that it doesn’t suck. Yes, some good may come out of it, but let’s take a moment to validate our unpleasant feelings. Let’s sit with those for a little while. Imagine being able to change any aspect of your current situation. Take a moment to sink into that world where you have the power. It feels nice, right? Fortunately, you do have some power. Look at all of the details of your ideal world in this situation now – think about what you have influence over, and what you can take into your own hands.
If you had all the power in the world, what would you change about the situation you’re currently in?
What can you actually change or actually do to help get you closer to that ideal?
Whether you’re surviving pretty well or not, none of us can get away from this without some sort of challenge. I hear a lot of people SOLELY focusing on the good things – a “positive vibes only” kind of mindset. While we should ABSOLUTELY focus on the good stuff, we also need to acknowledge the tough things that we’re facing.
What is the hardest part about your current situation?
What are your fears, your insecurities, your worries, your anxieties?
A lot of us equate our self-worth with our productivity. We’ve GOT to find some balance, here. Rest and laziness are not synonymous. In all this time when you don’t have as much to do, it can be so easy to slip into a mental space that feels worthless and hollow. Keep in mind that you’re doing a lot of mental and emotional work during this time – that’s draining! Productivity in this period can look much different than what we’re used to. Take a shower, brush your teeth – that’s productive. Do something (anything!!) but don’t slip into a shame spiral. Focus on what you need during this time.
What do you need to grant yourself during this current situation?
How can you maximize taking care of yourself?
Loss is inevitable right now. Any change in itself is a loss. If you’re feeling unsettled but look around you and think about how it could be so much worse for you than it is, this may be why. Avoid downplaying your feelings simply because you think they’re small in comparison to other things. Humans like routine and consistency. Simply a shift in your daily schedule causes rifts in every other aspect of your life. Whether you’re experiencing loss of a job, a loved one, a sense of security, or a sense of normalcy, process those feelings – they’re valid, no matter how big or seemingly small you feel your loss is. Loss is loss.
What have you lost during your current situation?
Where are you lacking closure?
After acknowledging your unpleasant feelings, you can choose to seek gratitude within the chaos. Again, these things can coexist – one does not dismiss the other. Gratitude is good for you. It literally rewires your brain. When I talk about finding gratitude, I don’t mean the big stuff that’s somewhat obvious (although we should be grateful for those things, too). I mean look for gratitude where you don’t think you can find any, or where you may simply be missing. Seek gratitude in the dark corners, in the shadows, in the little details of life. You can be grateful for that one cloud in the sky providing that little bit of shade, for the warmth of the sun on your skin, for the way that the birds are singing (can you tell I need some more outdoor time??) Additionally, it’s important for us to feel that someone out there is grateful for us. We need to feel appreciated. Do something kind for someone, and appreciate what is good around you.
What are the things that you’re grateful for during your current situation?
When was the last time you felt appreciated by someone else?
I believe that quarantine has provided us all an opportunity to evaluate what was and wasn’t working for us in the past, allowing us to explore new routines and attitudes that will work better for us in the future. We can explore what we’ve taken for granted and what we truly cherish. We can start fresh with routines and make time to fit in that 10 minute daily yoga or chapter reading a night. When restrictions lift, we can start putting more effort into our relationships, or maybe into alone time. No matter what lightbulb has come on for you, allow it to be a learning experience.
What are the new routines that you’ve developed during your current situation?
What has this taught you about yourself?
We don’t have the distractions that we’re used to that typically had kept us too busy to notice the things in our life that need fine tuning – this is the time to take a hard look at what your priorities are. Your core values are not able to be taken from you. No matter how hard you fall, what you lose, or what you do, your values remain (whether you’re living by them or not). For a lot of us, “what are your core values?” may be a tough question that we have to put a lot of thought into. Dig deep and explore with the help of this list. From there, you can begin to live in accordance with your values, and who you will become will naturally build. Additionally, explore what has kept you from your values – what distracts you, what pulls you away, what takes too much of your time that you can put down.
Have your values shifted, or become more clear to you?
What will you cherish more when your current situation is over?
What are some things that you’d like to leave behind when we reach a new normal?
Our control is limited. You may view that as restrictive – but thinking about the other side of that statement, we have some control. The idea of our perfect world is likely not achievable, but that’s not the point. The goal is to further deepen your understanding of what’s important to you. From there, you can find bits and pieces of control to help you feel content with what is possible. It’s not all or nothing – you have influence over your life, whether or not it feels like it right now, even if that influence doesn’t feel like much in certain aspects.
In a perfect world, what do you want your new normal to look like when restrictions lift?
What can you do to make your ideal “normal” a reality going forward?