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Here is what helped me get through fear, anxiety and grief
Our personal recovery from the aftermath of Covid has been framed as the process of coming to grips with "the new normal". But the new normal will be anything but normal. Grieving for what we lost from the pandemic will be everywhere.
Our families, communities and societies will need to be able to restructure within the context of the grieving. That will take courage, the courage to take action. Based on my experience of fear, anxiety and grief here is what helped me understand how to become more resilient.
My wife and I lost a child mid-term. That's immobilising. She subsequently developed a depression so severe that I had to carry her to the toilet from the bed where she lay motionless each day, until I realised that we both needed help. We were lucky enough to later have an IVF baby, although my wife flatlined during the birth. Four and a half hours in the 2 doctors and 3 midwives decided that she needed to be moved to a critical care hospital. But the ambulance declined to take her because they feared that she wouldn't make it. An hour later the flatline turned upwards. Five hours later I took her in a wheelchair to the neonatal intensive care unit where she was able to touch, but hold our baby. Then I drove home to an cold empty house and bed. I was shattered. It haunts me to think about it, but it no longer immobilises me. It helped me understand loss, and joy, and life on the other side - and a few lessons on how to get there.
The "new normal" won't be normal at all
Millions of have lost their jobs outright. Millions more have been laid off as the pandemic lingered, for example, Qantas airlines in Australia announced yesterday that it was sacking 6,000 of its workforce of 29,000. And that's a tiny tip of the iceberg.
Qantas said that the likelihood of reemploying those people over the next 2 years was near zero. That uncertainty for the families of the sacked workers echoes everywhere around the world.
None of us is immune to the consequences even if we have a stable income or some stability at the moment.
Shop and retail owners are stacking up deferred rents, insurance payments and whatever else they could get postponed. Homeowners are stacking up deferred mortgage payments which are being added to the loan principal. Furloughed employees are receiving government welfare payments which must be terminated sooner rather than later - before government reserves run dry.
The economic pundits are predicting that all this will come to a head in September this year. That's when the stress will hit a high-water mark - we'll see the permanent closures, the foreclosures, and the restructuring of work to reduce costs. Cash Flow will be on a respirator for a long time to come.
This is not a transition to a "new normal" where we are simply observers - not unless you have a safe job deep in the bureaucracy. We are the subjects of the transition - the unwilling participants in the greatest economic experiment in history.
Alarmingly, we don't know where we are headed, and what our role will be in the new normal. All we know is that the "new normal" won't be normal for a long time - until that time it will be layers of shocks and change. How can we best deal with this stress?
Here are four ways which will help.
#1 Break out of denial sooner rather than later
It is commonly accepted that grief follows the five stages first proposed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book On Death and Dying, i.e. 1. Denial and isolation; 2. Anger; 3. Bargaining; 4. Depression; 5. Acceptance.
In many cases, you can observe this in action, especially denial - the first stage. I went into denial when I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. That seems trivial compared to the pandemic, but my denial was real.
What snapped me out of denial was the looming realisation that (1) it was going to kill me early if I did not act, and (2) that only I could do something and it meant me taking a step forward.
My realisation sounds blindingly obvious. But when you are in denial, you hope the pain will go away; you hope someone will find a cure; you hope someone else will save you.
The realisation takes time, until one morning you hear a voice in your head saying "It is ME that has to DO something - ME ME ME". And hopefully, as I did, you count down 5-4-3-2-1, get up, and decide what that the first step will be. In my case, it was going down to the gym and signing up.
Try not to stay in denial for too long. Find a way to count down to a first action. When you're tempted to take action, use the countdown method and then do something.
Any action in the present is better than playing the movies in your head of past and future, avoidance and denial.
#2 Move on from "why me?"
Stop asking yourself "why me?".
In 2012 a call from my doctor changed my life. He'd found a lethal cancer. His advice was to have surgery as soon as possible, meaning within a week or two. Otherwise, he expected that it would kill me within 5 years.
Despite my experience in facing diabetes, and taking action, this call floored me. I broke out in a sweat and saw my life flashing before my eyes. I had no idea what to do next. I had surgery - 5 hours - and I'm fine.
I still have that cancer on my list of "current problems" on my official medical records. That's because there was some uncertainty about whether it had spread or not. My doctor found a second different potentially lethal cancer 4 years after the first one. This 2nd cancer was also "successfully" surgically removed but as there is no cure for this one it also remains on my official "current problems" list. I won’t have much luck getting life insurance!
I've met and heard of many cancer survivors who are stuck on "why me?"
Sticking on "why me" won't help you. It can't help you because there is no answer. It's life. The more you focus on yourself and "why me" the more you sink into the quicksand of inaction.
"Why me" keeps you in the past - playing all the old "what if" movies in your head. No matter how many times you assign blame and be the victim, nothing can change until you move forward.
Some people suggest "surrounding yourself with people who affirm your current wants and needs will help to ease the burden so you can concentrate on your healing." I'm afraid I have to disagree with that advice, as to me that keeps you stuck.
Get over your "why me" by focusing on others. Take action to create momentum towards resuming your day-to-day responsibilities in the world that you inhabit - not creating some wishlist of supportive people.
The reality may be that you have to call the bank, or you have to downsize your home, or you have to take a different job in a different place. "Why me?" won't get you started.
#3 Develop a new routine
You are going to have cycles of anxiety and fear; irritability, frustration and anger at yourself, someone else or the situation at hand; and listlessness, lethargy and general exhaustion.
Developing a routine is one way to cope with these waves of emotion and paralysis. Amid the uncertainty you face, write down what you can do regularly, for example, to do with:
Set some times that suit how you best perform and allocate your activities to those times with a beginning-time and an end-time. There is no real science behind this, but making specific times will give your day a more structured feeling. And right now, more structure feels better.
The goal of having a routine is to develop a new pattern which delivers you a sense of worth by taking useful action. Doing this will help you progress towards your "new normal" with less stress than if you sit back and let it swallow you.
4. Make exercise a part of your life
Regular exercise relieves stress. It will help you sleep better, and that better sleep also relieves stress. Stress creates eating habits that favour sugary foods for a quick hit. These habits lead to weight gain, which increases the vicious circle of anxiety. Regular exercise reduces our desire for those types of foods and burns calories, which makes us feel better about ourselves.
You already know all the reasons. Do the thing - stand up, go out the door and walk around the block.
Walking is the most natural exercise to build into your daily routine. But whatever it is, whatever you can do and enjoy consistently, make it part of your routine. Doing this will bring you into the "new normal" in better shape, mentally and physically.
Exercise only came into my life because of me becoming diabetic. I should have exercised beforehand and lost weight, but I didn’t. It turned out that being diagnosed with diabetes was a blessing, because exercise has changed my life by making it more enjoyable and very likely by extending it.
Resilience doesn't mean forgetting
The pandemic is a tough time.
Your grief and anxiety will wax and wane. As you eventually settle into the "new normal" over the coming years, you will re-experience your losses and grief. When that happens, use the techniques you develop now to lead yourself back into the present.
My suggestions aren't to have you forget your grief, but to help you move forward.
I hope they help.
Good luck. Email me if you'd like to chat.
> More posts to help you with EXERCISES
> More posts to help you with DIABETES
> If you are a @MEDIUM reader my publication Body Age Buster has hundreds of categorised posts which I have written especially for men and women over 50.
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Since I was diagnosed at 50 with Type 2 diabetes I've been learning how to do bone-building fitness training which lowers my age. You can too. It's your choice. Walter