For many of us, the shelter-in-place orders necessitated by coronavirus have flipped our lives upside down. When we're confined at home, just about everything in life is totally different. Outside of our obliterated routines, the way we regulate ourselves has completely changed.
We are social beings by nature, and we rely on engagement with others to help connect with the most important parts of ourselves – the parts of us who make us who we are. In isolation, we feel an absence. Some parts of our identities might be altogether neglected. This can lead to a loss of meaning, purpose, and even a shift towards nihilism.
We may notice that the ways we are coping with stress, trauma, and loss from coronavirus have left us feeling less organized, less motivated, more fatigued and depleted.
We can use our understanding of trauma to see that this generalized numbing or avoidant feeling is a response to the steady stress we're being exposed to. That protective "meh" feeling is our body and our mind trying to cope with the often overwhelming experiences of today by turning things down to neutral.
The following framework can be used to help guide yourself in finding purpose, meaning, and reconnection with ourselves in the midst of the chaos that has ensued due to coronavirus.
- First, ask yourself: What are the most meaningful parts of who you are?
If this is a challenge for you, as a starting point here are 5 common areas you may want to explore:
- Intellectual engagement
- Creative expression
- Community bonds
- Erotic energy
- Turn some curiosity towards the ways you were able to engage these parts of yourself before the pandemic versus now.
- Introduce without judgment or fear the idea that if we are not using these parts of ourselves that are intrinsic to our purpose, meaning, and how we embody our lives, our mood is likely going to be impacted – and we are probably going to struggle to feel regulated.
- Direct attention to how all of these parts of identity feel in the body.
- Consider some of the small ways we engaged these parts of ourselves when we were able to be social – erotic energy through eye contact, the way we acknowledge or inhabit our bodies when getting ready to leave home, what it feels like to listen to music on headphones while in a crowd.
- Think about a new context for missing activities. For example, not being able to go to the gym is more than simply not having a space for exercise. What did that represent for you? In which part of your experience were you engaging (e.g., community)?
- How might you be able to access these parts of yourself on a daily basis? Instead of focusing on a to-do list based on attempts to replace former activities or productivity, let's understand the core of why these activities were important, and honor that in the ways we will structure your days now.
- Process what isn't working with this framework. For example, is using intellectual engagement to read coronavirus content and dissect this with others actually honoring your identity? Or could this part of you be better used in other ways (e.g., starting a remote book club)?
- Remain kind and patient with yourself. This can be really challenging, and simply coping with the community trauma and loss of COVID-19 is an enormous task. Adding anything to this can be a lot, so try to acknowledge all your efforts with compassion and love.
Reframing the way we spend our time to reflect what is most meaningful – and reconnecting with purpose during a time in which we are coping with feelings of sadness, fear and a loss of control – can be a deeply powerful tool.
Creating a new, thoughtful structure to understand and nurture these most important parts of ourselves without pressure around productivity can be freeing.