The world has changed.
Everything has shifted.
There’s no doubt COVID-19 has changed all of us, in a myriad of ways and our brains, emotions and bodies are struggling to keep up.
Feeling punched in the guts, foggy brained and behaving erratically. Swinging from cool, calm and collected to aggravated, overwhelmed and stressed.
The world has changed.
Everything has shifted.
I woke up last Monday morning and something didn’t feel right, friends.
My shoulders felt like they were up around my ears and as I made my way into school to drop my daughter off, something shifted and not in a good way.
Someone told me meat was going to run out by Friday and while the rational side of me knew this wasn’t true, the irrational side of me felt a sense of panic.
So I did what any rational person would do and headed straight to the local butcher and bought myself some meat. I bought one packet of rissoles (despite the fact I haven’t eaten a rissole in approximately 15 years) and two steaks. It was hardly panic buying, however it was enough to stir up some action.
As the day wore on I cleaned out my freezer like a crazy woman.
My freezer in the garage had over frozen and I’d never dealt with this kind of task before. But I fixed that by doing some google research, that involved me throwing around boiling water and chipping away at the ice with a butter knife looking like a scene out of American Psycho.
By the time I made it to personal training, I was present, but not present. Just kind of feeling like the world was going on around me, but I’d dipped out.
That evening I only ate half a snickers bar because I thought I’d save the other half for ‘harder’ times.
I barely slept that night. Wondering what the next day would bring and I desperately tried to talk myself around.
But then things imploded further in my world of weddings (I am a celebrant and the co-founder of a wedding blog). As the week went on, my stress levels were at an all time high.
Hyper-vigilant, hot, cold, dry mouthed, wide-eyed, nauseous and I must have burst into tears at least 85 times. And I deeply worried for every little thing there was to be worried about. In fact, if you were not worried last week, don’t worry, I did it for you.
At some point I pulled myself up.
I couldn’t understand why I had been so triggered by this.
But then I remembered.
The world had changed.
Everything had shifted.
Familiar feelings had stirred.
When my husband died, I was in this exact same place. My whole life as I once knew it had been smashed into pieces in every sense of the word. I was shocked first and foremost, deeply sad, lost, panicked about my future, uncertain, overwhelmed and I knew deep down that I would be changed forever. And in the interest of transparency I was facing complete job and financial uncertainty also. I had $4000 to my own name, a child to provide for and support all on my own and I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to be able to work again.
What I am really trying to say to you friends, is that I have been here before.
This time however, I’m not alone.
Which is weirdly, a nice and comforting feeling, because last time I couldn’t have felt more alone in it.
So friends, I wanted to impart to you what I’ve learned along the way. In the hope it might help some of you that are experiencing some feelings you may not have felt before, so that you know you are not alone. Or perhaps you’re back here again too, feeling triggered, and in that case, hello, let’s recap.
What we are collectively experiencing right now is grief – we are grieving our old lives. When things seemed brighter and stable and certain. We are grieving the loss of control we once had. It’s quite frankly terrifying how quickly things can change.
You are going to go through a wide range of emotions and reactions – so let’s break it down into some phases.
SHOCK AND DISORIENTATION
What you might be experiencing right now is shock, total disorientation and disconnection. You might simply feel like you’re physically being kicked in the guts over and over and over. Your brain is struggling to keep up with what is actually happening because of the shock. Everything feels overwhelming as change upon change keeps happening as you lose grip and control over the life you once had.
ANGER AND SWINGING MOODS
With the impact of disorientation and shock comes a whole range of emotions and you will swing from one to the next to the next. There is likely to be a lot of anger right now, and in the future, as you try and fight against the vast changes you are facing. You want to scream, shout and likely punch something. At the same time you might be feeling defeated, as though everything is hopeless but then quickly swing back into optimism as though this could just be the best damn thing to EVER happen! Other times you will feel nothing at all, too overwhelmed to even wrap your head around this great change.
A NEW KIND OF NORMAL
At some point you will come to terms with the situation and feel like you’ve got things under control as you set to task to rectify any problems you are facing. It’s a new kind of normal and you start to steer away from what you’ve lost and begin to look at what is ahead as you lean into acceptance.
MOVING FORWARD AND ACCEPTANCE
Slowly, you begin to accept what has happened and you acknowledge your changed circumstances. It doesn’t mean you’ve forgotten, it’s hard to forget great change. However you will start to integrate your past, present and your future. With that will come some important lessons and values that you have learned along the way as you realise you have forever been changed by this.
Which all sounds pretty simple right?
Move through these phases, as quickly as possible of course, and go forth into your new fabulous life, because surely there has to be some kind of lesson in all of this?
But sorry friends, unfortunately that’s not how grief works.
When I started to write this piece, I was going to label these phases as phase 1, 2, 3 and 4.
I pulled myself right up.
You might start at phase one, only to jump to phase three and just as you think you’re moving forward, you will be dragged back kicking and screaming to anger, or shock. Feeling at rock bottom again. It’s hard, challenging, frustrating and it hurts.
But I’m here to let you know that it’s ok and it’s normal.
How can any of us conquer life altering change in a few quick steps?
Quite simply, you can’t.
So what do you do when your world has changed and you’ve been rocked to the core? How do you make it through?
Here’s what I know friends, and I hope this helps.
IT’S OK THAT YOU’RE NOT OK
I’m going to get real here, friends. If you’re feeling totally shit about all of this. It’s ok. I am going to give you a permission slip right here, right now, to say, it’s ok that you’re not ok.
Quite frankly, I’m sick of people trying to tell me how to feel, and I have been for a long time.
“Stay positive” or “look on the bright side of life” or “why don’t you just write down 5 things you’re grateful for”. Spare me.
Right now, if you’re hurting, and you’re feeling lost and negative and wondering, why me? That’s ok. You’re going through a lot right now, it’s a natural and normal response.
As a society, we are pretty uncomfortable dealing with other people’s grief and negative emotions and we’re desperate to ‘fix’ them. And in trying to ‘fix’ them with positive platitudes, what we actually end up saying is ‘your feelings are not valid’. That’s absolutely not ok.
When we stifle people’s emotions and feelings we’re actually doing them more damage – mentally, physically and emotionally. If you simply bottle it all up, it’s going to come back later with far greater consequences. In a moment I’ll talk about acknowledgement of emotions, which basically means, you have to feel all of the feels, become familiar with them and then you can take action to solve them.
On the flip side. If you’re a Positive Polly in life, do you know what? That’s ok too. I actually love being a Positive Polly myself. However, here’s some advice to all of the Positive Polly’s out there. Should someone come and talk to you, and confide and share their vulnerability, just show up, shut up and listen.
It’s important to focus on what you can control. It’s likely you’re twenty steps ahead of yourself in the future thinking the absolute worst. While you cannot control COVID-19 or the actions of other people, or the government or some aspects of financial security, you can control what you do, in the here and now.
After my husband died, all I heard was ‘just take it minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day. Honestly, I’d be pretty rich if I had a dollar for every time it was said to me. If I’m honest I would quietly seethe as my mind raced to the future and what impact this would have on my future life.
The thing is, it’s actually true. I didn’t know what the future held for me then (I certainly didn’t think it was COVID-19, I’ll give you the hot tip), and I don’t know now. All we can do right now is take it minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day and focus on what we can control in the here and now.
ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR FEELINGS
When we are dealt a crisis, fear and anxiety is inevitable. It’s a completely normal and natural response to a challenging time and situation. You might be going through a range of emotions and it’s important to acknowledge these, sit with them and notice them.
For instance, if you’re feeling anxious – acknowledge it, sit with it and notice what this brings out in you.
Is your mind racing, do you feel hot and then cold, is your chest feeling heavy?
Often physical responses take place before we can attribute it to a feeling.
For instance, I don’t ever wake up and think, today I have anxiety.
Rather I feel jittery, heart pumping, mind racing and hyper-alert. When I notice this going on in my body, I start to think, this feels familiar, I think this might be anxiety. Once I acknowledge this I can then take actions to rectify it by perhaps going for a walk, slowing down or voicing my feelings to a friend. As time goes on, and you become more familiar with the sensations, you can begin to solve them more quickly.
TAKE THE PRESSURE DOWN
I never thought John Farnham would feature in a blog post, but here I am. Take the pressure down friends, take the pressure down.
What I mean by this is that we are in the middle of a pretty big crisis, everything is changing and it’s changing rapidly and none of us have the answers. Or knows how this will play out.
Achieve what you can achieve, no matter how big or small. If you only achieve a shower today, that’s ok. If you achieve having your child only watch the iPad for 2 hours instead of 6 hours like they have the last three days, that’s ok. If you do not get out of your active wear for three months, that’s ok.
Once you take the pressure down, you have more realistic expectations of yourself and I think you will feel some of those anxious feelings go down a notch.
When you’re not even sure of what day it is, or a week feels like it’s been going for a year, it’s important to set some kind of routine where you possibly can.
A simple routine can help with clarity, structure and a sense of achievement.
Map out how your day will look the night before, so you can rest easy knowing there is some kind of plan.
A simple routine could be waking in the morning at the same time each day, having a shower, eating breakfast, taking a quick walk, working, reading a chapter of a book, preparing dinner and then bed.
It doesn’t have to be a world conquering plan – keep it simple.
It doesn’t matter if you don’t completely stick to it, remember we are taking the pressure down, but a routine will give you some sense of purpose and stop you spending a sleepless night wondering what the next day will bring.
When everything feels out of control, of course we want to wrestle some of that back. But remember there are only certain things within our control right now. If you’re in the frame of mind to take some action, it’s important to.
For instance, if you’re worried about your financial situation, think of what you can control and take some action. This could be ringing your bank to see how they’re positioned to deal with financial hardship, researching what options there are with Centrelink, finding your Centrelink customer reference number for potential future use, doing your budget so you know where you sit.
If you’re not quite in the frame of mind to be taking small steps of action, it might be worth speaking to trusted people that can help take action on your behalf.
What’s hard about this world is that even when we are faced with some of the roughest of times, the world keeps going on around us. Mortgages still need to be paid, bills will come in, work still needs to take place. If you can at least recognise this, you can take steps to action small things and it’s ok to ask for help and have someone step in.
Stress sends our nervous system into a panic, so we have to work to minimise stress as much as we can. We are all so different, what works for you to minimise stress, may not work for me. So once again, take the pressure down and if sitting on a yoga mat makes you want to vomit rather than bringing down the stress levels, that’s ok. There’s no right or wrong. Research stress management tools, try them and figure out what works for you and instigate them when required.
CHECK IN MENTALLY, PHYSICALLY AND EMOTIONALLY
We are all a little bit frazzled at the moment but it’s important to take a moment each day, or every few days to check in with yourself on three fronts. Mentally, physically and emotionally.
Ask yourself, how am I feeling mentally? Am I not able to concentrate, deeply sad, anxious?
Ask yourself, how am I feeling physically? Is my back sore, do I feel tension in my neck, do I have a sore jaw?
Ask yourself, how do I feel emotionally? Am I in control of my emotions or are they controlling me?
Our bodies, brains and emotions are so closely linked. And if we only address one and not the other, we come crashing down. If you check in and know where you sit, you can take steps to help yourself. Connect with a psychologist, meditate, see your Osteopath or whatever it is you can do to keep your body and brain functioning at an optimal level.
FEEL GOOD FIVE
Create a Feel Good Five. Alright, I’m probably sounding a bit hippy dippy here, but here’s a Jo Betz tip for you. And you can thank me for it later.
After my husband died. I forgot what made me feel good. Though sometimes when I reflect, I wonder whether I’d got so caught up in the ‘busyness’ of my own life (work, parenting, marriage, life) that I’d forgotten what made me feel good a long time ago.
At some point in this adventure that is life, I was sat in my psychologist’s office and I was in my deepest and darkest hole yet. She asked me what made me feel good, and I was stumped. And this upset me even more. Because how on earth did I actually not know off the top of my head the things that made me feel good?
I went home and rectified this immediately and sat down and wrote five things that made me feel good, which has become my Feel Good Five. Here are mine, though these might need to be adapted in the strange times we are currently in.
- Walking or hiking – I’d prefer hiking but time doesn’t always permit this, so a stroll around the block is good enough for me.
- Reading a really good book.
- Drinking a cup of green tea made from actual tea leaves, not the tea bag, fancy!
- Going out for dinner and preferably eating dumplings or a good ramen soup – for now, I’ll just have to order in and Zoom with friends.
- Holidays – travel makes me feel so good, so if I can’t actually get away, do you know what I love to do? Read TripAdvisor reviews about hotels I’ll probably never stay at. Weird, I know.
List the things that make you feel good and just do it.
Do what you can, when you can, to feel good. Once you start taking small steps, to make simple changes, it will become part of your routine and you will want to do it over and over again – it becomes pretty addictive.
When you’re doing something that makes you feel good it brings you back to the present and you get all kinds of good feelings too.
As you resurface from this whole saga, you will begin to realise feeling good actually lays in you.
You just have to practice it and make it part of your everyday life.
Friends, I could keep going and going, but I’ll stop for now.
The world has changed.
Everything has shifted.
Go easy on yourself, life sure is a wild ride.
Want to read about how Jo’s deals with change? Read her post Strategies for coping with change.