Thriving in the Time of the Pandemic (with apologies to Gabriel Garcia Marquez)

Is it wrong to be thriving in a pandemic? It is morally wrong to find pleasure or joy when others are hurting? Is it possible to encourage our kids to be happy and care-free in a world full of illness and death? I say not only is it NOT wrong to thrive and be happy during this difficult time, it is truly necessary, now more than ever – as long as that joy and happiness doesn’t come at the expense of others.

There are people in this world who are naturally optimistic, light, happy and grateful. We call them optimists, and our emotional reaction at meeting people like that ranges from jealousy (what are they on and can I have some of that?) to anger (don’t they know how bad things are?) to derision (they are simple minded and stupid). And then there are people who need to work daily on their optimism and gratitude, and they find that things go so much smoother when they engage in this sometimes difficult work daily. I fall squarely in the second camp – while others, including my loved ones, see lightness and optimism, I know that the daily work of keeping up the positive energy for myself, my family and my patients, is hard and unrelenting. When this daily work becomes a daily grind, I encourage myself by saying – “what good am I to anyone if I am just another one of the wounded”? “What good am I to anyone if I am just as scared, just as tired, and just as dejected as everyone else”? 

So, here are some true and tried tips to thrive in the time of the pandemic – and how to help your kids do the same. 

1. Limit your exposure to media or all kinds. 

This is generally my advice to my anxious patients, but guess what? – we are all anxious right now. Find a time to engage with media, including social media, and LEAVE IT ALONE the rest of the day. How does it help you here and now to see the latest numbers of death or the news from China? How does it help you here and now to read posts from traumatized first responders and grieving family members? Please understand, I am not advising ignorance or callousness, I am advising BOUNDARIES. It will not help you in any way to be constantly awash in negative emotion over things you have no control over. Actually, it will lower your mood and motivation to act on things that you DO have control over. 

2. Lower your expectations.

My dog is super shaggy, my younger daughter is in her pj’s (it’s noon), and I have had all the intentions to finish washing my windows for like three weeks now. Might happen today, might not. I have a special program I implement with my perfectionistic clients that works really well in this scenario – pick one area of your life where you will be uncompromising and where nothing less of perfection will suffice. LET the rest GO! Clearly, my daughter’s sartorial choices are not my priority. What is? Maintaining a positive happy vibe in the house so when all of this is over (and it will be), my kids and I have good memories and positive growth. What is your priority? There are no wrong answers here, except for one: “everything”. If you are a medical professional, make doing your job well with minimum trauma to yourself your priority. Let your kids’ schooling go. If you are a stay at home parent, keep your kids happy and healthy, forget your Pinterest password and forget mommy wars. If you are a young person just starting your career in the middle of the pandemic, take the first job offered to you, don’t worry about doing the right thing for your career – for right now. 

   3. Get the most sleep you need and get the highest quality and quality nutrition you can afford. 

   4. Develop and stick to a schedule, even if you don’t “need” a schedule, because everyone NEEDS a schedule. 
   5. Be sure to indulge in self care daily – but only in things that work for you. Again, there are no wrong answers here, with the exceptions of behaviors that are obviously damaging (drugs, excessive drinking etc.). Do what you NEED to do to feel a little better –         exercise, time outdoors, naps, quality time with friends and pets, gardening, other hobbies – whatever works for you! At the same time, give yourself permission to put down or diminish behavior that is increasing your stress, such as excessive interactions with difficult or anxious people, keeping things extra-clean or organized, feeling like a “cruise director” who has to keep everyone entertained 24/7. 

What are some of the ways that you help you thrive in a difficult time? Please share your tips or experiences below.

Natasha Kendal, Ph.D., L.M.F.T. ©2021