We are always living with the unknown. But during COVID-19, that unknown has been magnified. We try to get a handle on information to make informed decisions that affect us and our families and friends in the midst of news cycles and people’s behaviors that are like shifting sands. Additionally, we encounter others’ expectations of us -whether family, friends, co-workers, or strangers – that make us feel pressured or uncomfortable.
So what do we do?
Each of us has our own levels of comfort which, admittedly, will change due to time or circumstance. Perhaps in the early days of COVID-19, you would not have ventured into a store to buy food. But now, you feel more comfortable shopping at a certain time, wearing a mask, face shield, and gloves. Whatever changed in your life allows you to do something now that you were not able to do before.
As we anticipate re-openings and re-engagement with others in the coming months – whether in housing, healthcare, school, or employment – we may be aware of an ever-present, underlying uneasiness that manifests as fear, anger, confusion, sadness, fatigue, loneliness, depression, or anxiety. Even those who usually cope well with change or adversity may experience a range of emotions. It’s vital that we develop an awareness of and a game plan for how we deal with these emotions.
Being active and socially engaged is important. Equally important is listening to what WE ourselves need during these times. What contributes to our comfort and discomfort? Only we can answer that so we need to ask ourselves the question. When people ask us to join them at an outdoor restaurant, we need to assess how okay we are to meet in that setting. There may be a lot of pressure to join but we may worry about the servers, the preparation of the food, proper social distancing, etc. If we are really honest, we may rather bring our own sandwich and sit with our friend on a blanket in a park. If someone asks us to come to their home for dinner and we know they have had a lot of guests visiting we need to be able to say that we are not comfortable. As much as we want to socialize, the risk may be greater than the reward. Even if our friend does not agree with our decision, we need to listen to ourselves.
Recently, two new moms shared similar stories with me. Both have been very careful about exposure and in each case one set of grandparents has been very careful in anticipation of the baby’s arrival. The other set of grandparents has been entertaining friends and going out and neither of these new moms feels safe in their presence. It helps to clarify what each needs and then express what it would take for a successful visit.
Now is a good time to define the rules that work for us. We may have a need to pray in a house of worship but are unwilling to enter a space with strangers who are not distanced from each other or who take off their masks when inside the sacred space. Another important aspect of feeling okay about defining what works for us is accepting that we do not need to explain or defend our decisions. We do not need to share our personal reasons, medical or otherwise, in order to do what we need to do for our own comfort.
Step 1: Define our values. What are our core values as we navigate activities today and tomorrow, next week, next month? These are values that will not be compromised, no matter the consequences.
Step 2: Analyze every choice we make. No matter what, we make the right choice for ourselves. Take some quiet time to arrive at our choices in any given situation, and ask ourselves this question: “If I make this choice, will I feel OK with myself afterwards?” It is vital to listen to our own voice as we answer these questions.
Step 3: Encourage others to discover what works for them and to honor what works for others, without judgement. We can practice this so that those we care about see that we will not be pressured into doing that which feels wrong, and in that way model for others how to develop self-confidence, and take responsibility for our actions, while listening to our inner voice.