Jennifer Wilson

How are you?

I mean, really. How are you doing over there?

None of us could have anticipated this pandemic and the abrupt transformation of our lives as a result. And none of us would have pictured it continuing for all of 2020, but that’s exactly what it’s doing. Perhaps most disconcerting is that none of us knows when and how it will finally conclude or when we can create our new, post-COVID-19 way of living.

Surprise. Frustration. Uncertainty. Isolation. Anxiety.

Those are just some of the feelings that may have been, and may continue to be, coming up for you these days. If you’re not particularly in touch with your feelings, you may not have noticed them directly, but you may be finding that you’re eating, drinking or sleeping more, snapping at people, withdrawing or avoiding others, or any number of other unhealthy coping mechanisms we use to deal with upset and overwhelm.

Right now, I’m practicing every healthy coping strategy I know to self-manage during this pandemic. One of them is processing my ideas in writing, so I decided to write this blog to share my activities in the hopes that they are helpful to you. And, maybe you’ll write back and share some of yours with us, too. I think we can all use some new self-management techniques to try.

Here are some of my latest coping strategies:

  • Exercise! I’m rebuilding my longer-run stamina after a persistent hip injury. Being unable to run much in the early stages of the pandemic was not helpful. Thankfully, I think I’m finally past that. So, tomorrow, I’ll run 8 hilly miles, bringing this week’s mileage to 18. I’ve signed up to run three races in the next month where the organizers seem to understand social distance, but I’ll admit I’m fearful that I’ll get to the races and feel cramped and at risk. If I do, I won’t run and I’ll leave, disappointed. That’s another coping mechanism I’m employing – exercising my right to say NO to things that don’t feel safe.

I’m also practicing yoga and hiking once or twice a week and throwing in some at-home cross-fit exercises, like planks, push-ups, tri dips, burpees and squats, along the way. Exhausting my inner dialogue through daily exercise and producing feel-good workout hormones helps me feel more positive and hopeful that I did before exercising. And, when I can exercise with my run girls, my yogi, Melanie, my niece, and my husband – even if via Zoom — I gain the valuable social benefits that are hard to come by during this time of distance and isolation.

What are you doing for exercise?

  • Meditation. I wanted to meditate before the pandemic, but never made the time. Once COVID-19 hit and we experienced the immediate cancellation or postponement of so many in-person spring events, I knew it was time to meditate. And, I thought our team could benefit, too. So, we started an optional, weekly team meditation on Zoom, using the upgraded Calm app to guide us. WOW! What a blessing! Before I meditate, I have monkey brain, with tons of different ideas, to-dos, and random thoughts jumping around in my head. The process of focusing on my breath in meditation acts as a “brain cleaner,” mopping up my jumping-bean thoughts and wiping my brain clean, so I can choose what to think about and focus on instead. Meditation is a habit I will continue after this pandemic.

How do you feel about the idea of meditation?

  • Prayer. A week ago, my youngest daughter started her junior year of high school, so every day she’s walking into a school with her mask on and I’m praying for her safety. We moved my middle daughter into her college apartment and drove away last Sunday. While a lot of her classes are online, her labs are all in-person and I’m sure there is the pull of parties and other social activities each day. When my mind goes to fearful “what if’s,” I try to shift immediately to a prayer for their safety and good judgment instead. When I worry that science isn’t moving fast enough, I pray for the scientists, doctors, nurses and others involved fighting the virus. When I fear that my parents will be infected, I pray to God to keep them safe. Shifting my worries to prayers frames them in the positive – instead of helpless concerns, they become calls to action – and by praying, I petition the almighty power of my Maker to take my burden and work His miracles. I don’t know where I’d be without my faith and the ability to ask for help.

Where are you with prayer?

  • Practicing Gratitude. Many years back, I was encouraged to start a gratitude practice, focusing each day on three things I am grateful for. They can be big or small. Ideally, you write them down or say them aloud, where the expression makes them more real for you. In this pandemic, there has been unbelievable tragedy and loss. But there have also been so many silver linings. I’ve had so much more family time because I’m home for 20+ weeks – the longest stretch of my adult life. I’ve seen everything I ever planted in the 20 years bloom this year for the first time. I’ve had a ton of one-on-one time with my best friend and husband, Brian. I’ve had more time to invest in my friendships locally. My gardens have never been better. Blessings amid chaos. Looking for them and expressing them keeps me positive.

What blessings have you received during this strange time?

  • Organizing. I’m trying to take on “small corner” organization projects each week. My husband and I cleaned our garage one corner at a time over a few weekends. And we’re talking CLEAN – shop vac, wiping down shelves, etc. For the most part, I don’t try to wrangle others into my organizing projects. Instead, I usually commit to something small and reasonable that I can complete on my own so it doesn’t overwhelm me or others. Other examples of “small corner” organization could include cleaning out a junk drawer, organizing a daughter’s closet (with her help, of course), organizing my gardening supplies or cleaning out our cars. By putting something “in order” it helps me cope with the lack of control we all feel right now with the virus. I can control the organization of my pantry – at least for a short time – and it makes me feel better.

What have you organized or made better with the pandemic?

  • Pursuing Outdoor Hobbies. I’ve been gardening like mad, enjoying my time at home where I am here to pick each weed, water daily and enjoy the blooms and veggies. I missed a lot of that during my spring and summer busy season travel. I’ve enjoyed the peace of paddle boarding – but want to do more. I’ve loved sitting on my deck in the evenings; we installed a TV there this spring, which has brought us much enjoyment. As fall and winter approach, I am planning my winter activities. Outdoor running and hiking. I’m going to try snow shoeing and cross-country skiing. Communing with nature and doing things that are still distant and safe make my life feel more normal during this pandemic.

What are you doing outside? How are your hobbies coming along?

  • Vegging out. Growing up, my mother would encourage the occasional “NO” day, where you say no to any commitments and just rest. Sometimes, the best coping mechanism is to do nothing or at least very little. Lay in bed or in the sun (while it’s still warm enough!). Read a book. Play an online game. Stream a TV show or movie. My husband and I have been catching up on old shows that we’ve heard others talk about, but never made time for. My favorite so far has been Homeland, a show that many people apparently caught in 2007. We have one more season left, and it’s been mostly fast-paced and interesting. We watched the movie Palm Springs with our girls recently and it was fun.

What are you doing in your down time? What are you streaming or watching that you’d recommend?

  • Sharing. As an extrovert, I process problems verbally – whether out of my mouth or from my fingertips. I need to give my thoughts expression. So, writing to you helps. Sharing my thoughts, concerns and feelings with others and being a place that they can share theirs helps, too. Especially when we encourage each other to be hopeful, grateful, or just clear our fears by saying them and letting them go. In the past, I journaled more, and I committed last Friday to begin that process again. This week, I chose my journal and I’m going to set up pages with these prompts: “I’m afraid that…”, “I’m grateful that….”, “I pray that…”, “I am hopeful that…”, “I need to…”, and when I have certain thoughts, I’ll deposit them in my journal. This will allow me to stop running them in my head – I’ve already captured them for later consideration – and it will give me an opportunity to review my thoughts to find common themes or see where I can get into action.

Where do you process your thoughts? What do you think of the idea of journaling?

Even with these coping strategies, I still experience overwhelm, fear of the unknown related to the virus and the economy and have negative thoughts creep up on me.  Because, like you, I am human. Yet, it is helpful knowing that I can choose to practice different strategies to elevate my thinking to faithful, grateful, hopeful and positive.

What are your coping strategies? Please write back and share your ideas! I’m interested!

Gratefully,