This is a new world we are existing in right now.
As an educator, counsellor, and parent, nothing about living day-to-day in a pandemic feels normal, nor is anything that I’m feeling, or thinking, or doing. My daily routines are being put to the test and I’m regularly feeling overwhelmed, discouraged, and unmotivated. But then I also have moments of gratitude, joy, and calm.
ALL of this is okay.
I have come to terms with this back-and-forth feeling and thinking through what I call the “pandemic pendulum.” Like a pendulum swinging back and forth, I’m never sure which side I need to be on and never quite sure what to feel, what to think, what to do, and how to proceed. This is exactly how I feel.
My feelings, my thoughts, and even my motivation seem to be swinging back and forth. I’m joyful and hopeful then so quickly feeling impending doom. I’m thinking about planning classes and have ideas about growing my mindful self-compassion community, and then I’m also just wanting to curl up in a ball and watch Netflix.
I want to give and then I want to do nothing at all – swinging, just like a pendulum.
Are you feeling this way, too? I’m beginning to believe that it’s completely normal to feel like this right now.
Some of the significant feelings I’ve been having lately are worry and grief. My brain goes to worst-case scenarios and I start to worry: What if we don’t go back to school for months on end? What if my kids don’t continue to build healthy relationships with their friends? What if my students aren’t learning what they need to learn? What happens if I get sick and I can’t help those who need me?
I spiral so quickly sometimes.
The good news, however, is that I have the skills and practices to manage my spectrum of reactions.
When I go to these scary worse-case scenarios, I support myself by practicing a self-compassion break with three key components that slow down my pendulum of thoughts, feelings, and suffering:
1. Mindfulness. I recognize and name the feelings that I’m experiencing: fear, overwhelm, anger, etc. Doing this means practicing mindfulness, where I acknowledge for myself that “This is a moment of overwhelm.”
2. Common humanity. I remember that so many of us are going through this together and this helps me to not feel so alone. I remind myself that “I know I’m not alone in these feelings – other people have them, too, right now.”
3. Self-kindness. Lastly, I offer myself messages of kindness and love, or practice some form of gratitude. I offer myself the message: “May I be gentle with myself during these difficult times.”
I’m also feeling a lot of grief. There is a collective sentiment of loss in our world for all the things we are missing out on like hugs from our colleagues and students, laughter in our classrooms, school events like graduation, and many more. This huge loss feels heavy for many of us.
My grief, however, is circular and not linear – one moment I’m angry, then sad, then bargaining, and then accepting. It goes round and round and back-and-forth. The pandemic pendulum strikes again.
I’ve found that the most powerful thing I can do is just allow whatever feeling is there to emerge and to just let it “be” in the moment. By being present with whatever difficult feeling I’m having and softening into it with some tenderness, it begins to dissipate on its own.
So, if you’re like me and are also feeling much worry and grief, then how do we cultivate some resilience and strength during these difficult times? And how do we make the practice of cultivating resilience feel easy and not like yet another thing for our already overwhelmed educators to do?
Self-care practices are strongly associated with building emotional resilience – the ability to bounce back or react appropriately when life gets tough. These practices have never been more relevant in this world. As educators, it’s essential that we fill up our own cup first to be able to care for those around us.
No self-care practice is going to be the same for everyone. However, the following practices are all core pieces that will allow you to build up your resiliency in your own way.
HERE ARE A FEW OF MY “CS” OF STRENGTHENING RESILIENCY:
1. Be courageous. Have the courage to slow down, ask for what you need, and be brave enough to know when you’re not okay. This is all about giving ourselves permission to prioritize our own well-being. Think about what it is that you really need right now and don’t be afraid to ask for it.
2. Build community. We can’t do it alone – so let’s learn to ask for help and grow our community. There has never been a time when the idea of common humanity has resonated so much. You may be “socially distancing” but you can also be “distance socializing,” so find a way to connect.
3. Cultivate care. Get down to the task of cultivating the care you need. What are the components of well-being that you need to attend to? Do you need more exercise? Should you eat something healthy? Do you need to call a friend? Is it time for a meditation practice? Do you need to improve your sleep habits? This is the time to truly care for your personal well-being.
4. Have compassion. Lastly, let’s hold all of this – the world, our students, our colleagues and, most of all, ourselves, in compassion. Find ways to offer yourself kind and tender words.
So, what do we do about all that comes with these difficult and challenging times? Well, nothing. We let it ride.
We allow ourselves to feel whatever we’re feeling.
We recognize that this is a time of pandemic pendulum and know that we aren’t alone in it all.
We meet our moments of joy, inspiration, and motivation with gratitude, and we meet our suffering, our worry and our grief with compassion, kindness, and love.
Because in the end, worry and grief can exist alongside love all on the same pendulum.