Summer 2020 has arrived, and many of us find ourselves longing for events that we normally look forward to in this season. The pandemic has been going on for months now. We are all wondering when life will return to normal, and what our new normal will look like.
It sometimes feels as if our social lives have been brought to a halt. The Planet Bluegrass concert series has been canceled, the library remains closed for in-person activities, regular children summer camps are not in session, and senior activities in town are still on hold. Although some restaurants in town have opened for inside dining, folks are confused and anxious about how safe it is to be around others.
Without normal social events and benchmarks of the season, it is easy to feel sad and disoriented. The fatigue of adapting to social distancing, trying to stay positive, and the feeling that there is not much to look forward to can lead to depression, irritation, and anxiety. We simply are not wired as human beings to live with prolonged uncertainty and social restraints. Some have described this summer as an “endless today, never tomorrow,” and feeling as if “there is no light at the end of the tunnel.”
The good news is that all of these feelings are completely normal. So, how do we get through these uncomfortable emotions, especially in the summertime? It is important to revisit the basics of mental wellbeing and take positive steps to encourage yourself.
First, acknowledge what you are feeling. It’s okay to feel anxious or depressed. It is natural to mourn the loss of events that you were anticipating. If you can, give your feelings a name. Take time to recognize the feelings, experience them, and remember that emotions are not forever and they will change. Also remember that your emotions are only one part of your being, even when they feel overwhelming.
Then, give yourself some space. This can be as simple as breathing, doing a brief physical exercise, or distracting yourself with a funny video online. Laughter is one of the best medicines.
Next, make an intentional choice to act in a way that is healthy for you. There are many ways to do this, and it is beneficial to consider what works for you.
One example is spending time in nature (safely apart from others), or venturing out somewhere that is different from your normal surroundings. Changing our environment can be really important right now. Consider any outside trip a “mini-vacation.” Plan some time away from family in a fresh setting. You don’t have to live in fear of exposure to the virus by going to a nearby town or the national parks, as long as you practice social distancing and wear a mask if needed. In Lyons, you can do the river walk or visit the labyrinth, or spend time studying the intricacies of the Clarifier tile artwork. If you plan a summer getaway, research ways to make your trip a safe experience (taking a car ride, or staying in a remote area with nature activities, for example).
Another is the simple, but uplifting act of emotional connection. Reach out to a friend or trusted colleague and get your feelings out. You may find yourself developing deeper, more intimate relationships with longtime friends. You may find that you are not alone in what you are feeling. You can also call a therapist. Talking to a trusted confidant who has your best interests at heart is always a good idea for receiving fresh perspectives. Online counseling is more readily available today, and the Lyons Emergency Assistance Fund (LEAF) in town offers counseling service consultations.
Honor your immune system and get some good chemicals flowing in your body by exercising or taking short walks. Keep moving. Eat healthily. Treat sleep seriously by keeping a schedule and maintaining healthy sleep rituals (no electronics before bed, for example). Keep in mind the mind-body-spirit connection. When you alter one part of that connection in a positive way, the others follow suit.
Find an activity that helps others. One reason for stress right now is the struggle to keep human connection going. In addition to respecting the safety of others, find a way that enables you to volunteer or do something that helps your neighbors. No matter how small the deed, your service will not only help someone else, but add meaning to your life and increase your own feelings of self-worth.
Finally, reward yourself for identifying your emotions, putting space between your emotions and actions, and acting in a purposeful, healthy way. It takes time and persistence to change your emotional perspective. But when you live with intention and take small steps toward healthy living, you become more in control and positive changes will follow.
It is extremely important to know that although most people are feeling stressed right now, not all mental health concerns can be mitigated with positive thinking or emotional regulation strategies. If you or someone you know needs help, know that you are not alone, and mental health services are available. Please see LEAF’s website, leaflyons.org, or email email@example.com for completely confidential conversations about resources and counseling services.
Each Thursday at 3 p.m., LEAF offers a 45 minute to 1 hour Community Zoom meeting, where neighbors get together, share concerns and resources, laugh, and give each other encouragement. There is a theme each week, including positive thinking, building resilience, self-care techniques, and maintaining hope. Write me to get the link to join the session at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our lives will not be in upheaval forever, and we can look forward to finding security and renewed wellbeing in our new normal. Have a safe and meaningful summer, and keep your chin up. We are all in this together.
Cherie Maureaux has a Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling with specializations in trauma and addictions counseling. She is the program director for LEAF’s Mental Wellness & Addiction Recovery program, and provides therapy services through LEAF.