When You Don’t See Any Light, Just the D*mn Tunnel..
Posted: January 5, 2022
Nothing about fighting cancer feels “normal” to begin with, but the constant vigilance those of us in the “high risk” category have maintained for the duration of the pandemic makes it feel like there’s no light at the end, just... more tunnel. How’s your mental health holding up, bud?
The collective trauma of the COVID-19 pandemic has been a total mindf*ck.
Ongoing isolation might make for great memes, but we could do without the mental health effects. The disruptions to treatments and tests combined with the feeling of impending doom that comes with running essential errands is a recipe for stress… on steroids! Add in the economic uncertainty and the strain that social distancing is putting on your relationships, and it’s no surprise if you’re on the edge of losing your sh*t.
Even the world’s best scientists can’t estimate when (or if) this pandemic will all be “over”. That’s unsettling, because humans are hardwired to crave security and control over our lives and our well-being. No number of passive-aggressive Facebook posts or direct pleas can make the “covidiots” heed public health guidance, and the virus itself can’t be reasoned with. We’re better off focusing our time and energy on what we can control: our self-care and mentality.
This (gestures wildly) is sticking around for the foreseeable future, so here are some tools to lean on when you feel stuck in the downward spiral.
Managing Your Mindset
When the only certainty is uncertainty, it’s easy to catastrophize. Besides assuming the worst, you might also find yourself micromanaging, procrastinating, or excessively seeking reassurance from others. None of these tendencies support your mental health, so how else can you cope?
Challenge your negative coping mechanisms by asking yourself questions. “What impact does this action actually have on the situation? Can it really prevent this thing I’m so scared of?” Questioning your uncertainty can help you see the ways fear-brain is interfering with your mindset, opening up your time and energy for more fulfilling activities.
It also helps to identify what’s specifically triggering your feelings of uncertainty. What’s made you the most tense today? Was your treatment plan adjusted? Maybe you saw some misinformation going viral on social media? When you are able to identify triggers, it’s easier to recognize the feeling of uncertainty, address it, and refocus your attention.
(Need an extra boost to get your mindset right? Try building your mind-body balance with a full deck of ideas from Inscape.)
If you find your mind often wanders to the worst, grounding techniques can help. Grounding is the simple act of distancing your distressing thoughts and feelings by returning to the present moment. There are at least 30 techniques to try.
Three of our favorite grounding techniques are:
Petting Puppies (or any animal companion)
This works best if you focus on the details. How does their fur or scales feel under your fingertips? Can you hear them purring or panting? Pay special attention to their weight in your lap or hand.
The 5-4-3-2-1 Method
To do this, you make use of each of your senses as you take note of your surroundings. You may begin by listing five details about what you see, followed by four noises you hear, and so on.. again, the more detail, the better.
Talking to Yourself
Outloud. Speak as if you’re comforting a friend. Some great phrases to start with are, “This is tough, but so are you,” and “I am trying my best, and that is enough.”
Reconnecting to Joy
You deserve it! You can’t be “on” all of the time. Believe it or not, shunning all forms of fun is not going to save the world from the pandemic.
With the sheer volume of stressors you’re facing, you may forget to have fun and slip into survival mode. Simply trying to “get through the day” easily becomes “get through the week”. Before you know it, weeks become months.
When was the last time that you really smiled, bud? It doesn’t have to be until your cheeks hurt. Try breaking your quarantine routine by doing something simply for the pleasure it brings. Love cooking? You could learn a new recipe from MasterClass. If fitness is your thing, treat yourself to new workout gear that brings out your inner bad*ss.
A lot of feelings are surfacing as we attempt to make sense of the losses, big and small, happening across the world: grief, anger, uncertainty, loneliness, etc. Many of us take one of two approaches to these: wallowing or denial. Getting lost in unpleasant emotions and losing sight of the good in the world often makes our outlook worse, yet we do it anyway. On the opposite end of the spectrum, some of us throw ourselves into new projects, abuse substances, or sleep the day away to avoid confronting emotional pain.
There’s a third option to consider though. We invite you to take the advice of Peter Crone, and “invite all feelings to your dinner party.” Accept them for what they are. Humans feel, even when it’s hard. We can’t avoid it. When we try to, we often end up suffering instead of healing. Recognizing that you feel a certain way and that it’s only natural can be surprisingly comforting.
There’s no shortcut through the social, physical, and emotional struggles of isolation. However, there is hope. By taking the best care of ourselves we can now, we can plant seeds for meaningful change in our lives post-pandemic.