“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” to quote Dickens. Nothing like a national emergency to help us sort the wheat from the chaff within our lives.
Times of trial bring opportunities for new reflections on our lives. For years, people have been living “busy” lives. Now, many people have been brought face-to-face with the reality of what the effects of their lifestyle priorities have produced, and some of the “best” include:
• Volunteers using their time, talent, and materials to make protective equipment for first responders and healthcare workers. (As a recipient, let me say thank you!)
• Researchers posting tasty recipes from 1930-depression-era cookbooks that require minimal ingredients.
• Family members exercising, dusting off and teaching the kids board games, defining and working on home projects, schooling, or just talking TOGETHER.
• Young people helping older folks with shopping, yard work, errands, and even pitching in from their own pockets when seniors come up short in paying at the grocery store.
• First responders and medical professionals with limited resources and an unknown enemy, swallowing their fear and finding their strength to attend the sick and dying.
• Truckers, grocers, utility workers, local government employees, waste disposal workers, order pickers shippers, and all the others who work to keep us fed and our households running because of their integrity and work ethic.
Most of us have not experienced loss from a distance, empty store shelves, empty wallets or stay-at-home orders. If you experience worsening depression, anxiety, substance use, hunger, suicidal thoughts or are a victim of abuse, please contact one of the national organizations for referral to resources local to your area.
- For Emergencies 911
- National Suicide Prevention Line 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- Disaster Distress Helpline 1-800-985-5990
- Boys Town for kids, teens, and parents 1-800-448-3000
- Veterans’ Crisis Line 1-800 273-8255
- Boys Town for kids, teens, and parents 1-800-448-3000
- National Alliance on Mental Illness 800-950-NAMI(6264)Nami.org
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
- National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) 1-800-787-3224 (TTY for the Deaf)
- Feeding America FeedingAmerica.org
On the flip side, change may also reveal the negatives in our lives. Sometimes these are things that we may not have even noticed creeping in because there is a comfort and security with “routine.” While stress can bring out the good, it can also lead us to acknowledge dissatisfaction with the realities in our lives. Recent examples include:
• Parents report they don’t like their kids.
• Numbers of runaways are increasing. While some are due to domestic violence, many do so because they are mad, bored, or just want to see their friends.
• Some are complaining about anything and everything, although they still have a home, loved ones, a job, food, toilet paper, and other creature comforts
• Over consumption of processed food has led to weight gain and worsening diabetes and hypertension in others. Despite having time to cook, they chose this path because cooking is “hard and boring.”
• Many are reporting tales of incessant social media, Netflix binges, and 24-7 news programs (much of which is designed to arouse negative emotions) leading to lack of time to accomplish anything meaningful.
So, as with any challenge, there is also opportunity. As people are reporting feeling unmoored during this time, they believe there is nothing they can do to help themselves. This is far from the truth. Now is the time you can step up to the challenge and reclaim your life. This is not a time to become self-critical, but to become insightful. As humans, we make mistakes. Sometimes by choice, sometimes based on poor information, and sometimes because of what has been modeled for us as the “right” way. Don’t waste time on fault, and put aside blame and guilt. Instead, put your energy into evaluation and change.
To start, ask yourself what has been important in your life that has been stripped away or changed? What do you or did you like to spend your time on? Did it help or harm your health/relationships? Flesh out your responses with the five Ws—who, what, where, when, why, and don’t forget “how.” Some starting-point examples might be:
• If you don’t like your children or your teen won’t stay home, who has been assuming the responsibility to raise them?
• What can’t or won’t you face at home that requires you to consistently want to escape?
• Where did your practice of disparaging others or blanketly excusing others come from?
• Why don’t you want to learn to cook?
• When did watching media become more important to you than a hobby, learning something new, interacting with family, etc.?
The common denominator here is EFFORT. Over the years, we have all brought “so” into our lives to justify our decisions. We wear it as a badge—I’m so busy, so tired, so discouraged, so important, so overextended, so indispensable, etc. No wonder there’s no time or energy for a mundane chore like, for example, cooking. (By the way, these folks likely eat many of their meals out and otherwise fill in with processed foods; eventually their health will reflect these poor choices.)
So, what about you? Now that some of the busy-ness has been stripped away from your days, take the time to reevaluate what needs to come back. Do you want to maintain the status quo with the possibility of chronic disease and chronic medication, or do you want to take this time to build a healthy infrastructure to your days and improve your physical and mental health along with your relationships?
Healthy relationships positively impact your health. Stress hormones increase your risk for several chronic diseases. If your relationship with your children is stressful, think about why. Have you unknowingly allowed teachers, coaches, music instructors, daycare workers, and others to usurp you as the parent? How can you better engage with your family and get to know each other as individuals?
Couples in supportive relationships have better health outcomes. Has this time together brought you closer to your significant other? Sometimes we use busy-ness to avoid looking at how things really are. Do you have a contentious relationship which has been ignored? Have you settled into a routine with very little support or interaction? Are you ready to make some decisions about how you want the relationship to move forward?
Helping others increases positive brain chemicals. Why do you find it hard to stay home? If you are a natural extrovert who thrives on interaction, try phone or video chat to check on others that may not have family available. What about a volunteer organization or even getting to know a neighbor who may need you to run an errand? Let’s put your strength as an extrovert to work and boost those brain chemicals.
Tidy environments reduce stress and improve sleep. Is your home or yard so out of control you don’t know where to start? Start with admitting there is a problem with where to begin. Maybe a peek at a website or a call to someone whose home/yard you admire can provide suggestions and motivation. But if push comes to shove, just pick up that sock and into the hamper it goes. Make the bed. Then fold that basket of clothes and put them away. Next, pull all those clothes off the pseudo clothes rack (i.e., exercise bike) and get them sorted and into the washing machine. One task at a time will lead to a much tidier room, and tidier rooms lead to a tidier home.
Reducing negative exposure reduces overall depression and anxiety. Limit news watching to no more than 30 minutes twice a day. Too much bad news increases your stress hormones driving up blood pressure and blood sugar. Counteract negative thoughts by recording a daily gratitude list and spend an equal amount of time (i.e, one hour) enjoying hobbies, music, etc.
Picking up a new healthy habit can reduce or prevent chronic diseases. Binge watching and eating junk food can result in weight gain and chronic diseases not limited to those of the brain like dementia or addiction. Let’s look at some healthy habits you can establish over time which support the brain or reduce the progression of debilitating disease.
• Get plenty of sleep; it builds neurons and restores the body.
• Learn to cook healthy meals; they contain the body’s building blocks which originate in unprocessed foods.
• Get moving. No need to join a gym; a 30-minute walk after a meal can decrease blood sugars and improve mood and sleep.
• Learn something new through a self-improvement program that teaches you to play an instrument, master a new language, explore your genealogy, pursue a new hobby or learn new skills related to an old one. You will be helping your body to build neurons, reducing stress, and maybe making new friends.
While none of us has asked for this challenge, let’s try to use it advantageously. It is an opportunity, so let’s come out of it on the other side better and brighter and filled with the hope of the “best of times.”