These past few months have been trying. I’ve constantly been asking myself, “How are we supposed to continue functioning in such a broken world?” Almost every other country seems to have contained the pandemic in a way that Americans just can’t seem to fathom. And as we continue to fail in these efforts, we’re also recognizing a deeply flawed system which perpetuates institutional and internalized racism in the most horrific ways. In the midst of this chaos, many of us are stuck in our homes, apartments, or bedrooms, sitting in front of a computer all day for online class or work, and lacking the social connection that once filled our days with meaning and purpose. It’s enough to drive anyone down an existential rabbit hole. So, how do we keep going? How do we find purpose knowing the state that our world is in? While we may not be able to immediately change these circumstances, there are a few things within our control that we can do to cope with the chaos and keep a sense of purpose and excitement in our days.
Accept That What We Are Feeling Is Natural
We are all grieving. Grieving the loss of the life we once knew; grieving for, or with, those who have been impacted by the effects of decades of racism; and grieving the days where we could operate with a sense of security in the world. These days, our circumstances are constantly changing. It is only natural that this would cause overwhelming feelings of stress and anxiety. Accepting these emotions, however and whenever they come, is the first step to coping with them.
Be Intentional about Connecting with Others
A valuable part of any process of grieving is staying connected with people who remind you of what’s important. If you live with other people, watch a TV show or cook dinner together. Go on a walk with a friend. Ask others how they are; they might be able to relate to a lot of what you’re feeling and experiencing. Most importantly, don’t isolate yourself more than is necessary to keep you safe and healthy. Even when it’s tempting to stay in your room and watch Netflix, choose to catch up with someone instead.
Keep a Routine
Find a morning routine that works for you to get your day started and then stick to it. Make your bed and get dressed as soon as you wake up, so that you’re not tempted to cave and crawl back into bed. This is all too easy to do when you can wake up five minutes before your Zoom class and listen to a lecture while drinking coffee in your pajamas. By giving your day some purpose and treating it like a normal day, things will begin to feel a little more doable.
Get Creative with the Spaces in Your Living Arrangement
If you’re in a situation where you mostly have to stay in your house or apartment, or if you’re like me and would rather avoid having to wear a mask to do things like work out, assign different areas in your living space for different activities. Maybe you sit at your desk for class, workout on your balcony, and create art at your kitchen counter. Having designated spaces gives a sense of structure and intentionality to shifting between different activities in your day.
Do Something Every Day that Makes You Happy
If nothing else, make sure you fill your day with the things that keep you going. Pick up a painting hobby, so that you have something to look forward to everyday. Finish that book you’ve been trying to finish for ever, and celebrate the accomplishment. Brainstorm things that bring you genuine joy and make you want to get out of bed in the morning, and figure out how to incorporate those things into your day everyday.
I am the first one to admit how easy it is to withdraw from the world to avoid all of the unnerving realities that we never thought we would have to face. But pulling away from everything else will not fix the problems in the world. In time, the harrowing issues that face our nation will resolve. But for now, we only have control within ourselves. Give yourself permission to prioritize your mental health. Accept your emotions. Connect with others. Keep a routine. Get creative with your space. Do things that bring you joy. Most importantly, don’t forget that our circumstances are not forever. Better days are ahead. In the meantime, be kind to yourself.
September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. If you or someone you know is in crisis or experiencing thoughts of suicide, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255).