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Helping yourself in times of change | Guest column

by Dwight T. Colley, PsyD

San Juan County Human Services Advisory Board Chair

The Washington State Department of Health is forecasting that there will be a significant increase in mental health issues in November. This forecast is based upon other disasters, and who can’t say this COVID-19 crisis is anything but a disaster in every sense of the word.

Winston Churchill said, “We should never let a crisis go to waste. We can come out better than we were before.” The current COVID-19 crisis has brought many changes. You might be working from home, supervising a child’s teleschool, caring for an at-risk-elder, or experiencing other major life changes. All this has likely left you feeling uneasy, overwhelmed, fearful; for who knows what is next. How can you better manage these changes?

The imperfect, unpredictable and often messy nature of change might frighten you. Given the real threat COVID-19 presents to your safety and health, it seems scarier than ever. While you cannot control the virus yourself, you can control the thoughts and feelings related to this fear.

Question: Why does change feel scary to begin with? It is because it tests your resilience and belief in your ability to overcome what may confront you. It challenges your perspective-taking and ability to see the positive; rather, you solely focus on the negative. It could also be that change pushes you to develop new skills rather than staying within your comfort zone. Change can open the door to unknown failures and unpredictable challenges.

You have no control over the COVID-19 virus itself, but you do have control over your sense of fear and the thoughts and feelings brought to the surface due to this challenge. What you need to do is flip the script. Instead of living in fear and worry, ask yourself “How can I use this chance to grow?”

How would growth impact your life experience?

1. The imperfect, unpredictable, and often messy nature of change would no longer be as scary or something to avoid altogether. Embrace the mess! Use it as an opportunity to approach daily activities differently. Look for the magic in the mess- Take more family walks, Face-time with extended family or try out the meditation app you heard about.

2. By not living in fear of change, you create time and space to prepare for change — mentally, emotionally and physically.

3. Fearing change creates a looming cloud that hangs over you. It makes you hyper-focused on the negative. Without this cloud of fear blocking your view, you could see the situation from a more balanced perspective. (Wouldn’t it be nice to experience joy, gratitude, interest, hope, serenity, or amusement right now instead of constantly looming fear?)

Three small changes you can incorporate into your day:

1. Wake up and breathe “positive” intention into your day:

Your intentions are the underlying aim which motivates everything you think, say or do. You would override the unintentional feelings and behaviors that often flood your day, e.g., frustration, impatience or anger.

Here’s how it works:

As soon as you wake up, take a few deep breathes in through your nose and out through your mouth and continue to notice your breath as you breath normally.

Set an intention for the day: “Today I will .”For example, “Today, I will be kind to myself, be present with my children.”

Revisit your intentions throughout the day and find ways to follow through.

2. Celebrate the small wins:

From the time you wake up in the morning (even before you consider your day to have officially started) acknowledge and celebrate the small victories; the special breakfast you made for the kids, your contribution to your video conference or the walk you took for a brain break. Your brain doesn’t know the difference between celebrating some huge award or just celebrating that you remembered to floss your teeth.

3. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude:

Don’t just write in a gratitude journal daily because Oprah said to. Approach your entire life with the intention of having an ATTITUDE of gratitude. Be more grateful each moment of your day. Gratitude changes how you see the world and creates a filter through which you experience more joy, happiness, and physical and emotional health!

Take care out there, the rest of us are depending on you.