Growth from Shelter

Take back your power. Use curiosity to battle anxiety and discomfort. 

One of the most frustrating parts of the current COVID-19 is continuous unknowns. We can’t know what the future looks like because there is so much we still don’t understand. We don’t know when there will be a vaccine or when we can return to a “normal” life. We aren’t clear how many more people will be affected, and we can’t identify who is a carrier, which makes it extremely difficult to predict the course. For two months, we’ve been trying to grab a cloud of invisible smoke.  

At times, unknowns make life feel uncertain. Too much uncertainty leaves us feeling fearful and anxious. When life feels eerily unsettled, we can adapt by focusing on what feels predictable. For example, you may not know when you can see your friends in person again, but you can predict that you’ll put on real pants tomorrow. While in a place of uncertainty, we have the predictable and monotonous routine of staying indoors. The shadow side of this predictability leaves us unstimulated and bored. We’re consistently unsatisfied. 

Almost two months of a lot of sameness, time feels disorienting. If you’re unemployed or working from home, days start to bleed into one another. Without a change of scenery, every day begins to feel the same. Sunday can look just like Thursday. There’s only so much Netflix, home projects, and walks around the block you can relish in. “Groundhog Day” unites us together, at once both validating and frustrating. We may start feeling increasingly frustrated or irritable. 

Photo by Edwin Hooper on Unsplash

Without school, the calendar year doesn’t allow families and kids to track progress and fantasize about the promise of summer plans. Without a defined end in sight, we only have a murkiness of our hope and more unanswered questions. 

Perhaps you’re safe enough now, but still worried and confused about the future. The rumbling of frustration and itch to get back to life stirs us up. We may protest, rebel, or search for more clues about the future. 

In the northern hemisphere, spring is creeping out from just beyond our windows; the sun beckons us to come out and play. The seasons change, the natural world is birthing life in spring. Mother nature mocks us with her moving forward. 

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

As humans, we reach our mental limits. We’ve had about just enough of the people inside the same walls. We crave newness or change. We want what used to feel normal; We want to return to “life.” We want to move with the seasons. 

Stuck inside our homes, and inside our minds, we search for reassurance. Old familiarity feels like water to our dehydrated minds. We reminisce about before and fantasize about the future. We’ll do just about anything except sit still. We resist the time of stagnation; we don’t want to hold steady, and as a result, we miss the opportunity inside of it.  

If you can meet your basic needs, and there isn’t an immediate danger to your health, there is a privilege in hunkering down and sheltering at home. We can take this pause on life seriously, and use it to our advantage. There are many benefits to time out. Our earth is healing, while the majority of humans take time out. Climate change and slowed: the earth repaired its most massive ozone layer hole. Let us each take the opportunity to heal something in our world.

When life squeezes in an unfamiliar way, grab a microscope. Instead of letting our frustration get the better of us, use this opportunity to reflect and consider what needs updating. What can you actively work to heal personally? If you are healthy and safe and your biggest concern is boredom, and a longing to return to life, use this time out to reflect. 

Inside your home, have an inner conversation; Get radically honest with yourself. 

What parts of your life could be improved? What part of the structure of our society needs to change? How will you step into that role after COVID-19? While you’re sitting through the pandemic, where can you take more responsibility for yourself and the direction of your life? 

Where would you like to redistribute your energy? Has this time helped you organize your perspective and priorities? 

Maybe you had more time for home cooking, and you realized you enjoyed it. You might have been surprised that baking bread isn’t that hard, after all. 

Maybe you ended up buying less, and feel better about reducing waste and finally have some money in the bank! 

Off the grind of day-to-day, perhaps you met neighbors, and now you feel a better sense of community. 

Maybe you realized that some things you could go without, and other things were quite essential for your mental health. Or perhaps you noticed you take a lot of your anger out on your partner or kids. Or possibly you see that when you’re bored, you like to check out and binge on food and social media.

Under stress, we feel emotionally squeezed, and many things long-buried away rise to the surface for our review. Instead of focusing on the worries about the struggles, get curious about the message inside.

Amid the chaos of the crisis, we have an opportunity to see the insecurity of our individual and collective foundation. In those moments of confusion and emotional difficulty about still being stuck at home, with life on pause, use this time to your benefit. Deepen your insight, notice your insecurities, and identify where you may need to adjust your agreements. 

Post-COVID-19, whatever the world looks like, how might you like your life to be different? As David Hollis writes, “In a rush to return to normalcy, consider what’s worth going back to.” Use this time out to consider how YOU would like to show up in your world. 

In the seasons changing, mother earth reassures us that while we’re feeling confused and troubled about the direction forward, life continues. Our outside lives will resume one day, and it will look different than it did before. Let’s not be startled by the unknowns of this crisis- let us try and understand the opportunity inside of it. Consider the privilege- the gift- the potential opening inside this time out. We can use it to reorganize our world and ourselves and consider how we’d like to progress it. 

The Space to Be

How do you use your space? Do you give yourself any? 

Reading the news leaves us with daily bombardments with messages of what else we need to do more of: “More exercise! More vegetables! More self-care! More civic engagement! Floss more!” Paradoxically, we get a similar message of what we need to less of: “Eat less [sugar/fat/gluten]! Use less plastic!” Drive less, sit less, use fewer chemicals, and by the way, make sure you don’t worry so much. It’s hard not to get lost in the space between more and less of how we should be living our lives. 

Humans are more depressed, anxious, and unhealthy than ever before. Despite our beliefs that we’re making progress in many areas like technology, our over-consumption and busyness leave little room for space, silence, and rest, which likely contributes to our decrease in well-being. 

In our current society, with so much emphasis on connecting, consuming, and producing, we often have little room to be. With so much external pressure to be “doing,” we’ve begun to equate doing with “living.” Alternatively, we may label making time for non-doing as indulgent, selfish, or lazy. We may even fear space between all the doings, and become unknowingly addicted to doing so much that we avoid not-doing things: we create, we play, we give, we connect! We sidestep silence and space between all the doings.  

Consuming can be thought of as any form of taking in: (eating, reading/learning, watching tv, listening to others, scrolling social media.) Producing is a form of putting out (presenting, teaching, speaking, creating, providing for others.) An unbalance in either without space between the two often leads to instability in a person’s overall wellbeing, and often leading to anxiety, depression, relationship problems, low self-worth, compulsions, and addiction. 

For example, an unemployed person, who lacks a fulfilling opportunity to produce, may turn towards extra consumption: eating more food, watching excessive tv, or playing voyeur on social (and comparing one’s life against others who seemingly have it better.) Too much of this imbalance can result in feelings of depression.

New parents and caregivers of all types often a heavy hand in producing for their dependents, which leads to burnout, drain, depression, poor health, and relationship stress. It’s probably easy for you to identify someone in your life who fits this description: they appear as very caring, thoughtful, and reliable to others. Commonly, caregivers fall into the guilt trap that they are not “doing enough” and try to overcompensate by giving more, with little time to consume or have space for themselves. 

Our current generation of students can feel overwhelmed with the pressures to absorb information as well as produce good marks to keep their academic life afloat and yield good grades. This cycle can repeat itself after one lands a job: Start-up culture is notorious for the competition of who is giving of themselves more, so as not to be outdone by another co-worker.  

Sometimes we consume and produce to avoid that which is unknown to us. Those who identify as a people-pleaser and a caretaker for others might ask themselves what they might be doing if you weren’t so busy focusing on others? We can get so busy taking care of others that we forget about and neglect ourselves.

How many days of the week do you consciously make sure that you have nothing planned? How many hours in a day? If your schedule allows you a lot of unscheduled time, how often do you fill that with something either productive? In what ways do you fill in the gaps in your life? 

We are often uncomfortable in the spaces between consuming and producing. Next time you notice yourself in a conversation where silence appears, see what happens for you. We pick up our phones, might laugh anxiously, ask another question, feel all sorts of awkwardness, or find a reason to exit the situation. Space can feel scary. Anything can contact unnerving when you are not used to it. 

When you allow yourself space that is neither consuming nor producing, over time, you can consciously increase your awareness through noticing, reflecting, and beginning to understand yourself much more. 

Please make no mistake: this will not always be comfortable, nor luxurious; often, it will allow uncomfortable feelings of loneliness, grief, anger, and fear to surface. However, in allowing these thoughts, sensations, and emotions to surface, you have an opportunity to give them space, and attention so that they may release their grip on you. 

When you no longer fear the gap between all the doing of being human, you recognize the gift that life affords you in the being. You can become a witness to the experience, appreciate the preciousness of being alive. As a result, you feel more fulfilled in consuming and producing even more. In essence, you start to recognize when your acting in a way that is avoiding. In turn, this space will enable you to be more able to both consume and produce deliberately and with much more presence. You show up more fully to your work, your relationships, your life.

We might consciously create it to turn inward to understand ourselves more. If we don’t rush to fill in space with producing or consuming, we might find something new, surprising, uncomfortable, or even something buried away in our subconscious.  

Psychotherapy is a place of reflecting, between the consuming and producing; it’s a place of noticing the feelings of all that goes on inside us while we’re busy living the lives outside. Despite the increase in social acceptance of psychotherapy, there is still a collective stigma about creating a space to reflect each week. Many people feel ashamed, ambivalent, or fearful of seeking therapy as if there is something ‘wrong’ with them. Sadly, some may label others who go to psychotherapy in a category as ‘needing help’ in a derogatory sense, that only people who need “fixing” would go meet with a therapist. I have often wondered how it could ever be a negative thing to understand yourself more. I would argue that this world could use more self-awareness, if only so that we would be less inclined to react unconsciously, harming ourselves, others, or our environment. 

Give yourself some space. Space to breathe, to think, to listen to yourself.