For most of us (with the exception of a razor thin group of the population alive during wartime and the Spanish flu) these are truly unprecedented times. There are so many memes circulating on social media but one I found particularly interesting said “Your grandparents were called to war. You’re being asked to sit on the couch. You can do this!” It is a cute representation of just how seemingly insignificant this sacrifice is in comparison to days gone by when the bravery and valor was so clearly evident in the sacrifices of those who literally fought against evil ideologies and for freedom. Although humorous at first glance, the message can be a dangerous one if we interpret it to mean what we are fighting against is not taking a massive toll on us in physical and psychological ways that are largely invisible.
Although we are not fighting in direct hand-to-hand combat, the world is experiencing large scale panic, fear and individuals are fighting psychological battles of the mind as they face the possibilities of the death of loved ones vulnerable to this virus, feelings of intense and prolonged isolation from family and friends as well as financial worry due to loss of income and stability.
All these legitimate feelings lead to a war of the mind as we fight to remain hopeful. Although at first glance this meme seems to expose an almost selfish perspective of our current situation, I would argue from a psychological viewpoint that our current situation IS traumatic and can have the same if not similar effects as what our grandparents generation went through as they bravely and sacrificially fought for the freedoms that we now enjoy and often take for granted.
So what control do we have and how can this battle be won? The unfortunate part of our current situation is with the exception of staying home and washing our hands it can feel like we individually have little control over how this crisis plays out. At the moment of writing this there is certainly progress being made in the race to a vaccine, but for the most part we are simply trying to slow the spread in an attempt to not overwhelm our healthcare system and protect those we love. As helpless as this sounds, let me assure you there is something each one of us can do to help our collective world win this current war.
As someone who has struggled with anxiety and come face to face with the gripping effects of severe panic attacks, I can tell you from first hand experience that desperate times call for desperate measures.
When we are individually faced with uncertainty, fear and anxiety we are hit with a sense of desperation. This desperation (due to fear of losing control) can prompt us to have one of two responses. Whichever response we choose will determine how long this war will go on and the subsequent depth of inevitable recovery in its aftermath. The choice we have in the midst of this uncertainty is simple but profound- are we going to surrender our minds to the fear and anxiety and let it overwhelm us or are we going to commit to fighting for our mental health in the midst of the storm? This isn’t to say that once we choose to fight, all our problems, fears and insecurities will be immediately alleviated… but ultimately we must choose to draw a line in the sand as a marker and promise to ourselves that will serve as a continual reminder of our intentions and our internal strength despite the ebbs and flows of our emotion.
In my own journey I have experienced the effects of both succumbing to my mind and drawing my own line in the sand. During the first wave of panic attacks that hit during the winter of 2018, I felt unprepared and overwhelmed. As a result of being confronted with my own desperation, my initial reaction in an attempt to get back to “normal” was to try and wait it out. I took a few desperate measures to try and take back control of my mind but as the craziness subsided within days, I didn’t follow through and implement these measures as habits to strengthen my mind and take back control of my response to fear and uncertainty. Unfortunately, once I started to feel normal again, there was no longer an immediate need to change.
As a result, the years of unhealthy conditioned responses to stress based on my childhood, environment, work and a multitude of other influences was left bubbling under the surface ready to explode under the next stressful circumstance.
Fast forward 6 months and the panic attacks came back with vengeance. This time my level of desperation in the midst of the circumstance led me to draw my own personal line in the sand.
Albert Einstein once said “we can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” I realized through this second wave of panic attacks that although there is so much out of my control, there are things that I can do within my control to fight daily for my mental health. This isn’t to say it is easy or that I don’t have days when I feel like I’ve taken two steps backwards, but the difference there is a difference in intentions with a few key profound acknowledgements.
- First, I acknowledge that my past and current response to stress, fear and uncertainty based on years of conditioning may not be healthy.
- Second, I acknowledge that I have control of my responses and I can take steps to improve my resilience.
- Lastly, I commit to taking action daily to fight for my mental health despite and often in opposition of what I am feeling in the current moment.
Here are a few things that have helped me over the last year of taking action daily in this fight. Let me pre-empt this by saying that I cannot emphasize enough that none of us are perfect. Although I have put some of these things into practice as habits, I have my days just like anyone else when I feel overwhelmed, lazy and unmotivated. As you read this list of things that have helped me take back a sense of control over my mind, I implore you to read it with compassion for yourself as there will be times when you, like all of us, will take one step forward and two steps back. That is okay!
As we challenge our responses to anxiety, fear and uncertainty I must also warn you that I have learned our bodies seek comfort and homeostasis. Breaking old negative habits and thought patterns and replacing them with new hardwired responses is one of the hardest things we can do, as it is uncomfortable. We are not robots. This is not easy but I can assure you that fighting for your mental health everyday is worth it!
I take a few minutes each day to reflect on what I am grateful for. Practicing gratitude reminds me of the truth of my present circumstance and gives me a sense of perspective that can often be lost when I am in survival mode.
2. Establish Your ‘Safe Spot’
In the corner of our front room I have what our family refers to as my ‘Dad chair.’ This is my own personal retreat spot. There is a basic understanding in our house that this is my spot and anyone sitting in it must make way for Dad once I enter the room. It has kind of turned into a joke but there is some significance to this spot for me. In that chair I read, reflect, journal, sip on tea and bask in the afternoon sun that pierces through the adjacent bay window in the late afternoon. It is a safe spot for me and I would encourage you to find your own safe spot within your house.
3. Acts of Service
I once heard the great philosopher Denzel Washington once say something along the lines of “the most selfish thing we can do is serve others.” I have found this to be true on so many levels. Regardless of how our intentions towards acts of service are received (which is out of our control), we feel a sense of pride and comfort in knowing we stepped into someone else’s world and tried to make a difference. You and I have experiences and insights that can help others cope with their current reality and bring encouragement to desperate situations. It takes vulnerability but if we commit to doing our best to serve others, regardless of how it is received, we truly have nothing to lose.
4. Step Out of Your Comfort Zone Everyday
For me this involves small but yet difficult daily commitments to ice baths (great book by Scott Carney titled ‘What Doesn’t Kill Us’), going for runs and committing to reading books that challenge my thinking and flex my mental muscles. Maybe I am alone in this but I would hazard to say we are not so different in that if left to my own devices, I seek comfort, am generally lazy and if left unchecked would often take the path of least resistance. By challenging myself daily through these simple things, which also serve to strengthen mind, body and soul, I consciously begin to condition and re-program my subconscious. These simple daily practices don’t somehow magically transform me into a superhero able to conquer all of life’s greatest challenges but what it does do is re-enforces the fact that I am capable of more then I think I am – and to me that is powerful!
5. Connect and Share with Others
Through my own mental health struggle I began to see the importance of vulnerably sharing my story with others. I also saw the tremendous encouragement and inspiration I could take from hearing what others had been through. I am an introvert and as a result I need to make a conscious choice to consistently connect with others. Currently there are a multitude of online connect groups being offered including the free ones we are offering through the Band Together Community. Although they are not the same as going for a coffee face to face with a friend, they can be impactful in drawing strength through connection and transparency.
I want you to know that we are here for you as a community! Make a conscious decision to draw your own line in the sand and fight for your mental health. Give yourself the grace to not be perfect and acknowledge this is a daily battle. We will get through this and we will be stronger together on the other side!
As a way of showing our solidarity and banding together during this time we are encouraging people to share a 30-45 second video on your social media of your personal coping strategies that work for you! Please tag us in the video as we look forward to hearing from you! Our social media links are below.
Stay safe and strong friends!
The Mercer Family, Founders of Band Together Community