I don’t particularly like change; I never have. I am more of an ease your way into new experiences kind of gal. But, when the request to practice social distancing became part of the solution to slow the progression of COVID-19, I had no problem with it. I had perfected social distancing before it was requested. Many people with anxiety are experts at staying home, self-isolating and keeping physical distance.
I recognized as the days have gone on, though, that many people struggle with social distancing. I witnessed some people begin to create their own definition of social distancing to justify going out for the fifth time in a week just to connect with other humans and I struggled with this. It looked to me like they were not taking this pandemic seriously, and I was launched into a tailspin of anxiety, frustration, and anger towards people that I didn’t even know.
It was hard for me to understand why people were struggling with social distancing. I couldn’t grasp why people could not stay safe in their house and only go out if absolutely necessary and why people seemed to be not listening. It occurred to me that even though I have no issue practicing social distancing, many are finding it painful to do. We are who we are, in this difficult time of uncertainty, with the lingering struggle for making sense of it all, some are truly having a hard time with all the changes.
Practicing physical distancing is not about punishment or control. It is the opposite. It is about protection to try and minimize the disastrous consequences of an unpredictable illness that is wrecking havoc in our world.
While some have been struggling to adjust to the new ideas of social distancing, I have been having trouble adjusting to other people who have not been socially distancing, even though I get that it is hard for them. When I have gone to the grocery store and have seen people walking too close, or not following the arrows on the floor, or coughing in their hand and then touching their cart, I have responded in two ways depending on how much sleep I had. I have either taken a deep breath and reminded myself that the only person I can control is the person inside my imaginary hula-hoop around my waist, or I have reacted and said something under my breath, which is also sometimes loud enough for others to hear. Saying something is always ignored and always leaves me feeling like I am the only person in the world at that moment who cares about practicing the new “rules” during this pandemic. This in turn just perpetuates the feelings of frustration and my serenity and peace of mind are hard to find. But, when I remember that I am powerless of people, places and things — that the only person I can control is myself — then I can leave the store with the same sanity that I hopefully walked in with.
This is not an easy time for many people for many different reasons, and we are all having to shift into new routines that feel uncomfortable and out of the norm. I am learning to let go of worrying about what others do, or not do, a little more as the days go on. I still hope people wash their hands and stay six feet away from each other, and from each other, I mean mostly me. This is life for a while and I want to try and make the best of it somehow by trying to normalize it as much as possible, not just for me, but for everyone around me who has to watch my anxiety highjack my life and suck me into the bottomless pit of despair.
I have many resources to help me navigate through challenging times when I remember to use them, but sometimes I forget to pray, meditate, share in my online communities and do other things that help me hocus pocus, shift focus.
Brene Brown talks about living with positive intent and assuming that everyone is doing the best that they can. If we all assume that people are doing life to the best of their ability, we have more empathy and understanding and less internal unrest. I had forgotten about this very valuable lesson in the earlier stages of this pandemic. I can be judgmental, opinionated and have trouble minding my own business. I can also be compassionate, understanding, and kind. The choice is always there for me.
I want to try to remember that our ability to move through this experience, can bring about an opportunity to learn and grow. This is not a situation where it is me against COVID-19 and those people who I feel are not doing enough or not following recommendations.
This is a situation where we are all having to figure out how to respond, instead of react, make the best out of it instead of panicking and practice love instead of hate. Some people are managing with ease, and some like myself have had to learn to adjust to the new normal. While we are all in a different mental space during this pandemic, my hope is that we all remember we are in this together.