When Things Don’t Feel Normal: Coping with Crisis

 

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I wrote a version of this post and recently posted it on my Facebook page but I think it deserves a longer article. I don’t think I’ve ever written a more important blog post. If you take nothing else from this post I want you to know this: we, collectively, are in crisis. Which means that you are also experiencing crisis in one way or another. Working from home, schooling kids at home, doing any typical daily activities will all feel different than normal. It’s not supposed to feel normal. It’s a crisis. And you’re doing what you need to do to get through it. 

It’s not supposed to feel normal; its a crisis.

We, collectively, are in crisis. Which means you, individually, are experiencing a crisis in one way or another. Whether you’re working from home, schooling from home, doing typical daily activities, nothing feels normal. It’s not supposed to feel normal because this isn’t normal! Crisis isn’t normal! It’s an extra-ordinary disruptive event (yes I’m emphasizing both those words, extra and ordinary). 

When you’re in crisis you DO WHAT YOU NEED TO SO TO JUST GET THROUGH. This is called survival mode. When we’re in survival mode we slip into old patterns of behavior that helped us cope in past situations. A wise therapist once told me “under stress we regress” and it has always stuck with me. When we’re in stress our brain is trying to organize and process a lot of new information and it wants to do the easiest thing possible to get through the stress, which means it was to slip back into old patterns of thought and behavior. It’s literally putting your body in survival mode. 

Maybe you’re working from home struggling to stay motivated and wearing pjs to zoom meetings. 

Maybe you’re working from home and also trying to figure out how to educate kids while balancing work and housework and feeling like you’re not doing well in any area. 

Maybe you’re schooling the kids from home and overwhelmed at how to teach them anything because you’re anxious about your spouse losing their job. 

Maybe you live alone and are really struggling with the isolation and loneliness and struggling with not being able to work. 

Maybe you’ve lost a job or a friend or family member has lost a job and you’re sick with worry.

Maybe someone you know has gotten sick or you’ve lost a loved one and can’t be with family to grieve and comfort one another. 

You are DOING WHAT YOU NEED TO GET THROUGH IF YOU ARE:

-Letting the kids have a lot of screen time 

-Feeding the kids a constant stream of peanut butter sandwiches and potato chips

-Over managing your kids education and making them do school 8 hours per day

-Struggling to make it from your bed to the couch

-Attempting to do work because of lots of household distractions 

-Doing a lot of emotional eating

-Binge watching everything on Netflix 

-Denying that this global crisis is actually a crisis and that it’s not really that bad (denial is a powerful coping mechanism) 

-Crying a lot 

-Glued to your phone and social media to distract yourself 

-Add your habit/behavior/coping mechanism to the list 

These are called coping mechanisms and we all cope with stress in different ways. (To be clear, I’m not saying all of these are healthy behaviors and habits that you’d want to continue after you get through. But they are coping techniques that help you handle stressful situations).

We all have a different level of stress tolerance. We all have lots of levels of stress we are dealing with right now (general worry about the corona virus and economy, stress with everyone being home, work stress, family stress, financial stress etc). 

So no matter how you’re coping with the stress of this crisis, YOU’RE DOING WHAT YOU NEED TO DO TO GET THROUGH IT. 

When our brains are in survival mode we don’t always have the capacity, or the mental/emotional bandwidth, to take on growth activities. This isn’t always true, for some people this is their type of survival mode. 

Letting yourself off the hook means you do not hold on to feelings of guilt or shame for not doing things you think you should, or doing things you think you shouldn’t be doing. 

Let’s let ourselves off the hook for the things we think we SHOULD be doing: 

-learning new amazing hobbies and skills 

-reading that stack of books on your nightstand you’ve been meaning to read for 5 years

-getting amazingly fit

-being suddenly amazing at teaching kids from home

-getting lots of work done from home while handling childcare/education/household responsibilities 

-Doing deeply spiritually or emotionally significant activities to build character in your kids. They’re experiencing stress too.

Let yourself off the hook for not:

-emotionally “staying together”

-being super calm and present with your kids 24/7

-preparing 3 full nutritional family meals per day

Crisis is temporary.

The thing about survival mode is that it doesn’t last forever. In general crisis resolves, we regulate and find a new normal, and we recover back to our normal mode. It may last longer than we’d like. It may be harder than we’d anticipate. There will be a recovery period. But the crisis is temporary.

However you’re handling the stress, whatever you’re doing to cope, release yourself from the guilt. You are DOING WHAT YOU NEED TO DO TO GET THROUGH. You ARE getting through. We will all GET THROUGH THIS.

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