From Stopgap to Settled: How to Create a Resilient Mindset During COVID-19

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It was March 1, 2020 and my daughter’s 8th birthday party was 20 days away. The reservation had been made, Descendants-themed invitations sent, and goodie bags prepared. Then I got the call. It was my dad saying he wouldn’t be flying into town to attend the party because it just didn’t feel safe due to COVID. I was in shock. In what felt like the blink of an eye, some little rumble about a virus weeks prior had become big enough to usurp one of the most treasured traditions in our family. Perhaps, I thought, the virus will clear up before then, and he’ll be out here celebrating with us…

Two weeks later, as reported cases ticked up, and “COVID-19” became a household word, I was faced with the decision of whether to postpone the party. How in good conscience could I bring together a group of kids in the middle of a pandemic? Equally painful, how would I break it to my daughter that the party she’s been planning since January would have to be postponed?

When I called the venue to change the date, the gal was sympathetic and offered to reschedule in April. “Just to be on the safe side,” I said, “how about May?” With five promising weeks ahead of us, surely we were in the clear…

As you can predict, the remainder of this story unfolded like many of your best-laid plans for the first half of 2020. What was once postponed is now cancelled altogether, tears of anger and sadness abound, and a makeshift alternative was patched together that included the once-novel Zoom party.

For the first few months of COVID life, our family hobbled along in this holding pattern as we waited for the viral storm to pass. We remained hopeful that our summer trip would be a go, which was then replaced with hope that the school year would start on time. Our dining room became my husband’s office, and my daughter’s school uniform was replaced with pajamas.

We worked to embrace the novelty and “silver linings” of this bizarre family experience, knowing that one day we will reflect on the abundance of family meals and slower weekends quarantine life has afforded us (and forgetting about the intense cabin fever that has left us all crawling the walls). As we chalked our sidewalk with inspirational messages and colorful hearts, we were buoyed by the mindset that all of this was temporary, supporting the expectation that “this too shall pass” if we can all just be a bit more patient.

But as we enter the fifth month of COVID life, the tide is turning. The chalk art is washed away, Zoom is a legit four-letter word, and “I’m boooooored” is every child’s middle name. Whatever psychological and emotional reserve we all had going into this to “weather the storm” is now gone. Like a dried-up savings account, our ability to live in a temporary limbo is no longer working. Depression and anxiety are reaching new highs, interpersonal tensions are skyrocketing, and the uncomfortable struggle with a new norm is in full swing.

But the psychological struggle does not lie in the fact that we are in the middle of a pandemic. The struggle is in trying/wanting/expecting to continue our pre-COVID life when that is no longer a viable option. More importantly, the struggle is in maintaining a temporary mindset, when the semi-permanent nature of post-COVID life is staring us in the eyes.

The key difference that will distinguish the psychologically resilient from the vulnerable throughout this time lies in how adaptable each of us can be in embracing the semi-permanency of COVID life. Making the transition from the mindset of “this will end soon” to “this is the new norm” is an absolute game-changer. For when we stop waiting for things to change, we can more fully work with what is.

Transitioning away from temporary towards semi-permanent involves a change in your mindset, your space, and your routines. These interdependent components shape how you choose to show up each day in your life, and how much the ever-changing landscape of this pandemic will affect you.

Here are some tangible tips:

 

YOUR MINDSET

First, review your day-to-day life and notice where you are operating with a temporary mindset. Be sure to notice the little things, for these can end up being the biggest psychological drains. Pay attention to thoughts like, “When this is over…” or “Just for now…” Examples of a temporary mindset may show up in little things like:

  • Stacking coffee table books under your computer so that your webcam is aligned with your face for all those darn Zoom calls;
  • Taking a virtual yoga class in the hallway with your kids’ toys strewn all over;
  • Sitting in an uncomfortable dining room chair for your at-home office;
  • Using disposable face masks when you go out.

 

YOUR SPACE

Second, once you’ve taken inventory of your temporary mindset, notice what you can do to make your “safer at home” space more conducive to being there more often (alongside other family members who may also be there much of the time). Examples of this may include things like:

  • Purchasing some desk accessories to set up a more organized and functional home office;
  • Moving furniture so that home is more multi-purpose (e.g., what once was a guest room is now a home office with floor space for a yoga mat);
  • Rearranging home décor so that these new multi-purpose spaces are aesthetically pleasing;
  • Bringing items home from your office, like a swivel chair or reference books;
  • Treating yourself to a reusable cloth face mask that represents your fashion or personal style.

 

YOUR ROUTINES

Third, evaluate if your daily routine that worked so well before is still working for you. The amazing pre-COVID structure and routine you worked so hard to create may no longer work as well when you spend most of the time at home. This may mean adjusting things like:

  • Time you wake up and go to bed now that you’re not commuting to work and/or the kids are staying up later;
  • Time of day when you can spend quiet time alone to yourself (if living with others);
  • Planning simpler meals if you’re cooking a lot more than usual;
  • How you budget your money if income and/or expenses have changed;
  • Identifying local places you can go to relieve cabin fever while still social distancing.

 

The hope of “going back” to pre-COVID life is likely a thing of the past. And while we must make space for the grief of all that has been and will be lost because of this pandemic, we must also open up to all that can be gained when we choose to approach life with flexibility and adaptability. Stay open-minded to new ways of doing things, be willing to stretch a bit outside of your comfort zone, and get crystal clear on what you need to feel comfortable with this transition. COVID-19 may be the biggest curveball we have yet to see in our lifetime, but it doesn’t have to psychologically strike us out.

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Ashley L. Southard, Ph.D., LMFT

Scottsdale, AZ,

Site Director and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist at A New Beginning and TheHealthyWeighOut, specializing in the treatment of eating disorders, trauma, abuse/neglect, relationship problems, depression, anxiety, and related issues.