“It’s so hot!” “It’s so cold!” “Are you ready for Christmas?” “What are you doing this summer?”
Small talk. Dumb talk. Ordinary talk. (Of course it is hot! It’s summer. Of course it is cold! It’s winter. No one is ever ready for Christmas–and if they are, we don’t want to hear about it. And what am I doing this summer? Being hot and complaining about it!)
Yet I long for such small talk. The current conversational trends–“Are you staying safe?”
“Is your family okay” “Wearing a mask is a pain.” are well-meaning. But too often the question behind the question is “How are you staying sane?”
Insanity is the new normal. “If it bleeds, it leads,” goes the old saying about news reporting– and there is plenty of bleeding to lead. We’re bombarded with images ranging from the horrific to the utterly banal: Cruelty, hatred, stupidity, absurdity, exploitation, lies and distortions are everywhere. It’s overwhelming. It’s outrageous.
Many of us are still quarantined. We face endless days devoid of the structure that are sources of personal identity, or endless days and nights of care giving, housekeeping, worrying, and feeling inadequate. Living with family 24/7 makes for tension and cabin fever. And living alone gets–well, lonely.
Some of us don’t have the luxury of sheltering in place. We venture into the world, anxious about endangering ourselves and our families. We’re “essential” workers, hailed as heroes, often underpaid and nervous about losing our jobs.
We’re deluged with conflicting predictions and the politicization of suffering. Who’s in charge? What are they doing? Are they focused on problem solving or posturing and trading insults?
So how DO we stay sane when the world is insane? What are some concrete measures we can take to focus on what we can control?
- Self-care is a topic that has been talked to death, but it’s worth revisiting now. Quality sleep, relaxation and rest, good nutrition are crucial. Exercise is the best natural antidepressant. Fresh air and sunshine are good for the soul.
- If you’re sheltering in place, make your home cheerful. Open shades and curtains. Play music in the kitchen. Create festive meals. Keep your home clean enough to be inviting and cozy, but remember that this isn’t a time for perfection.
- Make a daily schedule–a timeline of what you will do during the day, or a list of things you want to get done when you can. Always include time for self-care and other suggestions you might find on this list.
- Make a practice of checking on at least one friend every day. Most people appreciate a phone call or text, and friendships may very well be strengthened right now.
- Caring for living things is good therapy. Enjoy your pets. Pamper your plants. Get out in the garden, notice what’s growing, and weed and water like crazy.
- Is social media helpful? It can serve to help stay in touch with friends, but sensationalism and emotion dressed up as news is draining. Online political arguments don’t resolve conflicts. Consider taking a break–and expect that, due to the addictive appeal of social media, it’ll be hard to stay away from it.
- Play. There’s an old saying that goes “There’s nothing that a good laugh and a good sleep can’t cure.” Uncertainty is a part of life, and worrying has never solved a problem.
- Laugh. Watch absurdly funny TV shows and movies. Play silly games with your family. Put on your favorite music and dance, and note how bad you are. A good belly laugh is good medicine–and doing things we’re bad at, be it art, music, dancing, or singing– can be freeing.
- Stay in the here and now. Focus on what you’re doing. Stop to notice beauty where you see it. Mindfulness is a buzzword these days, but the practice of conscious breathing is soothing. Appreciate each breath.
- This may be a time of deep spiritual growth. Stay in touch with your faith community. Consider a virtual prayer or meditation group. Spend time in solitude, bathing in God’s presence. Read scripture or poetry or inspiring stories.
if you’re chronically depressed or anxious, reach out. Hot lines are available in most communities, and mental health professionals are on hand. Depression and anxiety are common in the best of times, and virtual (or “telehealth) appointments are a new option for many. And remember that our ways of coping are hard-wired; introverts, who thrive in solitude, may enjoy unlimited time to be alone. Extroverts, who are energized by social occasions, will tend to get restless and bored. There is no right or wrong way to experience this.
These are just thoughts to get you started, but you probably have other ways to cope. I welcome thoughts about things that are working, and things that you might be learning about yourself.