Since the beginning of the “Stay At Home” order, many people have talked to me about struggling with guilt.
“I’m staring at my phone too much.”
“I’m barely getting any work done from home.”
“I’m being short with the kids.”
“I’ve been smoking too much weed.”
“I should be on the front lines doing more to help.”
These uncomfortable feelings are understandable in the given situation. When we are experiencing a trauma, our brains search for ways to exercise control. We can’t make this crisis go away but we can control our behavior within it. Sometimes setting and meeting expectations can lower stress. Allowing our bodies to “do something,” even something as simple as washing a dish, can help us feel some agency. However, in many cases, the best course of action might be to reframe your expectations of yourself and your loved ones during this crisis.
First, I want to acknowledge that a lot of the expectations we put on ourselves are a direct result of living under Capitalism. From birth, we are taught that our worth is dictated by achievement- going to school, getting a job, owning a house, being a parent. Under Capitalism, when we are unable to work, when we are not striving and achieving, our lives are worth less. Right now, we are facing an economic crisis that few people alive have seen. We are witnessing the violent consequences of a system that exploits and devalues the poor, queer, disabled, people of color, trans*, women, immigrants, and many others for the monetary gain of those at the top. This crisis has left many without the ability to work, care for our families, or engage in the hobbies that give us joy and meaning. It is cutting people off from our safety and supports. So, it is not surprising that our internal voices are yelling, “do something!”
Here are a few reminders to help you reframe those feelings.
1) You do not have to participate in the Cult of Productivity. If you stayed in bed all day, that is ok. If you let the kids watch a screen all day, that’s ok. We are all experiencing a major trauma. Now is not the time to increase our expectations for ourselves. Just surviving is enough.
2) In a prolonged crisis, it can be easy to slip into unhealthy coping strategies- using too many substances, self-harm, destructive behaviors. If you have coping strategies that you know lead to negative consequences for you, it is smart to keep an eye on them and not allow them to spiral out of control during this crisis. However, if you begin to lean on some coping strategies that aren’t your healthiest, that’s ok. You are using whatever tools you have to survive and just surviving is enough. Be self-compassionate and forgiving. Ask for help from a mental health professional or loved one if you need to.
3) Check out Dr. Kristen Neff’s site self-compassion.org. She has guided meditations and exercises to help people learn self-compassion. My favorite exercise is imagining how you would talk to a loved one if they were in your situation. What tone would you use? What words would you say? Now think about how you are talking to yourself. Are there differences? What do you think would happen if you talked to yourself the same way you talk to a friend? Try it out.
We are all in this together, friends, and we don’t have to be perfect. Be forgiving of yourself and your loved ones. Times of stress bring out the best and worst in all of us. But if we take care of one another, be forgiving of our imperfections, and keep breathing, that is enough. Just surviving today is enough.
Megan White, LICSW