Jennifer Allen: Dealing with stress in a pandemic

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Sowing seeds | freepik.com

“Yesterday, I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today, I am wise, so I am changing myself.” – Rumi

ONE FACTOR which consistently determines how us humans perceive stress is not having control over the outcome of a given situation.

Little wonder then, that in the current pandemic, we can feel a bit at sea. Whether you’re working on the frontline, staying home to slow the spread of the virus, studying for exams or figuring out how to run your business online, there are a multitude of elements to this scenario that can feel out of our control.

Where normally, a routine imposed through our work, social life, volunteering, school or university commitments puts a defined shape on our life, that particular roadmap has largely been cast aside.

This can bring challenges, heightened anxiety and frustration, all of which undermine our immunity. But consider if maybe it creates an opportunity to make some long-overdue changes.

If pre-pandemic, you were waking up each day and just falling into a predictable routine, now might be a good chance to live on purpose.

However small you feel your life has become during this unfamiliar spell, the duration of which we don’t really know, you do get to choose how you are going to approach it. Having a purpose doesn’t have to be about big gestures or flashy outcomes.

Quite the opposite, in fact. You could just choose to make subtle changes in how you interact with people, whether in your household, if you are living with people, or online, if you are engaging that way.

Don’t forget the old-fashioned but much valued being a good neighbour either, which could be as simple as waving to a neighbour as you pass their garden, rather than having your head buried in your phone.

By giving a tiny bit more gratitude and appreciation for other people, you can really shift your perception of your current situation. One of the few things we can consistently control is how we choose to react to what happens around us.

Do you light up a room when you enter, or bring a dark cloud with you? This is definitely a time for reflection and that can bring up some uncomfortable issues and emotions, which challenge us and those around us.

Rather than drown that out with social media, Netflix or alcohol, is there scope to step out of your usual reaction and grow in the process?

Families and groups of friends can have such defined roles for each of us, the martyr, the bossy one, the belligerent one, the wild one. We end up perhaps restricting our behaviour to fit the title. Surprise yourself and others by doing something unexpected:

  • Acknowledge when someone does something to help you.
  • Don’t cause a scene just to get attention.
  • Ask somebody else how you can help them, or just observe and volunteer help, where it’s fitting to do so.
  • Do something to help the natural world. That could be buying organic, avoiding plastic, planting seeds or leaving out water for bees and birds to drink.
  • What things are meaningful to you? Count three things, however big or small.
  • What things are meaningful to those around you? It could be as small as having a clean cup to drink their tea from, hearing people say thank you or making somebody laugh. Can you help create any of these outcomes?

Whatever action you choose to take to evolve how you are in the world, it’s best not to have terms and conditions attached.

Changing just to make someone like you or changing in the hope it will make someone else change puts the control outside of yourself again.

Not to mention, being so busy looking for a result, you may miss the subtle changes happening around you. When you plant seeds, you don’t keep digging them up to see if they’re growing.

You nurture them, give them the best growing conditions you can and then step back and have faith that their innate life force will do the rest.

The same applies to us. The more we try to control an outcome, the less successful we are.

It sounds frustratingly obvious, but start where you are now. Think about your purpose, how you would like the world to look after you have been here and then work back to right now, to see if the two are aligned.

A job or career may be part of that, or you might find the really significant parts of the puzzle were far more subtle.

A gesture, a comment, held or expressed at the right time. Learning new skills, volunteering, appreciating silence and reflection as much as companionship and spontaneity. You may find you’ve got a lot more control than you thought.