Top-Skills Thursday: Step Away

With the current health crisis enveloping the world, it’s hard to avoid news of COVID-19. It is literally everywhere. I’ve seen my feeds on Facebook and Twitter literally overwhelmed with news. Depending on where you live, it may be that you are witnessing and experiencing illness, or you may be in an area like I am – where it’s only beginning.

This is not another post with updates. This is a brief discussion of an important skill when faced with crisis and floods of information.

When 9/11 happened, the days following were filled with fear and uncertainty. It was the first time in my life I witnessed true, 24/7 coverage of events. As newscasters spoke, dual and triple ribbons raced across the bottom of TV screens with updates on stories related to the attacks. Then the threats against large gatherings came. Malls and events closed down, all while the news speculated and added information as it came in.

During that time, my anxiety was only beginning to be controlled, and something my therapist had me begin to practice is simply, stepping away. Step away from the news, social media, and conversations about the crisis. Set a time for when to go look again, but stop basting your mind in it. All you’re doing is making things harder on yourself.

It sounds simple, right? It’s not. I know. At first, it feels like there’s added anxiety because you don’t know what’s happening when you’re not glued to the information streams.

If you ride that through, you will find that your mind does something similar to muscle memory. Your brain remembers that instead of getting out of bed and turning on the TV, you used to make coffee and sit at the table because you like the morning light there. It gravitates back to the schedules and patterns you’ve developed over time. You remember the book you were reading, the movie you wanted to see that is online, the craft you promised your child you would help with. The motion of normalcy slips back in.

Now, if you’re under quarantine or voluntary isolation, as I am, those patterns may not be exactly what you’ve had before. Still, you’ll find things that are close to that normal. Some suggestions, in addition to the examples I gave above:

  • Taking a long, hot bath.
  • Trying a new recipe.
  • Cleaning out that closet that gets ignored.
  • Play games with your family while you have a chance to make some good memories together.
  • Have conversations and family meals.
  • Take a hint from Italy and go on your balcony with your instruments. Sing and play for those who are ill, or just bored.
  • Water your plants and look up information about other ways you can take care of them.
  • Play with a pet.
  • Make something for your partner, just because you have the time to.
  • Take a nap.

I’m sure everyone has additional ideas, and I welcome comments that share them, respectfully.

The biggest trick to stepping away is to really be firm with yourself at the start. Set an alarm if you need to, so you’re not checking the time constantly to see if you can look again. With 9/11, I allowed myself to check the news around mid-day and to watch a full broadcast at night. I kept my morning routines and it made all the difference in the world. The anxiety eased back. I was able to react with thoughts and emotions other than complete terror that my loved ones were next.

Start today. Limit exposure to media and focus on your life. I know it’s scary, but there won’t be meaningful updates coming through faster just because you keep checking. Keep yourself informed, and once you are, step away and save yourself from drowning in the uncertainty around you.

 

 

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