Establishing Control: It's Not a Race.
Monique Jericho MD
During any crisis, we experience a loss of control. This is not an illusion; there is so much that we cannot control at this time. We can’t control the pandemic, nor can we control the financial fallout. We can’t reopen the schools and put children back into their regular daily routines. We can’t stop those who may be resisting the orders to self isolate. We can’t control the news reporting or the political response to the global health crisis. Clearly, there are some very important things going on that we can’t do much about as individuals. It’s normal to experience stress when we aren’t able to control our circumstances. In fact, feeling out of control is a key contributor to stress.
Our society places a high value on “being in control”, which makes it all the more unsettling when we feel we are lacking it. From an early age we are taught self control by our parents (“tidy your room!”, “don’t yell at your sister!”), and our schools and work places reinforce and reward discipline and social control. Obviously, control is not a bad thing! We are all benefiting for our highly controlled health care system that is working around the clock to keep us safe. The problem with control being valued so highly is that when we feel it slip, we can feel shameful or as if we are failing. These strong feelings also contribute to stress at a time when many of us have fewer resources to lean on.
Stress is a normal and healthy response to a perceived threat. Our bodies are designed to respond when we think we are in danger and our stress response is meant to help us survive. When our body’s “stress response” first kicks in we might immediately feel more alert and more active as we scan for threats in our environment and take action. Some of us however, may feel paralyzed and less able to function. As time goes on and the stress response continues, we all have a tendency to feel tired and depleted of energy. This is because over time the stress response wears the body down. If you are feeling more tense or exhausted and lacking energy, your stress response is likely part of the problem. It is not your fault; your body is actually doing it's best to try to help you adapt to new circumstances.
Ironically a strong stress response can make it harder to do things that help us to feel more in control. A tricky situation! Luckily there are things we can do to help to lessen the intensity of our stress response. Here are a few suggestions; remember, you don't have to do this perfectly!
1) Try to eat a healthy diet when possible.
2) Try to get some exercise every day.
3) Try to get enough rest.
4) Try to write down a list of things you would like to work on, when you are able to.
5) Take time to do things that you enjoy doing and that you find relaxing.
6) Consider taking a look at the stress reduction course offered for free by 'This Way Up!' (see link under "resources" on this website).
One of the steps in getting through a crisis involves taking stock of what we can control and using the resources available to best manage those parts of our lives. Suggestions to create a daily routine, to use weekends for rest and leisure and to engage in meaningful hobbies and activities, are meant to help us to feel some control over our lives in the midst of broader uncertainly. Recognizing our stress response is important in applying much of this good advice. In order to bring control to bear, we need to accept that our stress response can slow down our ability to put everything we would wish to in order. It is important, but sometimes difficult, to be patient and kind with ourselves.
For too many people in our communities, maintaining a sense of control in life is a daily challenge that began long before the pandemic. People struggling with socioeconomic burdens, mental health and addiction issues, and those experiencing domestic violence, live with chronic risk and uncertainty. The impact of the pandemic has added to this burden and has created even greater challenges. People who are the most vulnerable are less likely to have the necessary resources to adapt easily to changes and are likely experiencing even greater stress that those of us who may be more fortunate. They may also experience more isolation and disconnection when they believe that others have been more capable of adapting.
As we move through this time as individuals we can try to establish a feeling of control over our personal circumstances. As a community, we also need to remember those who need an extra hand, and who live chronically with a loss of control. Here are some ideas to help us work together.
1) Try not to judge yourself if you don’t have everything “under control”. Adapting to a new normal is a process and there is no timeline. Be kind to yourself, after all, it's likely your first pandemic!
2) Try not to judge others. It is hard to see others around us struggling, especially when the solutions may come more easily to us. Remember that other people need support and validation more than they need suggestions and criticism.
3) The body has different needs during times of stress. Try to be patient and treat your body kindly. Nutrition, rest and activity are key coping strategies.
4) If you are aware of people in your community who face added burdens and challenges reach out to them (safely). Consider what a small gesture of kindness and concern could mean. Consider sharing this website.
5) Help to connect people with resources. Many helpful phone numbers and links can be found under the resource tab.
Thanks for reading and for taking the time to think more about this topic!