Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Processing Through Corona Time

Hey friends, many of you are a couple weeks into our new reality. Some are dealing with job loss, others are struggling with questions about safety at work. These times are really uncertain and difficult. As all of this was getting started, I started recognizing these emotions. I observed myself feeling general uncertainty and heightened stress. Initially it took some processing, until I realized something very important. I've been here before.

I don't mean here, here. I've never been in the middle of a global pandemic that is destroying economies and bringing massive health care systems into real danger, none of us have. But for me personally, living cross-culturally now for over seven years, I have felt some similar feelings. Moving to a new culture and learning a new language can be very stressful and disorienting. Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to say that I have mastered all of this and can speak with perfect authority. I have found that the tools that I developed for living cross-culturally have been the same tools that have served me through this crisis. And I wanted to share with you some of those tools, but more so, it is a chance for you to learn about yourself and figure out what carries you through a time like this. Who knows, you could be back here again in your life. And it will be good to have some of these tools stored up for later.

My first point is this: your experience is your own. Sounds straight forward but it is good to remember. Everyone responds to extreme stress differently. For some, this time is ultra productive or focuses their mind in key ways. I read that Shakespeare wrote prolifically while under quarantine against the plague. Social media is plastered with people going above and beyond to provide fun and entertainment for their kids. Sourdough bread baking is all the rage. Here is the deal: that might be you but it doesn't have to be. How you process this stress and transition is going to be different from your neighbor or your favorite mommy blogger. That is ok.

Furthermore, this is a chance for you to observe yourself. How do you handle a lot of uncertainty? How are you responding physically, socially, spiritually? This is actually the perfect time to start to observe these subtle changes. The initial shock is starting to wear off. Here in Austria we are into week 5 of the "virus counter measures." What are the things that have been healthy and life-giving to you? What are things that have not been as fruitful?

Here are a couple things from my experience:

The difference between not exercising and exercising for me is palpable.
For me, this can't be overstated. Exercising isn't just about burning calories; for me, it feels like I burn the stress up with it. I can't say this is true for everyone, but for me, I feel so different after a good hard workout. It took me way too long to realize this, and there are still times where I go too many days without exercise while I'm in a stressful stretch. For some, their preferred form of exercise is no longer an option, others live in an apartment where the neighbors wouldn't appreciate someone jumping around and making a ton of noise. We need to be creative in how we pursue physical, emotional and mental health at this time. The bodyweight exercise movement (also the resurgence of calisthenics) can be great options for people with no equipment or limited space. So called "quiet cardio" workouts are also helpful. Find something you like that you will do and fight the stress, literally.

Sleep is also really important. I'm bad at this one. I'm a night owl. I can stay up until all hours of the night and pay for it the next day. But I find I need not just the same amount of sleep when I'm in a stressful season, but I actually need more sleep. I remember coming home from language school and just collapsing on the couch with a full and tired brain. Processing emotions costs energy, and sleep can help us get through these difficult times.

A decrease in total productivity is completely normal under extreme circumstances such as these. We're processing a lot right now. If your expectation was that this time would be a flurry of growth and internal peace, then maybe it is time to modulate some of the expectations. We don't have our normal routines or support structures. We are doing our best to make due with what we have, and we need to give ourselves grace to work through all of this. Prolonged uncertainty is really hard for us. 

My last thought here is be mindful of your use of healthy and unhealthy coping mechanisms. Strike a balance with screens. I'm not opposed to streaming shows or video games. I enjoy both of those things. But we need to be careful how we are using screens to simply numb us through this time instead of actually engaging and processing. We don't need to be constantly pouring out our inner emotional monologues to everyone near us, but we need to make sure to find a balance. We need to remember we are in a difficult situation, and we should be processing it. We need to work through the emotional toll and stress that this time is bringing on us. Not having healthy outlets to process the stress will lead to relational and emotionally unhealthy behavior.

For me, this time has brought a renewed holding fast to the Gospel. Our only hope in this life and in the next is the ultimate victory over the ultimate enemy. Christ conquered death on our behalf. That is our sole source of hope.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Nate for the advise during such uncertain times. Dave and I live in Warsaw, Poland. I agree that living in a different country has helped us now. While we can't get everything we want, we can get everything we need. God has provided well for us and we need to calm down and trust in him. Living overseas has given us a different perspective (though we still struggle greatly in learning Polish!)and a chance to live a quieter, less stressful life. I look at America and weep for the anger, hatred, and blame being spewed about. We will continue to pray for you and your family and for those caught up in that anger. Andrea and Dave


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