As I write this, the world is facing the coronavirus pandemic, and grappling with how to pivot given the changing circumstances. Most scientific experts at this time (late March of 2020) are predicting that the *best* case predicted outlook is that the virus dips underground during the warmer summer months, enabling us a critical few months of manufacturing more medical equipment and preparing medical personnel, only to reappear in the fall of 2020. No one can know if this is how it will go–or if it’s going to go the “best case scenario route” at all. It could go any number of ways, including worst-case scenarios in which people die.
Generally agreed-upon? Until there is a vaccine, this is going to be a thing. This means that our usual ways of living are fundamentally disrupted in the interim, as children are out of school and parents are out of work, or working from home. Most scientific experts are also agreeing that this is not going to be just a couple of weeks; we are looking at months of disruption, and of course the ripple effects on the economy are just starting.
Change is coming at us–fast and harsh. So these are my thoughts on how to pivot during this challenging time.
A quick bit of background on me, that informs my views on this: The Sonoma County fires of 2017 stopped about 10 minutes from my home. In the weeks when those fires were raging, we lived with our most prized possessions hurriedly thrown into the back of our car, ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice. Oh, and? The state websites designed to give us information about the spread of the fires would not load (apparently the state of California forgot that in emergencies, people flood websites en masse, so it might be a good idea to have really great server capabilities. Whoops. Oh, and, did they fix the problems when California was hit with wildfires in 2018 or again in 2019? No. Both times, the same issues with not being able to get the state websites to load with data about where the fires were, were happening). Since Google, Facebook, and Twitter were all loading just fine, we knew that it was the state servers, not the internet in general. For three days, I had to watch traffic patterns on Google maps, and follow tweets from firefighters, as my only indication as to whether or not people were evacuating, because we couldn’t get any news from state websites. Social media and Google Maps were all that we had.
I went and volunteered at a relief shelter one night during the 2017 fires, when they needed volunteers last-minute. I was there until past midnight, and saw people sleeping on fold-out cots, waking up screaming from traumatic dreams where they were fleeing the fires. The national guard was there at the relief shelter with guns in case of rioting or civil unrest. Everyone was eating granola bars and crackers because that was the food available.
So, yeah, it was a stressful time. All of the schools were closed. You couldn’t go outside (or, you could, but you risked inhaling lung damage). There was a run on supplies. People’s power was turned off. Food rotted. You heard horrible stories about people dependent on medications that had to be refrigerated, and those people were scared of dying because their medications might spoil. You think coronavirus is bad when the kids are watching television all day? Try doing this with no electricity, therefore, no internet, relying on dry goods that you happened to have in your pantry after the food in the fridge goes bad. I don’t say that to invoke comparative suffering–I say that just to highlight how bad things were.
2017 was when the fires hit closest to home for me personally, but the entire process of schools closing, businesses shuttered, financial uncertainty, fear for homes/lives repeated for others in 2018, and the air quality was so bad that again we were all stuck inside. Then, fires again came close to where I live, in 2019. I know that other areas have experienced their own version of this, with hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, drought, and ice storms.
So, if I show up here with any suggestions on how to pivot, it’s based on having lived through those periods of uncertainty and knowing what it’s like to refresh the news feeds wishing to see something more hopeful, and not seeing it. These are the things that I am suggesting you start doing in your own life–so take what you like from this, and leave the rest.
1. Face the need to pivot. Don’t stick your head in the sand and hope that you won’t need to pivot. Change is happening, right now. You already need to pivot. Everyone is going to have to learn how to pivot away from life as it was, and to life as it is happening, now. I don’t mean pivot as in, “It’ll never go back to the way it was.” I mean, “Pivot, because for some time it will not be, what it was.” Do you want to pivot as a choice? Or do you want to be forced to pivot because you refused to make choices until there were no more choices remaining?
2. Don’t look for guarantees or exact steps for how to pivot. You are not going to be pivoting based on any knowledge of guarantees. None of us, are. Your pivot, however it happens, will happen multiple times. I saw this happen with the fires. Firefighters would think they had a certain amount of containment one day, and then winds would push back their progress to even less containment than they’d had the day before. If you are waiting to pivot until you have a strong sense of what is going to happen next with this virus, then you’re just stacking up a house of cards. Instead, what is needed, in this moment? So for instance, instead of saying to yourself, “Well, I’ll only start my online business if this keeps happening for another 30 days,” start the business, now. Instead of saying to yourself, “Well, I suppose I’ll wait to see what my child’s school says about school coming back in session,” just figure out a schedule for you and your kids, and start it. Pivot once, and be willing to pivot again. You’re taking this day by day.
3. If there is any possibility whatsoever of pivoting your brick-and-mortar business to be online, right now? Do it. In the coming months, the online economy (currently dubbed “the shut-in economy”) will be more important, than ever. That will last long beyond this pandemic. I run a life coach training program and I am a life coach who works with one-on-one clients. I can’t tell you how glad I am that my business is online and has always been online, rather than in a brick-and-mortar training center or office.
4. Use metaphors/analogies to start framing and making sense of your experience. This might seem like an odd one, but–consider that what unsettles us most is not knowing how to think through what we are experiencing. If we have a framework for talking about what we are feeling, everything feels just an iota better, and you need an iota, right now. My current analogy for what we are facing with the way the world has changed? Grieving a loss, like when someone has died. When someone dies, it feels impossible that they are truly *gone.* On some level, you’re trying to rewrite your sense of the world (like having an impulse to call the person and then remembering that you can’t). We are all going through something like that, right now, and it is beyond tragic that many people are going through grieving the loss of the way things were, plus grieving the people who have died as a result of this virus.
But in the same way that we understand that the grief over someone’s death is temporary, because we have watched others navigate it before, using an analogy like “grieving a loss” helps us remember that on the other side of grief, something is there. On the other side of grief, we will smile again. We will appreciate life and others more on the other side of that grief.
Doesn’t mean that I’m saying, “It’s all okay” (because it’s not, and that’s spiritual bypass).
Doesn’t mean that I’m saying, “Just look on the bright side!” (because I’m not, and that’s spiritual bypass).
Grief is fucking painful. I’m not denying that. I’m just offering “grieving a loss” as the analogy I’m using for navigating this. There might be other metaphors, analogies, or frameworks that you can think of for what this time means or represents, to you. The analogy that you choose is important. “This is like a dystopian future come to life” would not be the one I’d recommend for you right now, for your own mental health.
5. Give yourself time, and don’t think that how it feels today, is how it will always feel. Day 1 of the Sonoma County fires? I couldn’t think straight. Misinformation was flying around faster than the fires. People were posting on Facebook, “My friend’s friend’s friend’s uncle of a friend said that the fires are going to be here in five minutes!!!!” It was panic. Days two and three felt roughly the same. Sleep was difficult. But, a week into the fires? I remember feeling anxious and very sad at the loss of life and people’s homes, but, it wasn’t panic. We started to sleep just a bit better. There was now some semblance of “a plan.” The “plan” as best we could at that time, was knowing our evacuation route if we had to evacuate, and knowing what we would bring with us. So, I encourage you to give yourself time, right now. How it feels today, is not how it will feel three days later.
6. Monitor your intake. If you take in the news headlines, monitor your intake. I’m down to one check in the morning and one in the evening, Google news aggregator only, because video/audio media stimulate my nervous system too much. I want to be informed, without having my somatic system going crazy. Now is not the time to talk to people who think this is the end of humanity, either. They will bring you down. Consider also your intake of those who are being snarky and sarcastic at this time. Is that really what you want in your system? For instance, I’ve seen people online belittling those who are trying to focus on the positive. Is that really what you want, if this ends up taking months to resolve? You want to be around the people who are snarky and sarcastic? It might be funny in the moment, but for the long haul, I hope you’ll choose something better for yourself.
7. Discharge emotions. Y’all need to cry. Y’all need to scream into pillows. We all need to be feeling our feelings so that we can get back to clear thinking. You can read my post on what I call conscious crying or listen to Your Courageous Life podcast episodes where I talk about how to regulate your emotions for more ways to do this. But, I think that it will be more important than ever before that we feel our feelings in ways that give those feelings a container. Otherwise, we risk those feelings “spilling out” everywhere and taking things out on other people or being run by stress.
8. Everyone’s skill-set for coping (or lack-thereof!) is coming out, right now. Your skill-set for coping is coming out right now, too! It’s been fascinating for me to see how people’s fear patterns are acting. I talk about those in The Courage Habit: perfectionism, people-pleasing, pessimism, self-sabotage. If your daily habits and routines weren’t nourishing you much before this started, if the skill-set wasn’t strong to begin with, then unfortunately, things are going to feel harder, right now. But just because that has been true doesn’t mean it still has to be true. That’s why I support those who are online right now saying, “Learn the language you have been putting off. Exercise. Meditate. Start a new habit. Read books.” I’m like, YES, do those things–because especially if you were putting those things off, before, if you were not doing those things before, then you’re probably really feeling the stress more, right now. And I want you to feel less stressed!
In my personal life, I was already coping with daily stress by writing, reading books, checking in with friends, sticking to a schedule, snuggling with my daughter, eating a plant-based diet, reframing negative thinking, exercising, meditating, and processing out emotion. Because those habits were already in place, I’m just continuing them. I don’t share any of that to brag it up–that would be a shitty thing to do at this moment!–but more so for context. At one time, none of those things were habits. They didn’t exist. I made them up out of thin air and with time, they just became part of how I do life. So this is a great time to look at your life and ask yourself, “What wasn’t working, before? And is this the time when I can let that go?”
Another thing to consider about everyone’s skill-set for coping is in how you engage with what you see, on social media. Some people cope by angrily posting about the ways politicians have effed this up. Others cope by hiding out. Others cope through overwhelm. Others cope through giving advice. On social media, I’m coping by posting funny memes and/or supportive content, with a little bit of informational articles mixed in when I think that those articles present a perspective we need to be aware of or that people might not have considered.
9. Focus on the positive. I know, I know, I just invoked ire among some of you. “Focus on the positive” has to be one of the most derided self-help terms that there are. But I have to tell y’all, I’m just weeks away from finishing up my Master’s in Psychology, and I’ve now reviewed multiple articles in which there is clinical research supporting the idea of cognitive reframing and focusing on the positive, as resilience strategies. To mindlessly focus on the positive without acknowledging what’s difficult, is spiritual bypass. But to acknowledge what is hard, while also being willing to say, “And here’s my reframe,” is a healthy strategy for psychological resilience. So, this is an opportunity. Yes, I just said that. It’s an opportunity to reframe how you think about challenge and struggle. That’s what I’m going to be doing, as much and as often as I possibly can–asking myself how I can focus on what’s possible, what the opportunities are, what I can be grateful for. Will I still offer critique of the failures in leadership? Yep. Will I still want to change the system, as this hits the poor and underprivileged, the hardest? Yep. But I’ll also be focusing on the positive as often and as much as possible, because that’s how we survive. Period.