One Way of COVID-19 Coping

“Emma Woodhouse…. Had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.” Emma by Jane Austen (1816)

No wandering aimlessly allowed

These are not the words that reflect our times.  We are now well into the COVID-19 global pandemic and there is much to distress and vex everyone in in our midst to greater or lesser degrees.   Thomas Holmes, MD (1981) and his associates from University of Washington created an inventory of recent experiences which allowed them to quantify stressful events over the past year and predict vulnerability to illness or clinical symptoms.  I was dismayed to learn that I was well over the maximum score of 300, with an 80% predictor of those with this score getting sick or presenting clinically in the near future.  I suspect this is not a unique case, but the norm for many people since the COVID-19 pandemic has become a pervasive aspect in our lives. 

This is coupled with the fact that the strategies for coping with the stressors have also been impacted by the global pandemic.  With the advent of COVID-19, my gym, Semperviva Yoga with their vast number of classes at several locations, and many familiar, friendly faces vanished.  My massage therapist and the Halsa Float Spa also halted operation.  Just when stress has been at it’s highest, many of our typical strategies to cope were decimated. 

As things have begun to open up, we find them changed to the point of almost being unrecognizable.  Places that were previously an escape from the “rat race” have devised a system of rules that provide constant reminders that there is no escape.  Online tickets, rules for entry, and arrow signs are the new norm.  There may not be one way to cope, but there is one direction for traffic flow.

There are prompts all over reminding us to take care of ourselves.  What does that actually mean, particularly is a world where we are trapped in a pressure cooker with  overwhelming demands, emotion, and anger is released with enough force to do enduring damage?  If Dr. Holmes and Associates are correct, our focus needs to be on the very most basic needs. 

Maslow’s Hierarchy (1943) once again is helpful in explaining our basic human needs.  In order to cope, our most basic physiological need to focus on self calming such breathing, progressive relaxation, positive visualization and affirmations are required so people are able to eat, sleep and stay healthy.  There is no one way to make this happen.  Each person needs to navigate their own path to discover what works for them. 

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Basic Needs

Yesterday at the beach, I was perusing for the umpteenth time,  the 45 page Vancouver School Board COVID-19 Safety Plan, Safe Work Instruction, and Protocols (August 25, 2020).   My earlier reads focused specifically on the things to do to ensure a physically safe school environment.  Yet, page 8, jumped out yesterday:

“…staff are encouraged to practice the 3 R’s:  Reassurance, Routines, and Regulation.

  • Reassurance:  Social emotional learning is always an important focus for educators.  When needed, reassure students about their safety and their family’s safety.  It is the role of adults to keep them safe.
  • Routines:  Establish and maintain routines to provide students with a sense of safety and predictability.
  • Regulation:  Support self-regulation.  When students are stressed, their bodies respond by activating stress response systems.  To help them manage these reactions, it is important to both validate their feelings (e.g. “I understand how this might feel overwhelming…”) and encourage them to engage in activities that help them to self-regulate (e.g., exercise, deep breathing, mindfulness, regular eating and sleeping routines). 

This is of course is sage advice for any educator going back to school during COVID-19 and thinking about the best interest of our kids.  However, perhaps we all need to adopt a 3R plan of reassurance, routines, and regulation.

  1. Reassure ourselves that we can do things to keep ourselves safe during COVID-19. In British Columbia, our Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, provides solid advise in this area.
  2. Establish routines to increase our sense of control over at least some aspects of our lives.
  3. Get to know ourselves and determine the things that are most effective in helping us to calm ourselves.

The more we play with our own 3 R plan, the more evident it is that self-regulation incorporates a number of the aspects of Maslow’s hierarchy.  I have discovered that as my social circles have shrunk during limits on socialization, negative voices can assume a presence much larger than in normal circumstances. Part of our 3 R plans may include setting boundaries and developing strategies to allow yourself to self regulate in positive and productive ways. Brene Brown is a masterful source in the area of setting boundaries. Margaret Wheatley is inspirational is helping us to gain control over defining ourselves. Shane Safir is practical in helping us to practice how we ourselves would like to be listened to during conversations. Malcolm X. Kendi is inspirational in acting with intention to create a better world. In a world that feels like we have no control at all, we actually do. Good luck in taking control of reassuring yourself with routine and self regulation 🙂 I’ll look forward to hearing how it is going.

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