Managing change in a changing world Part 2: The power to choose (disponible en anglais seulement)

As stated in Part 1, we find ourselves in extraordinary times (1). We’re facing what we have never faced before, a global pandemic. Nobody knows how long it will last or how long it will be until we can resume our usual lives — whenever that will be. Nobody knows what life will be like on the other side. For now, all we have is today, and for today, we can, and should, do all we can, individually and collectively, to carry us through these times in the best ways possible — for ourselves, our families, and our communities.

Change doesn’t come easy, even at the best of times. Before we knew what was happening, social (aka physical) distancing was put in place and our lives changed overnight with the gargantuan effort to slow the spread, i.e., “flatten the curve” (2) — gatherings on pause, schools shut down, public spaces closed, and many working from home. For so many, life has virtually ground to a halt, isolated at home, while for others, it has ramped up in ways unimaginable. Certainly the veterinary profession has much to be proud of, from deftly restructuring services for companion animal care and livestock management, to providing personal protective equipment, ventilators, and anesthetic gas machines to hospitals, to calling out — again — for a One Health approach with research and response to zoonoses (3). The COVID-19 pandemic marks the third novel coronavirus outbreak of the 21st century. With a One Health approach, veterinarians may one day play a vital role in preventing the next pandemic.

For all of us, there is a call for resilience. The ability to flex with the times, move with the change, to recover quickly from difficulties. Part 1 of Managing change in a changing world focused on “moving” with the change, which referred, paradoxi- cally, to doing quite the opposite. Pausing, pulling out from the chaos, the upheaval of our lives, to reflect, take perspective, and regain balance, so we can, from a balanced mindset, choose how to carry ourselves through the pandemic. As Victor Frankl said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response.”

The power to choose

Choose how you want to carry yourself forward! There are steps you can take to support yourself, your family, and your community as we move through this pandemic. Maybe it is just following the hygiene recommendations, maintaining social distance, and curbing travel. But it can be so much more. Just as social distanc- ing has its limits — on your life, so to say — it doesn’t have to limit you. There are many things you can do to keep you, and those you care about, well.

Lean into self-care

Self-care is vital for the resilience needed to manage the stressors in life that can’t be changed (4). It’s important to assess how you’re caring for yourself at this critical time. Eating a balanced diet, getting plenty of sleep, balancing movement with rest, and engaging in leisure activities are always key to staying physically and psychologically healthy during stressful times. Good self- care also keeps your immune system robust.

Customize your self-care to your needs. Self-care isn’t a one- size-fits-all strategy. Assess which areas of your life need more attention. And remember, as your circumstances change, your needs may change. Lean into your self-care more than ever before, even if it is hard to find the time and space. It’s impera- tive. When you care for your body, mind, and spirit, you’ll be able to live your best life.

Mind your attitude

Choose optimism. Catastrophic predictions aren’t helpful. Create a positive future story. The way you think and the things that you fill your mind with greatly influence your psychologi- cal well-being. If you’re constantly thinking things like, “I can’t stand this,” or “Things will never be the same,” you’ll stress yourself out. Positive thoughts will help you develop a healthier outlook. Choose to have optimistic conversations with yourself. They will help you manage your emotions and take positive action (5). What you say to yourself matters.

Express gratitude

Gratitude is empowering. It not only helps you recognize all the things you have to be thankful for, but reminds you of all the resources that you have to cope with this (5). Whether you’re grateful for a sunny day or a child in your arms, think about all the good things that you have in your life. Consider keeping a journal on the things you are grateful for or that are going well. Share what you’re grateful for and what is going well with as many people as you can. Let gratitude show up in conversations. Make gratitude a habit. As Melodie Beattie said, “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life… makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”

Be creative

Immersing yourself in a creative activity helps you to temporar- ily forget your troubles and worries. As you become engrossed in what you’re doing, you enter an almost meditative state, an inner focus that distracts you from what’s happening in the world around you. Creative expression, whether through art, drawing, coloring, reading, or writing; or through crafts, pottery, carpen- try, knitting, or sewing; or through photography, music, danc- ing, gardening, or cooking; and so much more, makes us feel better (6). Creativity can even boost the immune system! When was the last time you danced in the kitchen, sang in the shower, or sat at the piano? How long has it been since you curled up to read a good book? If you aren’t into drawing or painting, why not try coloring? It’s a great stress reliever (5). Love to cook? Or want to start? Take advantage of the time saved with not going to restaurants to create new dishes. Take-out is riskier than making food at home, given the links between the people who prepare and deliver it and you. It’s hard to know what that is, but it is certainly higher than making meals at home.

Get outdoors

Barring a complete lockdown, one thing that is still available to us is the outdoors. Spending time outside, even if just in the backyard, is good for the body, mind, and spirit. Catch some sunshine. Take in the green. Listen to the birds. And don’t forget to look up. There’s that vast sky above us. When was the last time you followed the clouds or looked for the big dipper? The outdoors offers the chance to enjoy a change of scenery, which gets you into a different frame of mind. Walking is a simple but effective way to rejuvenate both mind and body. If you have kids, join them in a game of catch, soccer, hide-and- seek, or tag. Although they can’t play with other kids, surely there’s still the kid in you! Go bicycling together. Plant a garden. Enjoy a picnic. And if you can’t get outdoors, even looking out the window or at the photo of a landscape can make you hapier, healthier, and less stressed (7).

Maintain routines

With social distancing, we’re doing less of the things we nor- mally do. Amid these changes, try to keep up with regular routines, as it will lend the sense of normalcy and control. And as you develop new routines, stick to them. It’s important to maintain structure, predictability and a sense of purpose in each day. Stick to regular wake-up, grooming and meal times (8).

Where and how everyone works and plays at home should be planned, recognizing the need for flexibility. Design your life with an emphasis on control and continuity.

Connect with others

Social distancing doesn’t mean social isolation. Connection is essential, especially during challenging times. When we can’t gather in person, “gather” virtually — with gratitude that we live in a time when that’s possible. Leverage technology to stay in touch. Phone, e-mail, text, and use social media to connect with friends, family, and those in your community. Play online games, form a digital supper club! Talk “face-to-face” with Skype or FaceTime. Likewise, be sure to disconnect from technology to spend face-to-face time with your family. Taking the time to savor heart-to-heart conversations can bring about stronger social connectedness going forward. There are many ways to maintain the social ties that bind us (9).

Be of service

Ask yourself, “What can I do to help?” Helping others is good for everyone, including yourself (!), because service is an anti- dote to fear. So every day — and especially when you’re caught up in fear and worry — ask yourself what you can do to help. Providing urgent care is service. Beyond this front-line work, is there something else that you can do? Is there someone you can call who might be feeling particularly worried, afraid, or lonely? Can you “Zoom” a friend with your pet, bringing extra smiles? Can you get groceries for the next-door neighbor? Can you support a restaurant or retailer by purchasing an online gift certificate to use later on? What about a donation to a food bank? What about donating blood — naturally there are protec- tive protocols, and the need never goes away. Think about acts of kindness. The smallest acts often go the farthest. And when we each do our turn, and the kindnesses circulate, we quickly realize just how much we are in this together.

Seek help when needed

In times like these, tuning in to mental health is important (10). Some will experience mental health problems for the first time, while others find that their symptoms worsen (11). It’s not unusual to feel more on edge than usual, angry, sad, or even helpless. You may notice that you’re impatient and eas- ily irritated. You may want to avoid any reminders of what is happening. For those who struggle with mental health, you may feel more anxious or depressed, and less motivated to do the things you usually do. The physical isolation, the closure of community-based mental health programs, and the move to virtual counselling can make the adjustments needed at this time more difficult. Those with severe anxiety may increase their use of substances. Those in recovery may become more likely to relapse.

If your mental health is impacted by the stress of COVID-19, then you may want to seek professional help. A licensed mental health professional can help you manage your fears. If you’re feeling alone and struggling, you can reach out to the Crisis Text Line (12) by texting 741741 or Crisis Services Canada by calling 1-833-456-4566 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 1-800-273-TALK. Help is always available. You may also contact SAMHSA’s Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990 (13).

Stay informed, within reason

It’s natural to feel anxious when missing information, so stay informed. Learn all that you can about COVID-19 and what you can do to protect yourself, and your family, coworkers, and clients, and prevent the spread. Watch, listen to, or read the news for updates from trustworthy sources and officials. And be aware of the rumors that spread, especially on social media. Avoid media outlets that build hype or dwell on things that can’t be controlled. Check your sources and turn to reliable sources of information, like your government authorities and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (14).

Just as it’s natural to feel anxious when missing information, if you have too much information or are inundated with the news, you can feel quite the same — or worse. Too much informa- tion can be confusing and overwhelming, making it difficult to make sense of it. Repeated exposure to troubling news can be traumatic. This is where media distancing comes in.

Set limits on your media consumption (11). Tuning into stories that incessantly talk about how fast the virus is spread- ing, how many people are getting sick, and the death tolls, only increases anxiety. It can even cause you to overestimate the risks of contracting the infection. Take breaks from the news, includ- ing social media. Follow your regular daily routines as much as possible, checking in for updates as seems reasonable. Just as we absolutely need to stay informed, we absolutely need to avoid too much exposure.

Carrying on, moving forward

It is what it is — we are in a pandemic. We can’t change that. But we can choose how to carry ourselves “in” and “through” this. To do this, we need to first pull out from the chaos, the upheaval of our lives, to reflect, take perspective, and regain bal- ance, so we can, from a balanced mindset, choose how to carry ourselves forward. These choices will hold us in good stead.

It’s clear that we’ve never faced a situation like this before. However, this shouldn’t mean that we’ll fall apart. Quite the contrary. We are in this together and can join in collective action for the common good. What will life be like on the other side? Maybe we’ll feel a greater sense of community. Maybe we’ll know our neighbors a little better. For sure we’ll see the outcomes of the choices we’ve made.


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