I don’t know about you, but I am weary of the firehose of information detailing the difficulty and suffering, the loneliness and deprivation of our lives under COVID-19. How hard it is. How alienating. How lonely.
This is true, of course. But I sometimes wonder whether the repetition casts its own dark shadow.
I don’t intend to minimize the gut-punch of the pandemic. Recent studies from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that mental health globally has taken a nosedive. Forty-two percent of front-line healthcare workers experienced anxiety or depressive disorder in a survey taken last June. But nearly half of adults working from home also report feeling stressed and anxious.
This is what we already know. But sometimes, I’ve heard a whisper of another perspective—a different way of looking at this hard time. Let’s examine it.
COVID can be an opportunity. With the sudden cessation of the every-day hustle, we may have time. We may have time that we could use to develop resilience and grace under fire. It’s an opportunity to reframe the situation by asking What do I get to do? rather than What do I have to give up?
“By giving us a compelling ‘Why’ it helps us tap into reserves of strength, courage, creativity and resilience that may otherwise lay dormant,” writes Margie Warrell in Forbes. Or, as Nietzsche said, “He who has a why can endure any how.” This is a time that asks something of us—it’s a call to action. We live in a world of hurts, and we can’t afford to remain passive in response. “Find a way to transform your anxiety into action,” said a wise, older woman.
After identifying the why, we can then look for the work that was meant for us alone—our purpose, if you will. “We’re all looking for a light at the end of the tunnel. Instead of looking for that light, we must now become that light,” continues Warrell.
What better time to do this than in the midst of a pandemic? The world could sure use a little light right now.
This is no mean task, and I’m as daunted and challenged by it as you. There are tools, but ultimately each of us walks our own path to meaning. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Plan some quiet time. Instead of browsing through Netflix, set aside some of that time you now have to purposefully reflect on where you are in life and where you want to be. Reflect on your strengths. Think about what matters most to you. What values do you want to live? What kind of person do you want to be? How do you want people to remember you? Write it down—it’s kind of like drawing a portrait of your inner self.
- Take care of yourself. It’s hard to improve your self-image or gather the energy necessary to participate fully in your quest without some good mental and physical health practices. Dr. Vic Strecher, professor of public health at the University of Michigan, recommends the SPACE approach:
- Sleep. Get enough to rest your body and mind
- Presence. Be attentive to the moment
- Activity. Exercise enough for physical and emotional health
- Creativity. Explore new things. Develop new talents.
- Eat well for physical and mental health.
- Use the tools. Dr. Strecher offers a free, online course through the university: Finding Purpose and Meaning in Life: Living for What Matters Most. You could check out this comprehensive lists of classes, books, videos, and other resources for finding your bliss. And here is a down-to-earth template from a fellow purpose-seeker.
Lest you are tempted to be skeptical, all this falderol about meaning and purpose has another, very measureable and positive effect, according to Strecher. People who live with a robust sense of purpose tend to be healthier on a number of fronts. “Having a strong, self-transcending purpose is associated with reduced inflammation and increased antibody response,” he says. “Living with purpose at retirement is associated with lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, cardiovascular disease and stroke.”
I encourage you (and myself) not to leave this time of enforced isolation without doing some introspection and re-alignment, if necessary, of your path forward. That just may be the pandemic’s gift to us.
Dr. Barb DePree, M.D., has been a gynecologist and women’s health provider for almost 30 years and a menopause care specialist for the past ten.