In a matter of weeks, life for most Americans has changed radically. I know I don’t have to tell you why — just turn on your TV or scroll through social media. Our entire nation has turned its collective 24/7 attention to the current global pandemic.
So where do you find yourself during this time?
Perhaps you’re a high school or college student who suddenly finds themselves having to adapt to learning online. Maybe you are a high school senior wondering what university you are going to attend in the fall without being able to tour campuses one last time. You could even be wondering if colleges are going to resume in the fall at all.
What if you’re a senior graduating college and you’re wondering how the pandemic is going to impact your job opportunities — nervous about paying off student loans. You could be a professional who finds themselves having to work remotely to meet deadlines for a demanding boss while being held-up at home with your family or roommates. You could even be juggling helping kids learn from home while also working. Maybe, due to all that has transpired over these past few weeks, you aren’t working at all.
The truth is — no matter your circumstances and situation — each of us is grappling with this new seemingly unreal reality. Some of us may be handling it more gracefully than others, but no one is immune to some level of stress, confusion, or anxiety about the uncertainty we currently face.
And the truth is — no matter how many articles you read or experts you watch on the news, no one can be fully certain how long this will last and the long-term ramifications it will have on our national health, economy, and society.
So what can you do about it all in the “now”?
There is a skill taught in DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy) called radical acceptance. It is a skill I think is critically important to practice right now to the best of your ability.
For the record, I am not a psychologist or mental health counselor. So this is personal, not professional, advice. To be honest, the first time I heard of “radical acceptance” was in an interview between Lady Gaga and Oprah during Oprah’s ‘2020 Vision Tour.’ Inspired and intrigued, I researched the concept and began practicing it in my own life.
“Radical acceptance” is the concept of accepting what is, accepting life as it is, without resisting what you do or do not like about it. It does not mean you approve or agree with what is happening, but it means you acknowledge reality without fighting it. It is our fighting with reality that often causes the most suffering. We practice radical acceptance because when we accept a situation rather than fight against it, we can more easily enter into problem-solving.
So how can we radically accept the current viral storm that is affecting our world? Well — at this point we must acknowledge that the coronavirus pandemic is our current reality, and that it is impacting each of our lives across the nation, and world, in one way or another.
We may not be able to individually solve such a global problem, but we can each take steps towards a hopeful solution — staying at home, washing our hands, and supporting those around us, even if that support must be virtual for now.
Beyond the actions, or non-actions, we can take, it is also just as important to acknowledge our emotions regarding the new reality. To radically accept the emotions that do come up, even if they seem to be negative or in conflict.
When I scroll through social media, I see a whole range of different reactions to the current lockdown. Some people are focusing on the positives — the inspiration of our healthcare workers fighting on the frontlines, the positive impacts on the environment, people singing from their balconies in Italy. Some people acknowledge their grief — the loss of loved ones, the fear they feel after losing their job, the cancelling of school and social events.
These two emotional reactions — positive and negative — may seem to be in conflict with each other. So what happens if you find yourself experiencing both?
I find myself experiencing conflicting emotions to everything that is going on, often at the same time. On the one hand, I am grateful that I can work remotely and keep my income, that I have a safe and comfortable home to shelter in, and that I have friends and family for support. On the other hand, I feel angry — angry that this could happen and at certain circumstances I am now facing. I feel disappointment at what seems to be lost during this time and concerned about the future.
It’s okay to feel both gratitude and grief or disappointment during this time. It’s okay to look on the bright side of things, while also having some anxiety about the future and grieve what may have been lost.
Our emotions don’t have to be either/or, black-and-white. Maybe you are disappointed you can’t go out to celebrate your 21st birthday, but also grateful to be able to celebrate with your friends “virtually.” Having internet access right now is really a God-send. Perhaps you’re facing uncertainty with your job and are worried about your finances and paying rent, but grateful that you could always move back with your parents. You could possibly be concerned about finishing school and don’t have anyone to lean on. Maybe it is too hard for you to look on the positive side of things right now in any capacity at all. Or you could feel like your personal concerns are small in comparison to the larger global picture.
You are not less than for having what seems like “conflicting” emotions or negative emotions. It’s okay to be disappointed about something personal like missing your graduation, while also concerned about those who may be in a more vulnerable position than you. We all have our individual and collective pain right now.
Instead of trying to hide away any grief, hurt, disappointment, or anxiety you might be feeling during these times — radically accept it. Accept that maybe how you are feeling in the moment. Allow yourself to work through the feelings that are coming up.
Again, I am not a counselor, so this is personal advice. I can’t promise that radical acceptance is going to take all the pain away, but it will remove some suffering. It won’t even change what is going on, but it will make it easier to get up and face the next day and work towards any solution to any challenges you may be facing.
It is foolish to try and force positivity without acknowledging any grief or disappointment, because those emotions will still be there, they will just be buried away and festering out-of-sight. Once we acknowledge our more negative emotions, it’s easier to stay positive and make the best of any given situation.
And hopefully, when this storm has passed, and we begin to pick ourselves up again, we can move towards individual and collective healing. Until then, I pray we all find a little peace amidst the storm.