“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.” ~Buddha
Just the other day, I had one of those moments with my husband, and not the kind of moment they write about in romance novels.
The world has been so different these last several months, and so many are feeling the effects of months of struggle, uncertainty, frustration, and limitations.
I consider myself to be someone who works to see the positive, finds the silver living in situations, and believes in the best of people, and that things can and will always get better. But lately, that has been more of a struggle.
My husband is amazing, and incredible in so many ways, but he is always the more likely to see the bottom falling out, expect bad things, and struggle with restrictions and limitations being placed on him.
So, after trying really hard, and I mean really, really hard to stay positive, my better half kept dipping into the dumps, and I finally hit my wall.
After sitting at lunch and realizing, I really don’t want to spend the rest of this day like this, I gave him an out from this tension and clear animosity growing with each passing minute. I told him to go see his friends, take time away from me, and try and let go of his frustration at least a little, even for a moment (in the hopes that it would also let me release some of mine).
And then I walked out, somewhat dramatically, like they do in the movies, when you don’t even bother to look back. More like a huff.
My first thought was that he is driving me crazy, which he has done consistently for almost thirty years, all while acknowledging that the last few months have been awful.
I felt like I was fuming, and then came back to the question of “Why is it so hard right now? Why is he being like this? Why am I so bothered by him being like this? Why can’t we just figure it out and be gracious?”
The plain and simple answer is, right now, things just kind of suck. Sugarcoating it seems to downplay the effects of what so many are experiencing, and it minimizes the struggle, which is quite real.
Right now, we are experiencing a pandemic, which has shifted the entire world and its way of being, in a way few of us have ever known. We have seen economies struggling to keep up. Lives are being lost. Quarantines have been put in place.
There is no normal for so many, but somehow, we are still supposed to “act normal.”
It’s a struggle and coping well can feel like a nearly impossible task, leaving people feeling like they are failing personally, during a time when they are already hurting in other ways. Family members are feeling impatient with one another. Couples are bickering more. People are quick to lose their temper and even quicker to feel anxious, sad, or angry at their lack of control right now.
People are frustrated, they are scared. Times are uncertain, and there is a sense of gloom and doom that continues to hang over so many.
There is a sense of powerlessness, and so many people continue to describe the feeling of being “stuck.” Plans can’t really be made. Vacations can’t be had. Life as normal still ceases to exist, and no one can really say if, or when, things will gain some sense of consistency.
We need to recognize how stressful that can be, not only for our mental well-being but also in our daily lives, as we interact with the ones we love most.
So, for myself, after the dramatic exit and a few minutes of driving in the car, the more logical part of myself gained control for a moment.
I realized that amid situations that feel chaotic, we all need a little “chaos coping checklist,” or maybe now it could be a “COVID coping checklist,” to help endure these stressful times that we are all working hard to get through, day by day. Here is mine.
1. Stop. And breathe.
Never underestimate the power you give yourself when you just stop and breathe. Allow yourself to pause and be deliberate with your breath. Take a few slow breaths to reconnect to yourself rather than just the heat of the moment. Let your breath fill you, guide you, and calm you.
2. Acknowledge your emotions.
Don’t deny yourself the right to feel angry, sad, or frustrated. And don’t deny your partner, friend, family, or colleague that right either. And definitely do not judge your emotion as not being worthy or valid. Our emotions are understandable given the current state of affairs, and they often clue us in to what we need, so listen to them, and honor them.
3. Just because you love them, you don’t always have to like them.
Remember you can love someone unconditionally and still feel angry with them, hurt by them, or want time or space apart from them.
Couples together forever still have disagreements. Parents get frustrated by their children. Friends can rub each other the wrong way.
We are human beings, prone to error and able to become easily overwhelmed at times. It is okay to not like the ones you love every moment of the day. Allowing yourself to remember that may help you focus on the love more, and the dislike less.
4. Give yourself (and others) a break.
Physically and mentally. Take a moment (or as many as you can and need) to remove yourself from a situation.
Maybe you need to take a walk by yourself or go into another room and get lost in some music. Let yourself find a quiet spot and read something calming or inspiring, or go have that glass of wine and watch the rom-com or action movie you wanted to watch. Just take a break, you deserve it.
5. Accept that it is okay to not be okay right now.
Even if you are that person who always sees the rainbow after the storm, or the bright side to a situation, you may not feel able to do that right now. And that’s okay.
Naturally, if even the cheerful ones in the room are feeling gloomy, the ones who are more likely to see the storm may feel they are drowning in it. Remind them too that it’s okay, and offer any support you can, if you are able. Someday, hopefully soon enough, we will all find our way back to okay.
6. Give yourself and those you love the gift of compassion.
No one out there is perfect, and we should never strive for perfection. Instead, strive to be better than you were before. If yesterday was hard, see what you can learn from it. Remind yourself that you are doing the best you can. If you need to forgive someone for snapping at you, or forgive yourself for being harsh, give that gift.
Lighten the load you are carrying by replacing it with more compassion. Maybe right now isn’t the time for high unreachable expectations, but rather gentle exercises in kindness and consideration, for others, but especially for yourself.
These are tough times. Maybe the best thing we can do for ourselves and the people we love is be understand that these “moments” will happen.
Having these difficult moments with our loved ones, like I had myself, doesn’t mean you are somehow not the amazing person you are striving to be, or for that matter, that they aren’t either. It doesn’t mean you are somehow failing right now if you feel angry, scared, or worried. It means you’re human.
7. Even in the midst of chaos, seek to find gratitude.
During adversity and times when you feel unable to find your balance, gratitude can be a tool for comfort. It can remind you that even when you feel frustrated, doubtful, and stressed, you will find your blessings if you look for them.
Maybe it’s that you have a family, even if they get on your nerves. Maybe you are grateful for that roof over your head that you so desperately long to escape from for a while. Maybe you are blessed to have a job where you can work from home, even if you would rather be at work.
Gratitude can help ease your anxiety, and when the anxious feelings leave you feeling adrift in a storm, your ability to find blessings and feel grateful can ground you, and leave you feeling abundant, even during adversity.
The truth is, everyone is doing the best they can right now. Using a mental checklist for the times that leave us overwhelmed gives us a chance for structure amidst chaos. And using a checklist like this, shared and read by many, can remind everyone that the struggle is real, but we are all in this together.
As for me, the very next day—after going through this whole checklist—the frustration lessened, the fuming went away, and I started looking for my silver lining again.
I will try and follow this checklist as often as needed and be as gentle with my loved ones as I can, but also with myself so that my compassion is complete.