During uncertain times, like our current pandemic, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed and paralyzed. You’re not sure what to do, what to think, or where to start.
Maybe you’ve been reading articles with lists of suggestions, or seeing a variety of posts on social media: Some people are slowing down and maintaining loose schedules. Others are ramping up, establishing very specific plans, and creating hyper-productive systems for working from home (and making over their homes).
But these ideas might not resonate with you.
That’s OK, and it’s understandable. Because each person’s needs are different—and they’re especially different during difficult times.
Plus, your personal needs will differ day to day, and sometimes, even moment to moment.
California-based psychotherapist Joy Malek, MFT, shared a simple but powerful practice to help us reconnect to ourselves and honor our needs. Malek specializes in working with people who are intuitive, empathic, creative, and highly sensitive.
Name what you’re feeling. Maybe you’re frustrated or downright angry. Maybe you’re sad and grieving. Maybe you’re feeling all of these feelings. Either way, remember there’s no wrong way to feel. And remember that “Just because you feel something dark or scary doesn’t mean you will act on it,” Malek said. Naming your emotions is the first step in releasing them and taking healthy, nourishing action.
Name what you need. “The goal here is to identify what will help, even just a little,” Malek said. You might need to cry or vent to a loved one. You might need to rest or take a walk. You might need to get more sleep or take a nap. You might need to journal or watch a funny film. “Don’t try to solve the whole problem, just choose one action to take,” Malek said.
Take healthy action. Malek noted that this can be the toughest part “because it often means going against the tide of the way we feel. But self-reflection without action can just keep us tied up in mental loops.”
It can help to start with the smallest step: Instead of thinking about taking a 30-minute walk, simply put your shoes on and open the door. Instead of calling your friend, text them. Instead of going to bed an hour earlier, put your pjs on, or lie down 15 minutes before you normally fall asleep. Instead of thinking about journaling for 20 minutes, just open your notebook, set a timer for 5 minutes, and see what comes up.
According to Malek, “Acting upon our needs is a way to be responsive to ourselves, and that in itself feels reassuring.”
If you have time and the desire, make a list of healthy activities that you enjoy and are particularly helpful. Delve deeper, and reflect on how each activity supports and benefits you: Maybe taking a walk reduces your anxiety and creates a more optimistic perspective. Maybe crying feels like it cleanses your soul.
Keep your list handy, and turn to it whenever you need some guidance.
Again, remember that it’s normal to feel a roller-coaster of emotions right now. At this point, the word “unprecedented” has become cliché. But it’s not any less true: You are going through an unprecedented period of time, and you are no doubt doing the best you can.
Honor that. And honor yourself.