As financial professionals, we are often expected to evaluate the financial needs of our clients and develop a financial and investment plan. This is the primary expectation for our engagement. What goes often unstated, are the conversations and complexities around family dynamics, jobs, uncertainty and change. Because of this, I felt it would be prudent to engage a fellow professional to share some thoughts on how you can focus on your mental health during this time of uncertainty and change. The fellow professional happens to be my wife, Stephanie Dunn, MPCAC. She has shared some thoughts that can help cope as we go through this together.
The threat of COVID-19 has certainly caused disruption in our daily way of life. Normal habits have been forced to change and our expectations of life’s operations have been drastically altered. There is an omnipresent uncertainty that permeates every component of our daily operations. We are creatures of habit, and when our daily habits are disrupted, we can begin to feel; anxious, stressed, overwhelmed, and fearful. While we all have different thresholds in our tolerance for the unexpected, these simple steps are relevant and useful when dealing with stress responses.
1. Acknowledge your feelings and the feelings of others.
Practice compassion and patience with yourself and others. Be sure to validate feelings, and be cautious not to sweep thoughts, feelings, and emotions aside. Validation allows a person to feel heard and understood. Feeling understood helps to build personal resilience. Collectively we can use the COVID-19 experience to cultivate resilience and emerge with a stronger human foundation.
2. Adjust your expectations.
Expectations can be linked to successes of the past. If it worked at one time, it could just work again. With the level of uncertainty in our existence, we must not ruminate on the past, and create a new present. The successful methods that once worked, may just not be safe and practical in this new reality. Remaining attached to expectations and desired outcomes will only cause unneeded suffering. It is important to appreciate what you have right now and not become nostalgic over what could have been.
3. Control only what you can.
There is only so much one person can do, and it is time to define what you can control at this current moment. Maybe you can only control basic operations right now like eating, bathing, sleeping, and breathing. Our circumstance requires compassion and patience. Establishing a new routine for the next few weeks and months will help give structure in life. Remember though, flexibility is crucial during a time of uncertainty and change.
4. Practice caution when reading the news.
The media is notorious for catastrophizing and attempting to ignite fear. If the news is creating a fearful response in you, maybe try on this perspective. What if the word fear stood for the acronym Facts Educate and Acknowledge Reality? Every news story is based on a small morsel of fact. Using news reports as catalysts to go on a fact-finding journey may help calm your fears, and even help pass time while being sheltered in place. Knowledge is power. When it comes to exploring information that exists about COVID-19 though, attempt to avoid information gathering during vulnerable times of the day, i.e. right before retiring for the evening.
5. Embrace healthy thoughts.
Change is inevitable. There will always be an uncertainty when change is occurring. Worry though can be calmed by small shifts in your perspective. Be mindful of the fact that what is happening right now does not dictate how your future will go, nor do difficult times last an eternity. Spending some time with yourself to visualize what you want, rather than worrying about what you fear, can really assist in changing your interpretation of, and reactions to stressful life circumstances.
If you are feeling consumed by worry and fear, it is okay to ask for help. Maybe you have a trusted friend or partner that you can turn to for support. If you feel you are lacking the level of support needed to get you through your current challenge, please seek some professional assistance. Remember, you are not alone in this journey. Be safe and stay hopeful.