We’ll remember this pandemic the rest of our lives. There’s a lot of talk about when we’ll get back to “normal,” as in life before the virus, and the answer maybe never. We’ve all dealt with a trauma: anxiety over our own health and the health of our family and others, some with major financial stresses involving the loss of jobs, the political climate charged to a fever pitch, leaders in our country unprepared and unwilling to make decisions that keep people alive, and then the death toll here and around the world. The trauma has been both individual and collective, and then on top of it, we’ve experienced major inconveniences, like the inability to travel or move about freely. Many are trying to work from home while educating their children and keeping them occupied and so many other issues all stacking on each other. It can feel overwhelming.
How will we ever go back to normal after a situation like this? What will happen next? Will we be shutting down again? Will the virus come back and be worse? All of these thoughts are swirling through our heads as we live in uncertainty, whether we like it or not. Humans are hardwired to crave certainty. Having control over one’s life equates to a sense of well-being. In fact, psychologists have a term for how we react when we lose control. Reactance.
Reactance is why we struggle with losing control and how we react to losing that control—the emotional and cognitive stress it causes. We see examples of reactance everywhere, from people refusing to wear masks out in public to the spring protests to reopen states. The feeling of losing control is akin to a personal attack because it’s so immediate.
As far as real control over our lives, the truth is we never really had it; we just thought we did. Sure, we had more control over some things before the pandemic, but in the big picture of life, not really. An example of fictitious control is that I feel safer driving my car than flying in an airplane because I’m controlling the car. When I’m on a plane, I feel powerless. But the fact is that I’m much more likely to die in a car crash than in a plane. So, do I really have control after all? Not really, but I like the feeling of having power over my life. We all do.
I used to hold on to what little control I had with an iron grip. When I sensed a loss of that control, I became very stressed and anxious. Byron Katie, author of Loving What Is, describes three circles in life: my business, other people’s business, and God’s or the Universe’s business. She reminds us that all we can control is our business, what we decide to do; if we’re in one of the other two circles, we’re creating our own suffering. Personally, when I focused on the things I could control during a more traumatic time of my life, I felt more at peace than in times that seemed calmer and “normal.” Letting go is challenging for the human brain. We’re wired not only to want control, but to write a story about how it should go and what will happen in the future as opposed to taking things as they come.
In the next segments and accompanying videos, we’re going to talk about how we not only survive, but how we move forward and heal from trauma we go through. It’s raw and messy and real. And we’re here for it, for each other, and for our world. So let’s show up just how we are, in the healing process. Let’s stop and notice the things we’re doing that work for us and those that don’t. Be your own meteorologist and observe your internal weather systems to learn about how you heal—about how you surrender to a situation where you don’t have control. See if it helps you feel better. If not, try something else, but be mindful of yourself and those around you. What works for you may be very different for them. We can support each other through the process even if our techniques vary. Forgive your mistakes and forgive others.
We’re living through hard times that we’ll certainly never forget. These times are uncertain, but they always are. How we move through them can allow us to heal, learn, and grow. Don’t give up; we’ll get through this. You can do hard things.
Sandy Eichel is a happy ex-should-er.