By Stephanie Wick, Ph.D., LCMFT, LCAC
It saddens me to be writing this. If I weren’t so tired, my soul might actually be weeping tears of profound sadness. Instead, I have settled for weary resignation of the way things are and a diluted sense of grief for how they used to be. Most days, I don’t know if I’m bored, overworked, lonely, depressed, content or crazy. Occasionally, there might be a flitter of excitement about something, but it often escapes into the night. One day bleeds into the next. The proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel” is apparently a moving target. Or a cruel joke.
At this point, I must wonder: Do we laugh? Do we cry? Do we rebel? Do we resign? Should we flog ourselves for being so dependent on a constant stream of entertainment, activities, and goals that we struggle to exist without them? Do we run away to the beach and resolve to a life of working in a surf shop and wearing flip flops in a state of simple and blissful ignorance?
Among the widely published (and useful) suggestions for surviving the pandemic include: (1) Maintain a routine; (2) Socialize as much as you can; (3) Connect with nature; (4) Try something new. All are wonderful and useful and highly appropriate.
But how about this one: Control the narrative in your mind. Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, psychiatrist, and author of Man’s Search for Meaning, formulated some of the most powerful thoughts on this topic ever presented. From the depths of his own deep suffering—which far exceeded the suffering most of us are enduring—he postulated these thoughts:
The way we choose to think about a situation, any situation, will largely determine our experience of it. Inherently, we all possess confirmation bias. We see what we want to see. At the risk of oversimplification, and in alignment with Frankl, it is critical to note that we also have the freedom and ability to carefully choose our attitudes. This is the one thing no-one and nothing can take from us, and the one thing that no-one can do for us.
To change our inner narratives (i.e., the stories we tell ourselves about a situation) is an active process. It does not simply occur. Sometimes we must wrestle our old narratives to the ground, put them in a headlock and bind them in chains, only to trudge through the thick muckiness of our minds to find a more positive story. But it is possible and only requires the will to do so. To maintain a positive story is to have a strong buffer against unrelenting and uncertain course of the pandemic. The same is true for many life circumstances or situations. Control your narrative and control your experience of it.
(Obvious exceptions to this may include individuals who suffer from depression, anxiety, or other mental health disorders).