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  • Writer's pictureKelsey Barrett

Coping with the world flipping upside down

Updated: Feb 20

When I first began hearing about the COVID-19 pandemic I was in the middle of a 90-day self-care challenge that I was really loving. I was around day 60 and forming meaningful habits using a self-exploration and tracking practice while using motivators like habit chaining to help myself in areas where taking care of myself wasn't easy. I was practicing self-compassion in my self-talk and flexibility in my regulation exercises to make these even more powerful when as so often happens everything just STOPPED.

Several of the practices I had intentionally cultivated were simply no longer available, and like many others, I was thrown into a discouraging and stressful time of caring for my own needs while balancing the wellbeing of others in my direct circle and dealing with the uncertainty of a dangerous disease we knew nothing about. This was the phase where we sanitized our groceries and barely left the house to avoid the spread. Childcare and working were evolving in real-time.

While I hope that this abrupt adjustment was unique there have been other times in my life where my world and identity suddenly shifted with little or no warning or where I could not have fully understood what was happening until it had already occurred like motherhood or puberty or starting a first corporate job or getting married or having a loved one become ill or grieving the death of a loved one. In this case with many of my favorite resources stripped away I was forced to look at myself and my environment and creatively come up with new coping skills to fit the new me and the new situation. It took me months to re-adjust, but I finally was able to look up from the chaos and try to find something new to use. Although I do not look back fondly on the time, I know I will need the flexibility I gained in the future.

I turned to coping skills I know are tried and true, but had not explored prior. Cooking is a wonderful coping skill for those who enjoy it, but for me, I knew that one was not going to work. Instead, I tried gardening which I know is mindful, beautiful, satisfying, and grounding. It is a great meaning builder because it results in a product, and requires difficult strenuous work using my body which is great for getting rid of anxiety and anger. Although I have a black thumb I had the mental space at the time to create something new and cultivate it with patience and self-kindness. I told myself it would be a great opportunity for my young kid to see science in action even if I couldn't truly grow anything. Like an experiment, I researched soil and filled a small bed. I pulled weeds, watered, and slowly discovered I enjoyed it despite being deeply imperfect. In fact, this inability to be the best gardener ever helped me continue to be on my own growth edge in perfectionism. I told myself "all the best gardeners I know are older than me and if I keep working at it even if I am truly horrible now I have a good 20 years to catch up."

I still can't say I'm a master gardener as the plants I tended so closely this April were eaten by bugs and destroyed by the drought and persistent 110-degree heat, but I can feel myself becoming better at it. Even now I have a few small house plants and 2 rosemary plants that made it through. Maybe this year I'll figure out cilantro.

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