Ask Dr. Paul: Fight pandemic blues with grace, gratitude and grit

Here’s how to build an attitudinal toolkit that will help you find your way through trying times.

There isn’t a formula for the pandemic blues. It’s a work in progress for each of us — trying different strategies for keeping our heads above water. An effective way to keep your mind and body healthy as we adjust to a new way of living is to work hard to cultivate the three G’s — grace, gratitude and grit.

Q: I’m struggling. Between social distancing, sheltering at home, and worry about money, I feel overwhelmed and pessimistic. What can I do?

A: These are trying times all of us. Between fear of getting sick and a global economic downturn, it’s hard to keep ourselves afloat. Some days are better, especially when the sun is shining and the rhododendrons are covered with red, white and pink blossoms.

But then other days are worse — I wake up feeling tired, discouraged and worried. It can be hard to release the tension in my body and in my mind.

We need to cultivate the inner resources that will help us find our way through these trying times. Here’s my attitudinal toolkit:

Cultivate grace. There are moments when my mind settles and relaxes. I feel connected to my family, friends, neighbors, community and the world. I realize that we, citizens of the world, are all living through this pandemic together, although physically separate. We all share the same hopes for the health of loved ones, share the fears of loss, and share the dreams of returning to a safer, more secure and friendlier future. When I feel this connection, I’m able to live more in the present, with greater awareness and sensitivity.

There are many ways to cultivate grace — for me meditation and tai chi helps. Spirituality, music, art and simply being in nature can nurture this peace and acceptance.

Cultivate gratitude. The experience of grace brings us into a state of thankfulness for what we do have, what we haven’t lost, and what we hold dear. I feel thankful that I have the opportunity and privilege to help others as a psychologist, that I live in the magnificent Pacific Northwest, that I am able to shelter with the love of my life, and that I am alive.

Gratitude doesn’t make up for loss. But it does help us focus our attention on what is positive in our lives. Gratitude can also bring us grace and reminds us of what’s important.

Cultivate grit. Grit is an important ingredient for getting through hard times. It’s a combination of perseverance, mental toughness, motivation and self-confidence. It’s the recognition that if you set your mind to do something, stick with it and don’t give up, muscle through setbacks and challenges, you are more likely to achieve your goal. Some days, we need grit to simply get out of bed, put our feet on the ground, and get moving no matter how we feel.

This pandemic requires an abundance of grit. We need mental toughness to navigate through the challenges that lay ahead — to stay safe, protect our loved ones and neighbors, weather the economic and emotional repercussions of social distancing, look for solutions, and ask for help when we need it.

We all need to dig deep within ourselves and find our reservoirs of grace, gratitude and grit. These important ingredients will help us find our way.

Paul Schoenfeld is a clinical psychologist at The Everett Clinic. His Family Talk blog can be found at www.everettclinic.com/family-talk-blog. Do you have a behavioral-health question related to COVID-19? Sending your questions to askdrpaul@everettclinic.com.

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