I only have a few hours a day to write right now—usually early in the morning, while my husband is watching the kids, before we switch back and forth to cover childcare and try to work. It’s almost impossible to think in a straight line when patches of time are scraps of minutes stuffed between dishes and magnatiles and chocolate cake that’s been ground into our carpet with the bare feet of small children. Coffee isn’t working anymore, at least not the way that I want it to. There are so many dishes at the end of the day, and my brain feels like mushy, soggy soup. Maybe soggy soup with forgotten bread in it.
Does your brain feel like this?
This time we’re living in right now is exhausting, and I’m baffled by all of the extra zeal towards getting more done, and being extra productive, and “making the most” of our quarantine time.
I don’t think this is the time to make the most of it. Sure, if you have the energy and the drive to make things, do it. If you’re struggling and scrambling to put things together and pay bills and keep your jobs, I completely understand.
But that’s not what I’m hearing from people. Every day, I hear people tell me that they are struggling with being away from the people they love. They’re feeling completely in over their heads. Even if they want to do a lot of things, they don’t have the energy—or the time. People feel vulnerable, they’re struggling to focus, they’re zombied out on their phones, they’re completely overwhelmed by childcare and jobs.
So I want to say it louder for the people in the back: this is not a normal time.
You don’t have to hustle or be productive on top of what’s already going on.
We’re living through a pandemic. This is unprecedented in our lifetimes. We haven’t lived through something like this before, and I think it’s perfectly reasonable for this to be upending and exhausting and strange. The sheer number of decisions we have to make in a single day alone is exhausting, never mind the existential angst or the present and coming economic woes.
If you’re feeling any or all of these things—exhausted, irritable, forgetful, disorganized, angry, anxious, weirdly calm, excited, peaceful, frozen, activated—this is all totally normal from a psychological perspective. These are some of the ways we react to sudden change, to stressful events, and to grief.
And in this way, I can understand people’s stress responses more clearly through this lens. People are panicking and sending emails because it’s all we can do right now to stay calm. We fling our anxiety at each other through emails and cling to our pretend futures because we want something to hang on to.
This is not the time when you need to perfect your habits, make the most of everything, become a new person. Certainly, if that’s your stress response, you’re welcome to make the most of it—upending everything can be a catalyst for new habits. If this is you, go for it.
But if underneath it all you are scared, worried, alone, or anxious, it’s also okay to dip in and feel those feelings.
The fastest way out is often through, and that means we might need to sit with the things that are coming up right now. You have permission to feel scared. You have permission to feel sad. You have permission to feel tired. You have permission to feel hope. You have permission to feel denial.
Your feelings are real, and complicated, and layered.
In order to feel your feelings, I recommend a few things.
First, breathe. Yes, breathe. Many of us hold our breath or take shallow breaths in order to stave off sensation. Exhaling can be huge.
Next, name the feelings as they come up. Feelings are weird. See if you can find a label for them. I love the feelings flowchart for this reason.
Then, remember that feelings that have names are still mental concepts—they are words that live in the mind. See if you can navigate a little closer to your body and describe the feeling sensation with words.
Like, what does your anxiety actually feel like? Where does it live in your body?
Tight shoulders, crick in my neck, bubbles at the bottom of my stomach, shoulder blades on fire.
What does sadness feel like?
Heavy eyebrows, weight in the bottom of my cheeks. I feel hollow—I’m not sure where. My stomach feels empty, and I want to fill it, constantly. I am eating to feel good right now. I just want comfort. My eyes feel dry because crying feels too far away, too hard. It’s like if I let the dam break it will never stop.
My only caveat is that feeling feelings can be hard. It can feel uncomfortable, it can feel challenging, and it takes work—work a lot of us are afraid or don’t know how to do. We’re not taught how to process our emotions and hold them and release them. Emotions are something to be feared or shunned, especially—sadly—in people gendered male. Women have places to talk and feel and process; men? Not so much.
So in the beginning, if you’re starting this process, feeling your feelings might be SUPER STRANGE. You might only be able to do it for a minute or two. I am here with you, feeling this. Sometimes I eat food and watch TV for an hour just to avoid feeling my feelings. Then I check in and see what it’s like and see how long I can manage it.
Your feelings might be like a Wim Hof Ice Bath. We can only stand it for so long. It hurts and it burns and it feels crazy to be doing this, right? But then you gradually build up your capacity and you notice, hey, this is actually something that’s transformative. This is something that helps me release and feel WAY better on the other side. Like starting any exercise program or new routine, the benefits might not really show up right away. “Well, I just feel worse now,” one person told me after a good crying session. “Keep at it,” I said. “In time.”
Also, some feelings benefit from the support of a trained therapist. I go to one—I love therapy. Well, I don’t love it, and doing it is hard, but I’m glad that I am doing it, let’s put it that way.
I want to write more, but the children are absolutely losing their minds right now. They want to create these massive magnet blocks but then they each keep trying to crush the other one’s building and rage with fury when it comes tumbling down. I feel this way: I want to rage with fury. I would like to yell and let it all out.
I do this sometimes on the indoor bicycle.
Let’s feel these feelings. Just a little bit at a time.