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4 Steps to Find Meaning in a Pandemic World

In a seemingly hopeless world that is ridden and led with fear, power grabs, and a virus that’s incapacitating human societies and economies with no end in sight, how do you move through life and still find meaning?

Viktor Frankl, a known holocaust survivor, comes to mind and has shown that its possible.

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

Viktor Frankl

As I write this blog, there are varying degrees of lockdown, restrictions, mandates across the world and even across states within each country.

There’s also a collective fatigue that’s spreading, and dare I say, trauma, if you’re repeatedly affected and are not able to regulate your internal state.

As I write this blog and being based in Melbourne, Australia, I’m enjoying not being in lockdown, with zero to low double-digit cases of covid-19 in my state, and with some restrictions to density, mask usage and others.

So I write this to articulate how I managed the previous months of lockdown that we endured in the hopes that this can support you wherever you are in the world.

First, understand the boundaries within which you can move in.

There are restrictions that are imposed on you by your government and there are restrictions that you impose on yourself.

On one hand, it would be good for you to know clearly what you can and cannot do within your current circumstances from the source of truth… not from social media or even word-of-mouth.

Go to government websites because they would state all the details for you. News websites generally provide you a summary and what they think most people would want to know but they hardly provide the fine print.

For example, during lockdown here, news articles would not always state anything about if you’re allowed to move houses or honouring child custody arrangements.

On the other hand, be clear as well on what your own boundaries are in this current situation, no matter what the government says.

What will make you feel safe? What makes you feel safe may not be what makes other feel safe so be mindful of this.

I have heard of friendships and family relationships severed because of these differences.

You cannot have the same values with everyone but having agency and respecting each other’s boundaries can go a long way to maintaining said relationships if you wish them to.

Second, learn how to and establish practices to regulate your nervous system.

The nervous system’s first response to any threat, be it physical, mental, or emotional, is to socially engage because its much safer being with the many than it is being just one. Unfortunately, you’re not allowed to do this as much in person because the spread of the virus will be detrimental to the community.

Queue social media and the Internet which has bridged this gap but doesn’t really give you the full benefits of seeing others in person.

So the nervous system then goes on to fight or flight.

The “fight” response comes up as anger and aggression that gets projected to others, to the government, through social media or even unconsciously in your stressful dealings with your colleagues.

When you can’t fully fight, your next response will be to flee. The “flee” response comes up as ignoring what’s going on, binging on Netflix, and lots of emotional eating and drinking amongst others.

You can’t go anywhere so you mentally and emotionally compartmentalise.

When these don’t work, all that energy gets frozen and you go into the “freeze” response. On one hand, you start to feel very lethargic (you have pressed down your physical energy) and depressed (you have pressed down your emotions). Or on the other hand, you work so much and do so much to feel numb.

There are those as well who goes into the “fawn” response. This comes up as endlessly discussing what’s going on without any resulting action, and only serves to ignite the threat again and again.

Become aware of your own responses to threat, when you read the news or when you hear of it from others, and find a practice or an activity that will help you release the survival energy that’s been triggered in your system.

If you find yourself in fight or flight, the energy needs to be released so find an activity that gets you moving.

If you find yourself in a freeze and non-active state, find an activity that will gently lead you back to movement and connection with others.

If you find yourself in a freeze active state or a fawn state, practice pausing, silence or stillness to observe your thoughts and allow them to slow down. By allowing your thoughts to slow down, so will your compulsion for doing and talking.

Third, identify and limit your stressors.

A big part of supporting your nervous system is to limit what triggers its survival system and increase your activities that bring safety, security, belonging, and meaning.

I discuss about the 4-step process in managing your stress levels in my FREE eBook when you subscribe and it also includes a Deep Muscle Relaxation Exercise.

Fourth, consciously create meaning in your day-to-day.

Set your intentions for yourself for your year ahead and then distill it down to daily intentions.

I know what you’ll tell me, “But the world keeps on changing and there’s no certainty!” I know that.

Intentions are really all about how can you best approach your daily life within the boundaries that you can move in (assuming you’re not in a war-stricken place).

For example, do you wish to be more understanding to your partner or do you wish to stay in your pride?

If you find that its really hard for you to switch to having a positive mindset (after you’ve addressed your nervous system state), establish a gratitude practice.

According to Robert Emmons, the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, research shows that gratitude is good for our bodies, our minds, and our relationships.

The 2 components of Gratitude:

First, it’s an affirmation of goodness.

We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received. This doesn’t mean that life is perfect; it doesn’t ignore complaints, burdens, and hassles. But when we look at life as a whole, gratitude encourages us to identify some amount of goodness in our life.

The second part of gratitude is figuring out where that goodness comes from.

We recognise the sources of this goodness as being outside of ourselves. It didn’t stem from anything we necessarily did ourselves in which we might take pride. We can appreciate positive traits in ourselves, but I think true gratitude involves a humble dependence on others: We acknowledge that other people—or even higher powers, if you’re of a spiritual mindset—gave us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives.

How gratitude helps us:

1. Gratitude allows us to celebrate the present.

2. Gratitude blocks toxic, negative emotions, such as envy, resentment, regret—emotions that can destroy our happiness.

3. Grateful people are more stress resistant.

4. Grateful people have a higher sense of self-worth.

You can read more about them here.

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Wherever this finds you today, I hope that you will commit to look after yourself this year. Just like what Viktor Frankl said, you have choice. You can choose how to approach your circumstances at any given moment.

Its now up to you if you wish to be a victim or be empowered.

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