Creating Order in an Upside-Down World

In the past, staying at home was a privilege, a day off, a stay-cation or just an opportunity to relax. However, we are now in a truly strange time. It is mandatory that we stay home and it doesn’t take long for the novelty to wear off. Kids who have complained about getting up in the morning to go to school are now missing it. Technology, which before offered a joyful escape, is now being used for EVERTHING (meaning school work). The opportunity for time together doesn’t resemble the anticipation that would come normally come from a vacation. With the rest of “normal life” has been put on hold, staying at home has never been filled with such dread. Going to school, work and other activities have been removed from our schedules and we are confined in terms of physical and social breadth. Some call it chaotic, disturbing, frightening and depressing.

As we are faced with the challenges inherent to such a new world order, I have become aware that what set structure and order has now has faded away. Now there is no difference between days. Monday is no different than any other day of the week. On a more granular level, there is no demand to go bed at night at a certain time as there is nowhere to go in the morning. It is as if time stands still while we wait, looking for when this uncertainty will end. In the meanwhile we do everything we can to not be part of the story as the virus sweeps across our country and the nature of our social fabric.

So, in this unique time, we are called on to approach our lives in a new way. While we may feel disorientated, this is the moment for us to shift from the demands imposed by the outside world to setting our own rhythms. With the dawning of this awareness, a world of opportunities opens. First, we want to keep the broad architecture of our days consistent. Even when we don’t need to be anywhere in the morning, consider keeping your wakeup time the same day to day. Once up, follow the morning routine as if you were going to be out in the world. Similarly, keep a bedtime routine to avoid disrupting your sleep rhythm and set an outline for your days. Next, consider how you can set one day apart from the next. For example, you might assign chores to particular days- laundry, vacuuming, dusting, cleaning bathrooms, and grocery shopping each on their own day. Larger family tasks like cleaning out the garage, closets or paper stashes can be saved for the weekends, as you would do in normal times. You could also consider making specific meals on designated days of the week to further differentiate one day from the next.

This upheaval also opens the door for new things to emerge. Like the rays of sun that can peak through the clouds, there are unexpected moments of light. We can take the opportunity to reach out to friends we have lost touch with because of the hectic pace of our lives. Consider building a new habit of mindfulness, noticing the present moment. Use your newfound time to be deliberate about noticing the sights, smells, tastes, sounds and touch you experience. While we often brush past these aspects of experience, slowing down to notice these things becomes a resource to rely on. Practicing mindfulness can keep us grounded in the present, rather than getting lost in memories or being carried away by fears about the future.

We now notice that what we formerly thought was essential drops away. Our priorities are now reshuffled. No longer rushed to get dinner on the table between scheduling demands, we have time to explore new recipes. Now is also a good time to add self-care into your routine. Exercise is known to help with management of stress, invaluable in such a challenging time. Consider scheduling a daily 30-minute walk. With time to stroll the neighborhood, we have an opportunity to make new connections and build a sense of community. Plan a daily appointed time to meet in the street, standing six feet apart, to share ideas, a laugh or to find out what each other may need.  This time of crisis drives a resetting of priorities where disagreements that may have separated us in the past can now melt away as there is more that unites us as we all face the same enemy. Practice appreciation for those who provide essential services, doctors, nurses, maintenance, mail, trash, delivery, grocery store employees. Even missed celebrations, birthdays, graduations or anniversaries can be honored in a new way by reaching out. Homemade signs and cakes can lead to new traditions.

Finally, finding new ventures can build a sense of control in this upset world. Consider what you can do for others. From sewing masks to reaching out to those in your community who may not be able to get groceries on their own, doing for others is uplifting. This can also be a time to take on a new goal or challenge to build your confidence. Learn a new language, take an online class, teach yourself how to knit, work with wood, or build something new. Rather than stagnation, this unexpected pause in the flow of life can open the door to opportunities to discover and grow new skills building confidence and resilience. It is when our metal is tested, that we grow our character, turning fear to confidence, vulnerability to taking control, and our upside down topsy-turvy world to one that is ordered, nurturant and remarkably growthful.

About the Author

Debra Kessler, Psy.D. Debra Kessler, Psy.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in the care of children and their families. Dr. Kessler was awarded her Bachelor of Science in Nursing, graduating Magna Cum Laude from Vanderbilt University. While working as an RN in Pediatric Intensive Care, she pursued a Masters Degree in Pediatrics from UCLA to further her skills in caring for children. After a career in nursing that included bedside nursing, Kessler chose to focus her attention on addressing the emotional needs of children and their families by obtaining a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology at California School of Professional Psychology. Her post-doctorate work was done with Child Development Institute treating autistic and developmentally challenged preschool and young children and at Reiss-Davis Child Study center addressing the needs of school children, adolescents and their families. She has contributed to Infant/Child Mental Health, Early Intervention, and Relationship-Based Therapies: A Neurorelational Framework for Interdisciplinary Practice (Lillas &Turnbull 2009). Dr. Kessler has an active practice in Montrose, California. In a family centered manner, she treats a range of developmental and emotional issues including adoption/attachment difficulties, bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression, autism/Asperger’s syndrome, ADHD, learning challenges, regulatory difficulties and other issues that interfere with children reaching their potential.

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