It’s been a year—the strangest part of that statement is that we do not even need to mention which year, or what occurred, or the words “COVID-19,” “quarantine,” or “pandemic.” We all just know, because we have felt each and every one of those 365 days (also known as the “year when some days felt like weeks and some weeks felt like months”).
It’s been one year since, virtually overnight, our realities changed from living in the open air to huddling behind closed doors. To wearing masks, and dealing with grocery shortages, and coping with isolation when physical contact became little more than a memory.
Knowing that we are now a year beyond the start of our “new normal,” what is on the minds of women today?
The Realities Facing Women
As mentioned in a past blog, women are among the hardest-hit groups amid the effects of the pandemic. COVID-19 forced us to shift into survival mode, made all the more worse by vast rates of unemployment and the upending and jarring reorganization of family and parenting roles On top of this new mountain of stress came the bleak news that schools and childcare programs would remain shuttered, creating an additional worry about how this shift away from in-person learning and socialization would affect our children. And along the way, we also stifled any goals we had that required venturing outside of our homes.
In the Employment Sector
Women have lost their jobs during the pandemic at significantly higher rates as compared to their male counterparts. In many Western cultures, we predicate our identities on the work that we do. Losing a job means not only losing financial security and a means to care for yourself and your family, but might also reflect on how we feel about our sense of inherent worth. Not surprisingly, this has negative repercussions on mental, emotional, and spiritual health.
There remains a stubbornly persistent cultural expectation that women will hold their family together while maintaining the household. (And while the pandemic has begun to change some of these attitudes, there is still a long way to go.) While we encourage women to feel empowered and autonomous, societal expectations of child-rearing and caretaking feed into women’s psyches and feelings of self-worth.
While moms are doing their best, they might worry that their child(ren) are falling behind or otherwise not getting the needed stimulation during the pandemic lockdown. Thankfully, children are incredibly resilient through the brain’s capacity for neuroplasticity, which is “the brain’s ability to adapt and reorganize its structure in response to its surroundings” In other words, our kids’ minds are flexible, though there are concerns about the effect missed milestones (such as birthdays, prom, graduation, and other memorable events) may have on their mental health. Even though they are flexible, parents still need to be vigilant to their children’s needs.
This adaptive skill is a potent metaphor for how women might continue to lean into their own resilience and continue to cultivate new ways of learning about ourselves: mind, body, and spirit.
Feeling Our Way Through
In our Dialectical Behavior Therapy programming at THIRA Health, you’ll hear us often talk about the beauty of resilience and mindfulness to help us weather this storm. As we exist within the middle ground of co-occurring acceptance and change, we can approach our future with more clarity. Just as children are malleable and profoundly flexible, we as adults can also train our minds and hearts to do the same. We can respond to our needs with self-compassion and acceptance and understand the changes we have to make.
Below are a few ways that women can feel their way through this season of uncertainty.
1. Breathe and ground yourself.
Much of our stress exists in our bodies, as evidenced by muscle pain, headaches, hypertension (especially in BIPOC communities), stomach pain, or lack of appetite.
What are your body’s cues?
How do you know when you’re stressed or anxious (e.g., tightness in your chest, elevated heart rate, racing thoughts, difficulty sleeping)? . Mindfully observing these sensations acknowledges that they exist. For many, this simple recognition invites the body to relax.. These same sensations sometimes function to alert us to worries or problems that need our attention. Learning to recognize these cues prompt us to take action towards solving the problems that bring us such stress.
2. Imagine the possibility of what it might be like to make peace with what’s happening.
What if we just collectively agreed, “This is really unpleasant. I have little influence over what’s happening outside, and that makes me feel out of control.”
You do, however, have complete control over your response and perspective to these outside events. In DBT, Marsha Linehan coined the term radical acceptance. She described it as, “letting go of the illusion of control and a willingness to notice and accept things as they are right now, without judging.”
It’s important to distinguish that radical acceptance does not mean we approve of the painful things that happen to us. Instead, radical acceptance offers a more compassionate acceptance of circumstances as they presently are. We might think of this concept as a self-affirmation that states, “I recognize and accept that this pandemic was not part of my plan and is greatly interfering with my goals, AND I will accept what I can do in this moment.” That acceptance might be eating nourishing foods or laughing with loved ones, bingeing a favorite show, or offering yourself a moment of quiet as you reflect on what you have – and have not – been able to accomplish. True acceptance acknowledges what is; thus we also grieve all that we and others have lost.
3. Reframe uncertainty from a place of anxiety to a space of opportunity.
If you are one of the millions that lost your job due to the effects of the pandemic, you are certainly not alone. While reactions can vary based on your spiritual and mental wellness, most crises also create opportunities for growth. What if that job you have been in for the last ten years was no longer serving you? What if you felt burned out and in need of a break or a change? What if that desire to downsize and do with less could now be achieved? There are endless possibilities, and opportunities, to reinvent yourself.
Women can take this time to select a book on a new and interesting topic, attend free workshop seminars, or connect with professionals on LinkedIn to envision their lives in a whole new way.
Whatever your response, allow this change to be an opportunity for newness, rejuvenation, and wholeness. After all, women are forceful and remarkably resilient.