“Unprecedented” is the word most often used to describe the current crisis caused by the spread of COVID-19. This event has touched everyone and all areas of daily life look different as we continue to adjust to new routines and a constant state of uncertainty.
Feeling out of control, anxious or overwhelmed by new stressors such as working while caring for children, job insecurity, or staying inside much of the day, is a natural response to extraordinary circumstances. Even something as simple as going to the grocery store has become an ordeal for many people.
The virus turned our focus to fear and stress and darkness, so we need to find ways to cope. One place we can look for relief and guidance is nature and the specific changes that take place in spring. Spring is the season of rebirth and new beginnings. Not surprisingly, it is also a time of celebrations and remembrance in many religious traditions: Lent and Easter for Christians, Passover for Jews, Ohigan for Japanese Buddhists, spring equinox for pagans.
Michele Sienkiewicz, LCSW, therapist at Maria Droste Counseling Center considered the question: How can we incorporate lessons from the natural world into what is happening in our world right now? New life often follows death. In climates that have a change of seasons, the outdoors seems completely dead during winter. The trees have no leaves, no flowers or plants are blooming, the grass is brown and seems like it will never be green again. So how do we know that spring will come? What makes us believe that this season of bleakness will end? Simply put, she said, experience.
“The change in seasons happens outside anyone’s conscious control, despite man-made events, such as long-standing wars,” Michele explained. “The natural rhythm of days, weeks, months and seasons brings a sense of possibility, resilience and hope that things will get better. It is the reason so many celebrations coincide with the days getting longer in the northern hemisphere.”
The natural world yearns for growth and life. Even in the aftermath of a forest fire, life returns. Grass and flowers can push their way through a sidewalk crack or break through asphalt. “What a powerful life force must be in play to push through that type of barrier,” said Michele.
Humans have also proven to be resilient in the face of extreme adversity. “We can’t control what happens to us, we can only control our response. Those we see as heroes in the most difficult circumstances, such as first responders in a natural disaster or Holocaust survivors, often have a different perspective in the midst of tragedy, one that is hopeful. They can find at least some good even in the midst of dire events.”
Finding opportunities in chaos
Michele suggested that we can use the natural world as a reason to hope. The sun comes up every day. Spring follows winter. New life emerges after death and loss. Ultimately, the life force is strong.
“Three weeks into working from home I was missing my routines, my friends, my grown kids and was just tired of it all. And, it was my birthday. I had a meltdown, followed by a good cry. I felt sorry for myself,” she shared. “Then, I got outside. The birds were chirping. Sunshine was breaking through after two days of rain and cold. I noticed the daffodils in my neighbor’s lawn. Somehow, my mood brightened a bit. I was reminded that winter is giving way to spring, and that this crisis, too, shall pass.”
Taking this a step further, Michele said, we can choose to see this as an opportunity to appreciate those things we don’t have at the moment, and may have taken for granted. Just as we are happy to have warm days and flowers again after a long winter, we can acknowledge the return of what we’ve been missing due to the virus and having to stay at home. The freedom to come and go as we please, going to work and school, getting together with friends and family, going to restaurants, watching sports, celebrating and even grieving with others are all things to cherish once we get through the crisis. The holidays and events we are missing this year will have even more meaning for us next year when we can be with the people we are missing now.
We can also use this time to turn inward, as nature does when fields are dormant. This is something many of us are often too busy to do. To help relieve the stress and anxiety that comes with uncertainty, we can take stock of how we feel, practice self-care physically and emotionally, and rekindle dreams we’ve let slide. For those who find themselves with lots of free time, perhaps learning a new skill or picking up a forgotten pastime, such as playing a musical instrument, would feel empowering.
People are discovering resilience in many ways. Businesses and service providers — including health care workers — are adapting to better meet current needs amid restrictions. Physicians are offering telehealth services to patients with non-emergent concerns. This can be especially helpful, even going forward, for people with disabilities for whom travel is difficult, people with small children who can’t afford childcare and people on bedrest for high risk pregnancies or other conditions.
Many mental health practitioners, including the therapists at Maria Droste Counseling Center, are offering therapy sessions online or by phone.