Celebrities, gurus, and Instagram influencers are doing it again—telling you all the ways you should respond to quarantine and social isolation.
Maybe they’re not saying “you should,” exactly—maybe they’re saying things like “feel however you need to feel,” but they’re also posting pictures of elegantly plated spaghetti carbonara with pancetta (using only what I had in the pantry!), their angelic children re-enacting the Battle of Hastings using homemade playdough and toothpicks (using only what I had in the pantry!), or their own artistic rendering of Botticelli's Birth of Venus made out of beans and pasta (using only what I had in the pantry!)
And maybe you are the one should-ing all over yourself.
I should be cooking more/less.
I should be working more/I should be using this opportunity for quality time with my kids.
I should get outside and walk more/I should be cleaning the house.
If this is what you’re doing, here’s how to turn it around: pay close attention to any and every single scrap of joy you can find and put your whole damn self into it. The worst thing you can do right now is bury yourself in a pile of shameful shoulds.
Positive thinking doesn’t mean shaming yourself into trying to enjoy things you clearly don’t enjoy, and it also doesn’t mean shaming yourself for the things you actually do enjoy.
It means digging deep and tapping into any, literally any, amount of pleasure that you are able to experience during this time. It doesn’t matter where that pleasure comes from. You must allow it to exist.
Here’s what helpful positive thinking looks like:
If you are cooking all the things from your pantry but feel guilty not supporting local restaurants with takeout, allow yourself to take pride in your resourcefulness and skill in the kitchen. If you, conversely, are not cooking and only ordering takeout, but feel guilty not using up what’s in your pantry, allow yourself to enjoy your support of local businesses.
If you are secretly never getting out of your pajamas but feel guilty for not “having a routine,” allow yourself to enjoy your own current method of self-care. If you have a strict routine and feel like you should be relaxing more because you are exhausted, allow yourself to feel proud of what you have accomplished.
If you secretly hate your job and part of you feels relief that you don’t have to go in anymore, but feel guilty that you are able to shelter in place when so many can’t, allow that joy to exist alongside your guilt. If you are considered “essential,” and feel angry and terrified about going to work and getting infected, but you also feel pride in being a hero for others, allow that pride to exist alongside your anger and fear.
If part of you is secretly enjoying playing pretend that you are the protagonist in one of your favorite post-apocalyptic novels or movies (Hunger Games? Station Eleven? Waterworld??), turn that joy all the way the fuck up.
The most effective thing you can do right now is to get radically in tune with your heart’s deepest pleasure.
And if you just can’t, and all you can do is grieve, then grieve. And please, put all your energy into grieving and don’t drown yourself in “shoulds” here either. By allowing yourself ALL the grief, you will also open the door to allowing tiny moments of joy to surface.
The biggest takeaway: you will only experience the joy and comfort you allow yourself to have.
Please be kind to yourself during this royally fucked-up time.