I’ll be honest. Writing editorials in the time of a global pandemic seems a bit like an exercise in futility. We are all right in the thick of this together, and nobody has the privilege of retrospect. I wish I could deliver you some pithy statement to make this lighter for each of you, or to wrap our experience up in a bow to say how we might become more resilient, more caring, more resourceful because of COVID-19. I think those things might be true, but I cannot honestly write that with any sort of credibility. I’m wading through the muck, step by tedious step, alongside each of you.
So, instead of rising above my circumstances, I’m going to sink right down into them. And I’m going to invite you all to do the same with me. A year ago, my May editorial was about having compassion for our patients. About noticing “the thing behind the thing.” This year, I encourage you to have an abundant amount of compassion for yourselves. And so, in no particular order and with no particular wisdom, here are a few thoughts on self-compassion.
We are experiencing both individual and collective trauma. Many of us may know the word trauma in relation to the diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder among war veterans. Trauma, we may think, requires losing a limb or seeing someone die (or avulsing a tooth). In reality, though, trauma can be defined as anything that “violates the familiar ideas and expectations about the world of an individual or society.”1 I’d say that our expectations and familiar ideas have certainly been flipped on their heads over the past couple of months. Our bodies each have unique responses to trauma. Some of us check out. Some of us get hypervigilant. Some of us nap all day. Some of us exercise more than we ever have. Some of us cry a lot. Some of us eat a lot. All of these are okay. Be open to your body’s unique responses to the trauma, and have a whole heck of a lot of grace for whatever it is you are doing to survive these days.
Speaking of surviving… it’s okay if that’s all you are doing right now. This does not have to be a time to remodel your kitchen or train for a marathon. May I remind you that we are in the midst of a global pandemic? We are people that know how to study for a test. (Thanks, dental school.) We can scour a textbook, take meticulous notes, and craft the most comprehensive study guide. But, there is no textbook for Global Pandemic In 2020, and there is certainly no textbook for How To Close Your Practice and Homeschool Your Kids During a Global Pandemic In 2020. We are getting through this day by day, so it is absolutely appropriate to celebrate the small victories. You know, like changing from pajamas into sweatpants.
For many of us, traumatic events also come with a lot of emotions that we may not be well-versed in feeling. (As I mentioned above, some of us may shut out all emotion during trauma. That’s okay, too.) Now is an excellent time to practice emotional intelligence. When you feel a strong emotion arising – fear, annoyance, hope, despair, fury, jealousy, judgment – it can be helpful to notice how that emotion shows up in your body. Are your palms sweating? Is your heart beating fast? Has your chest collapsed? Are you smiling? Are your eyes tearing up? Notice those responses and, if you can, hang out with that emotion for about 90 seconds. In her book My Stroke of Insight, Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor tells us that, when we acknowledge emotions, they usually pass in about a minute and a half. Acknowledge it. Name it. Notice it. Feel it. And then let it pass.
When I know that my brain is spinning and I am anxious, I repeat three words to myself. (Sometimes, when I’m feeling extra saucy, I add a breath between each word.) Try it with me. Be. Here. Now. Being here and now can be really hard – especially these days – but you know what? With so much nostalgia (for travel, for hugs, for gatherings) in the past and so much uncertainty in the future, now can also feel pretty damn good.
Take care of yourselves.
Continue to take care of each other. We got this.
Dr. Alayna Schoblaske, Editor, Oregon Dental Association
Oregon Dental Association Membership Matters Editorial - May 2020
Stock photo credits: Richard Bailey/Corbis/Getty Images