Uliyana Markova

What is happiness? One thing

I was recently reminded of this short blog called “What is Happiness? One thing” which I posted back in August 2015. My belief in what I wrote still stands, probably stronger than ever. What is your thought? Has the impact of COVID-19 changed anything in your perspective of what happiness is?

“A few weeks ago, I was sitting at a cafe on a beautiful afternoon engaged in a pleasant conversation with a friend. At some point, he asked me, “Yuli, you are a psychotherapist. So…what is happiness?”

I remembered that my first real encounter with the word ‘happiness’ occurred when I was twelve years old. The topic engaged me and I wrote an elaborate essay :-). Since then, I had moved past the idea of happiness to other more tangible concepts like joy, love, fulfillment, and change. “So what is happiness?” my friend asked. The answer came surprisingly fast.

“It is noticing”, I said. “I am happy now. Aren’t you?” He hesitated, clearly not sure that this moment would qualify as happiness.

Yes, I am happy many times throughout the day. So are you. Have you noticed it?

You just laughed at a joke, you whistled, you sang along to an upbeat song on the radio, you smiled at a stranger passing by, you jumped with joy as your favorite baseball team scored, you leaned back re-reading your work and thought, “I am good at this”. You found a great spot at a restaurant, the meal your partner made delighted your senses and brought a wave of appreciation, you were touched, friends’ eyes looked at you with care, your lover whispered an inside joke and you burst out laughing, the cashier at the supermarket smiled warmly and offered someone to help you with your bags. And so the list goes on…

It is not stopping to smell the roses. It is a cultivated state of mind. It is allowing you to register your state of joy, lingering in it, expanding it, and appreciating it.

My life is far from perfect and every day I can get disappointed, sad, frustrated, or fearful. When these moments appear, I notice them too and sometimes I let them take me down. I may sit there for a bit, sometimes for a while but I eventually come up to the surface and get on with my life. I have learned to do this. It has not come easy.

Right now, you are able to read this article and think your own thoughts. You are free to choose what to notice. Choose happiness.

How to enjoy the global stay-at-home reality

It has been three weeks of adaptation. While the professionals have been working intensely on finding solutions to the virus crisis, attending to the sick, developing policies and communication strategies, or performing their essential services duties, we have been sitting at home, working (or not), eating, shopping, and looking after children and elderly. We are doing our best to maintain a sense of continuity and stability in the midst of dynamic uncertainty. These last few weeks have proven that we are not only able to adapt but also to enjoy elements of this new reality.

Here are some ideas on how to make the best of this worst of times:

  1. Put your own oxygen mask on first. You cannot help anyone if you are sick, your energy is depleted or your temper is short. If you get low on physical, psychological or emotional health, pause. Retreat and take care of yourself.
  2. Elevate your level of self-awareness. Monitoring your state of being is particularly important right now. Pay attention to how you are affected by others through direct contact, media or work. With vastly reduced access to our usual outlets like team sports, exercise, face-to-face contact, access to nature, and entertainment, we have fewer possibilities to recover. Navigate your direct and remote environments in the way that best supports your wellbeing.
  3. If you are enjoying yourself right now, good for you! There are numerous benefits this situation presents. If you are doing well, you are more likely to abide to the new rules and contribute to the global intent for a successful resolution. You are also more capable of giving others support, energy and love.
  4. Worrying about the unknown future, while completely understandable, is simply not good. Worry drains mental energy, dampens creativity and lessens our intelligence. Employ all available to you techniques to cease it before it flourishes. Seek professional help if you need to.
  5. In the quiet of your home (when it is quiet), try sitting silently and doing nothing. Let your thoughts and feelings come to your consciousness. Do not be afraid. They are just thoughts and feelings. As they come, try to name them. “I am afraid when I shop in the store. I am antsy. I feel bored”. Whatever it is, it is fine. So you feel this way. If you need to sit quietly and shed a tear, or put on loud music and dance or even yell, do it…as much as your environment allows. You are not crazy for having these impulses.
  6. This is a suitable time for projects that require an uninterrupted amount of time. This unique time will be over, sooner or later. Use this opportunity.
  7. If this unusual situation has spun creative ideas in your head, act on them. The extraordinariness of this time puts us in a unique emotional and mental state that can stimulate creativity that is normally not as available to us in our busy, crowded with activities lives.
  8. Pay attention to all that is unchanged. When looking at the TV screen, we see a disastrous picture. When we look through the window, life is reliably and comfortingly the same. The planet we live on is unchanged, if not slightly improved. It is beautiful, nurturing and unmoved by some fragile virus.
  9. Be with nature. No more to be said.
  10. Have faith. Faith is about trusting in a positive outcome without having any proof that it will come. Visualize the end of this, a triumphal end that will mark the beginning of a beautiful new phase on the globe. A phase in which we are more humbled, united, present and competent.

On managing the COVID-19 reality

Adaptation and Change

We differ in how we react to life experiences. We will differ in how we react to the COVID-19 experience. Try to not compare or judge yourself for being more or less this and that than others. So, you are more anxious, so be it. Embrace it, seek reassurance and support. So, you are a bit detached and disconnected from it all. We understand. It is your way of dealing with it.

Do your own thing. Evaluate the flood of advice out there, including this one, reject what does not fit and use what fits. To have your own approach is positive. It gives us a sense of agency and control amidst uncontrollable events. Enjoy and take pride in that!

On staying mentally stable and at peace

Find a way to process your feelings. You know how you do it and what works for you – talking to others, writing, reading, browsing through funny photos, reading jokes, watching comedies…Whatever your way is, it is essential that the emotions are let to be, talked about and hopefully validated by someone.

Move. I can’t stop saying it enough. The parks are open. The streets are available for walking. The weather is favorable. Spring is coming only in 3 days. Life goes on. Go out. A few times a day.

Have a news reception policy. You have full control over what information gets to you and how frequently. I strongly recommend limiting access to news updates to specific times and specific length. Unless you are enjoying it (and yes that is possible), it is likely that the news will keep you in a state of stress and anxiety. Do stay informed but do not overindulge. Entertain yourself with positive content, music, podcasts, or books.

Seek help. It is your responsibility to seek resources, including therapy. If you feel you want to but are unable to do it, tell someone who cares about you, and allow them to guide you towards getting help.

On working from home

Transitioning from the office to home is a big change. In normal circumstances, we would be allowed time to prepare and gradually adjust to this transition. That is not the case here. You might find yourself a little disoriented sitting in front of your laptop at home. There are a lot of online resources on adjusting to working from home. Here are a few quick pointers:

Get out of bed. Shower, get dressed, do your normal morning routine. Exit home and go for a little walk. Return and start working. Try to have a designated workplace.

Create your personal work policy, including times when you will be available, offline times for a break, walk, and lunch or reconnecting with your loved ones. And yes, you are allowed to have those.

Monitor how you feel. If you get emotionally overwhelmed, pause and move away from the computer. Do something else for a few minutes. Let your brain rest and reorganize.

The general sense of urgency and uncertainty will inevitably spill over the work environment. Give an extra thought to what is urgent and prioritize your work thoughtfully.

 Staying connected…and disconnected

The notion of self-isolation has quickly become a common phrase and an expected and required behavior. Self-isolation is neither natural, nor easy. It is essential that people in self-isolation due to travel, age or health conditions stay connected with their close ones through social media or phone. This requires a conscious effort, a change in attitude, preparation and care from their support group. Employers, family, and friends of quarantined individuals should keep this in mind and try to help with food and supplies. Make yourselves available for conversations and check-in with them frequently.

When the whole family is at home, including your children, creating sufficient space from each other is important for completing work activities. This is a big adjustment and may not work well at first. Couples should have conversations about their needs and work on creatively building an environment that makes all activities, including work possible.

On Community

All measures are aimed at preventing the further spread of the COVID-19 virus. That is all. No more and no less. If we keep this in mind and let it dictate our choices, we are making a great contribution to our community. As with the cold virus, sometimes we have to completely stop and just rest in order to start getting better. We have not stopped yet but we are getting there.

What has COVID-19 brought to our human existence?

I am an experienced therapist and have done many years of personal work. Yet, on March 12, I couldn’t wait to get to my journal and start pouring my dismay and confusion. My first sentence was “What is going on? What is going on?!” COVID-19 was coming close and I already sensed everything was going to change. Everything. In the following days, the news felt like powerful ocean waves that moved me up and down, threw me on shore for a little break, and then pulled me back in. Today, I still hear the waves hitting the rocks, yet I am grounded and calm. I have adapted. As we all will, eventually.  

What has COVID-19 brought to our human existence?

Unprecedented experience. Something we have never seen or done before. Something without a reference point or comparison. Yes, elements of it have happened in the past but the totality of the COVID-19 experience is completely New. Our brains are scrambling to make sense of this new reality.

Hourly change of enormous magnitude. New decisions are being made at an office, city, country and global level every hour. Decisions that have never been made before. New information streams in every few minutes. Social reactions are being released into the social media vessels every second. A little change is exciting. Too much change is overwhelming, frightening and stressful. We have not had a moment of news “flattening” since the COVID-19 story began. The stress has been ongoing, lengthy and indefinite.

Uncertainty. Most of us build our lives on certainty, predictability, and routines. The uncertainty around the length of the COVID-19 crisis and its impact is an indisputable fact. Right now, there is no one that can give us the comfort of prediction and assurance, as much as we want that. This is very new and can be very unsettling.

How do we deal with this?

We learn and we adapt. We do this naturally and well. With all the chatter and resistance, we do react quickly and adjust to the new situation. We overreact and then we laugh about it. We are creative, resourceful, flexible and intelligent. We listen and make up our own minds. We vent to process our emotions. We complain to sort out our thoughts. We ask questions to make sense of things. We express concerns and worry in search of the most appropriate course of action. A wonderful human eco system moving in full force in response to an unprecedented environmental change.

Observe your experience, allow it to be, participate intelligently, and contribute kindly.

My advice on health, work and staying connected coming up in my next blog.  

Global News Appearance Today

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Mental and physical repercussions surrounding isolation

To understand the impact of isolation on humans, we start with the basic premise that we need social contact to thrive. We know that people who have strong social ties with others live longer, happier and are stronger physically. Isolation removes these natural elements of human existence and causes anger, fear, and depression. When isolated, we are forced to adapt, so our physical and psychological systems are likely to readjust to the new environment. You take an active, relaxed and generally mentally stable person and put them in an isolated space, of course, their functioning is going to change. Lack of space, lack of light, lack of contact – all of these are circumstances that are stressful as they are not natural.

What we are talking about here has additional stress-provoking elements: Uncertainty around one’s life, health, the well-being of their closest. Uncertainty around the duration of their quarantine, what will happen next and just being in the position of someone else determining your life.

We should also not forget that the reason why these people have been held in quarantine is to prevent their contact with other individuals. So, for the time being, they are treated rightfully-so but still hard for the mind to accept as potentially dangerous and to be avoided

Who are the most vulnerable – people who are predisposed to anxiety, who have experienced trauma, people who travel alone, high-conflict units – couples or families

What mental toll does it take on people – If the feelings of anger, fear, and shame are not processed at the moment, the may have a residual effect in the longer term.

What kind of support can be provided to these individuals?

First of all, having awareness of the mental implications and consulting professionals for guidance on how to communicate with these people; communication and clarity are essential.

Showing care and support. Anyone who is directly involved with the care of these individuals should receive basic emotional intelligence training. Often, it is those mini interactions that people have in moments of distress that make the difference.

Is it possible some may experience PTSD or other trauma following their release?

Of course. Any strong feelings that remained unresolved at the time of their occurrence or soon after hold the potential to reoccur in the form of post-traumatic symptoms. Memories can be relived and as we know that has a detrimental effect. If that is the case, treatment is required.