COVID19 life

Check In #3: SOUL

August 12, 2021

I guess by soul I really mean “emotions”, but Mind / Body / Emotions did not have the same ring to it.

I think anyone following along can tell that I am feeling somewhat down lately. I’m also quite positive I am not the only one.

I don’t know. The current state of affairs has been mentally really REALLY trying — in many ways more so than rounds 1 or 2.

I feel like the stage of life I am in has its challenges at baseline. I’m a relatively new residency PD (of a relatively new program!) which is a leadership role that is (in my opinion) not easy. There are many stakeholders and it is essentially impossible to please all of them, a reality I am grappling with and learning to handle (but it’s hard!). I still have a significant clinical role. I have 3 kids who are getting older, but who are also definitely not easy. I fully own that I chose all of these things. And it really does feel manageable when there isn’t this giant shadow of a pandemic placed on top of it all.

Again, acknowledging my gratitude here — I’m healthy! We have jobs! We all had COVID and were entirely unscathed! I live in a country with plentiful vaccine availability. These are all good things. And I am truly and honestly doing my best at trying to think about them daily.

And yet

It is just feeling hard. I can tell my residents are tired too and without getting into detail, leading the program has felt much more challenging these past few months. My patients are tired and/or scared, and there are a lot of strong emotions. My colleagues are tired and frustrated and sad. I am getting headaches that seem to be triggered entirely by work.

And of course, my coping mechanism (as per usual) is a lot of mindless distraction, mostly via Ye Olde Panic/Doomscroll. I have been flitting from blog comments to Insta to CNN to email to feedly and back even though the activity makes my emotions run higher and my headache worse. I fully know it is bad for my mental state AND my productivity, and I need to just suck it up and go back to setting firm limits.

So, I will. Or at least, I’m working on it. Today I have a notepad sitting next to me where I am tracking my time, one action / activity at a time. I am hopeful that perhaps this act will help keep me centered and at least more aware of when I start to spiral. I will go back to my previous goal of 100 minute (or less!) per day, which has served me so well in the past.

And I will really, really try to stop focusing on all kinds of negative possibilities and things not under my control.

I think I just have to at this point. One action at a time. One hour, one day, one week. We will someday get through this, or it will be a new kind of normal we all figure out how to live with. I have to seek out more joy in each day and avoid the temptation of just trying to numb it all away .

Because this is it and every day is a gift.


  • Reply A. August 12, 2021 at 7:58 am

    (100 minutes a day = all scrolling, emails and blog?)

  • Reply Elisabeth August 12, 2021 at 8:10 am

    You are 100% right about not being alone in this. I think we’re all feeling the cumulative burden of it all. In addition to COVID, we’re all still living through the wear-and-tear of life. Juggling schedules and wanting the best for our kids and trying to prioritize relationships; looking to propel our careers, manage what goes in to our bodies, stay active, pursue hobbies…the list seems endless, and sometimes it can be very hard to have any semblance of “life” in amidst all the doing.

    I know you’ve followed along a bit on my blog and may have noticed the last few weeks I’ve been waving my own white flag. I’m completely done in. The biggest thing for me right now is a focus on sleep. I’m trying really, really hard to prioritize it every day (including adding in a few naps when I can grab the time). There are a lot of different stressors right now (internal and external) and sleep both energizes me AND means I have less time to ruminate, fret, and stress (though I did have a very traumatic renovation dream last night that culminated in half of my roof being removed near the end of a day and left open to the elements overnight. It was SO relieving to wake up to an intact roof this morning – haha)!

    I suspect there will be a roller-coaster of emotions for the forseeable future. Having that expectation will likely be helpful; these aren’t scenarios we’re supposed to enjoy. There’s nothing wrong with being bummed out by heading into our third school year impacted by a global pandemic. It sucks, no need to sugar coat that!

    I’ve been reading through The Happiness Trap (Russ Harris) the last few weeks and really appreciate a lot of the core messaging. One of the things he talks about is how thoughts are just words. They can be true or false, but a lot of the time we need to simply assess if they’re helpful. The bottom line is always the same: does this thought help me make the most out of life? I would highly recommend his book.

    All the best and good luck with the <100 minutes or less. It's nice to have that technique in your back pocket, and please don't beat yourself up for the scrolling. It happens to all of us with one coping mechanism or another and you have great systems to fall back on!

  • Reply Sam August 12, 2021 at 8:21 am

    I’m right there with you, and also recommitting to less doom scrolling. Our family is just finishing a 10 day isolation after we all got COVID (despite both adults being vaccinated), and I think I’ve leaned super heavily into distracting myself on my phone and projecting various future possibilities about the upcoming school year/daycare. Thanks for sharing, and I am also going to try to take a one thing at a time mentality.

  • Reply Nadine August 12, 2021 at 8:27 am

    Oh Sarah, I do feel for you. And I can relate to the overwhelm. Sometimes the whole gratitude thing just feels like one more @#$& thing on the list of things to do. Maybe just let go a little and try not to be so hard on yourself because you feel down – you are entitled to feel the way you feel. Also highly recommend Russ Harris’s book.!

  • Reply Leslie August 12, 2021 at 8:33 am

    When you can’t shake a feeling of being stuck (in behaviors, thought patterns, etc.) seeking out some counseling/therapy can be very helpful. You don’t necessarily have to buckle down and tough it out all on your own. 🙂

    • Reply Sophie August 12, 2021 at 9:08 am

      Agreed. I’m struggling myself with my emotions due to pandemic fatigue and work/life stress and going to get a referral to a psych tomorrow. Remember there’s always additional support out there available if you need it. You might not normally but these are not normal times!

  • Reply Marina August 12, 2021 at 9:48 am

    I second the recommendation for therapy, if you aren’t already seeing someone. It doesn’t mean there’s something “wrong” with you – it just helps to have a trained sounding board for all of your (valid, relatable) thoughts. You’re in a difficult situation even without Covid and the uncertainties and stress of Covid don’t help. But from my outsider’s perspective, I think you’re setting a great example being a program director and really caring about your residents, while also taking care of your family. It feels very hard to balance it all, but I think it’s so so important to have people like you as role models for the next generation out there.

    • Reply Irene August 12, 2021 at 10:30 am

      I have talked to a therapist a few times over the course of my life and restarted a couple months ago. It’s hard to make time for one more thing, especially when you are stressed about time(!!!!) but I am trying to view it as an investment. I learned the term “compassion fatigue” from my therapist lately to describe how I’m so emotionally spent trying to manage my kids stuff and work stuff I don’t have anything left for my husband or extended family members and friends especially when we have *all* been struggling with the same things for so long now. I hate that I feel this way and really want to change but it’s hard. I’m trying though and I’m trying to give myself credit for trying.

      I know I’ve said this before but I hope you know how valuable your little corner of the internet has been to me (and I suspect others) during the pandemic. I’m struggling to be “real” with some people in my life who are handling the pandemic differently than I am and it’s nice to come here and see a generally kind community of people thinking hard about the same issues and being real about their struggles. So thank you for making time for this and putting yourself out there so much.

  • Reply Noemi August 12, 2021 at 10:06 am

    Oh I feel you so much. Last night I had a dream (I guess it was really a nightmare), in which it was the first day of school and I couldn’t get my students to just line up properly before coming into my classroom. They just couldn’t do it. There was more too, I’ll probably write about it on my blog today, but the point is that I always know I’m really stressed out when my dreams mirror my worries in real life. I’m not sleeping great and that makes me feel worn down before the day has even started.

    I am also taking it one day at a time. I’m trying to have a basic contingency plan in my back pocket most days, so that I can put aside my fears that we’ll all get sick and need to stay home for two weeks (or my bigger fear that we’ll succumb in lingering succession so I have to be out for 6+ weeks, which I recognize is unlikely but still something I am freaked out about). After a year plus of DL I have more sick days saved than at any time ever (my maternity leaves decimated my days and then being out with my kids when they are sick every year keeps me from stockpiling more), but it’s still not enough to cover even four weeks. And of course there are the sub plans to write, and the fact that they’ll never find a sub who could cover consistently.

    My husband is also really down and stressed out, which means I’m also managing his emotional fallout (I know he’s managing mine too). And my kids are freaked out about the new school year. They are retuning to in person learning after only 10 days in their classrooms since March is 2020. And they are both going to new schools so they really don’t know what to expect. It’s just a lot and we’re all stressed out and operating with less patience and giving each other less grace than normal.

    I’m really hoping that once we’re in it, it will all feel more manageable. At this point I think we just need to stop standing at the edge of the cliff, wondering what the water is like and if we’ll land right, and just jump in. Thankfully that happens for us on Monday.

  • Reply lawandcreative August 12, 2021 at 10:44 am

    *hugs* I posted similar on my blog today. Also in a leadership position and feeling that people generally are dealing with high emotion and lack of reserves to deal with stress, leading to outbursts and generally not nice behaviour that the person receiving it also has limited resources to deal with. Sigh.

    Also truly blessed here. But it’s rough, and I think we need to be honest about that.

  • Reply KGC August 12, 2021 at 11:03 am

    Two things:

    1) I second (third? fourth?) the recommendation to speak with someone. I’ve used my university-provided counseling services a few times over the years and have always found them helpful in short-term scenarios and they tend to have a good sense of the ‘vibe’ within my workplace, which I have found to be an advantage. Bonus: it’s free!

    2) When I was in grad school, my PD was young and well-aware that she was less-experienced than others. She mentioned off-hand one day that she had several other young PDs had formed their own group and she found it helpful. I am sure that you are part of a larger PD group in some formal way, but I wonder if there’s any opportunity for a small offshoot of new/young PDs (or PDs of newer programs) and whether connecting with those people would be helpful? Of course, this is much easier when you could all meet for dinner at a national meeting, but I wonder if there’s a place for a quarterly Zoom or even just an offshoot list-serv amongst this smaller group. Of course, this adds another thing to your plate, so maybe more harmful than helpful, but thought I’d put it out there!

    Also, all of this feels hard because it is. That can be true even when every day is a gift!

  • Reply Mrs. Candid August 12, 2021 at 11:55 am

    Dear Sarah,
    I don’t know if you have traveled by trains. I love traveling by trains, and in India, when you travel by trains, you will most likely encounter tunnels. In hilly regions, these tunnels are quite long, measuring up to a few kilometers. When the train enters the tunnels, it gets very dark, both children and adults get very excited. We get to hear a lot of enthusiastic screams, we switch on the lights inside and the whole scene turns eerie and magical at the same time. If the tunnel is long, the excitement soon turns into anxiety, especially for adults. We don’t know if there is another train speeding in opposite direction (highly unlikely, but such thoughts do pop up), but hope that the loud horns will probably prevent any collisions. We have no option but to trust the engine driver, and hope for the best.

    I feel this pandemic is one such tunnel, we had thought a bit too soon, that it was over, but we have entered another tunnel. And we don’t know how many more are ahead. If it is possible for us to place our faith in a higher power to take us through these tunnels, and out of it into the light, it makes the journey enjoyable, or manageable at the least.

    For some of us it’s easier to place faith in a higher power, because of the family background and upbringing. For some it may be difficult. I don’t know if all this sounds voodoo, and I am sorry if it does. I guess what i am trying to say is, we all need something or someone to hold onto, during such stressful times. It could be spirituality or maybe even therapy.

    Keep faith, we all will get through this.

  • Reply When dream interpretation is easy – Not a Wasted Word August 12, 2021 at 12:04 pm

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  • Reply Marianne August 12, 2021 at 1:51 pm

    I so feel this. It does feel like life was busy, but manageable, until the pandemic shook everything up. It almost got easier for a while when we stopped doing so much stuff, but then the stuff came back, and the stress never really went away. It really does help to hear that others are feeling the same way though.

  • Reply Amy August 12, 2021 at 9:31 pm

    Sending good thoughts your way. I’ve been struggling off and on throughout the pandemic as well and, as many suggested, I have decided it may be time to talk to a therapist. At least to get some grounding techniques that just don’t stick from things like Headspace. Maybe a therapist could help you as well. My friend meets her therapist online and has found it super helpful and convenient.

    To be honest, I’d likely be more negative if I lived in Florida in the present time too. I’d think it would be hard to be a more rational, liberal-minded person with your governor. I’m in Massachusetts and although there are a lot of party splits here as well (though we definitely lean very liberal overall), I at least feel like the approaches taken throughout the pandemic have felt more science and commonsense based rather than politically-motivated. My thoughts are definitely with you.

    If you need something a little mindless to do rather than scroll, I highly recommend planner videos on YouTube. I just let them play sometimes when I’m stressed. It can be soothing to see someone else plan things. It may not be a valuable use of time but it helps me destress when I can’t focus enough to read or watch an actual show.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger August 13, 2021 at 5:53 am

      I 100% agree – especially planner reviews (Amanda’s Favorites is so calming to me!!).

      I would definitely consider therapy; I will admit my last experience with therapy was not that positive and thus I have not been eager to go that route but it is definitely an option on my mind.

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