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EditorialIsland Voices

Column: Finding meaning during pandemic involves journey of self-discovery

Darcy Ing
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Darcy Ing

COVID-19 has devastated human society. Whether sheltering in place, or cautiously venturing out, everyone is affected. Most people are isolated and lonely, with jobs and daily routines reduced or eliminated. As the crisis drags on, anxiety and doubt continue to grow.

In Harvard Business Review — Ascend, David Kessler stated, “We feel the world has changed, and it has. We know this is temporary, but it doesn’t feel that way, and we realize things will be different. Just as going to the airport is forever different from how it was before 9/11, things will change and this is the point at which they changed. The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. This is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively. We are not used to this kind of collective grief.”

We have lost much, and fear losing more. The loss of connection is especially damaging. Social connectedness is defined as the personal sense of belonging and close psychological bond felt in relation to others. Research indicates that regular social interaction is crucial to physical and emotional well-being. Being with others communicates involvement, caring, and companionship.

Unfortunately, social distancing during the pandemic discourages typical ways of relating, transforming or reducing them altogether.

In addition, dealing with various problems amid prolonged uncertainty can be exhausting and overwhelming. While some problems can be solved quickly, others require more time and information, while still others are mostly out of our control. Successful resolution of current challenges will include striving to be mindful as well as flexible in our responses. Some things will be within our control, while others are not.

Wearing a face mask, handwashing and staying socially distant is within our control. So is asking for what we need, especially from our leaders.

Marshalling what resources we have, both material and emotional, is also within our control. What other people do is not within our control. However, our response to their actions is.

What is also within our control is awareness of those around us. Everyone is collectively grieving, in Hawaii and across the globe. This is a time of suffering and healing, pain and solace, loneliness and comfort. It is also a time to appraise personal beliefs and values, discerning the importance of goals, and the meaning of your life.

Viktor Frankl wrote, “Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is being asked. It is not what we expect from life, but what life expects from us. We are being questioned by life, every moment of every day. And our answer to life is in how we are living every moment of every day. Our answer is in our right actions and our taking of responsibility.”

Finding meaning during this time is a personal journey. While traveling, take time to slow down, to relearn small joys in everyday life. Take time to just be, instead of always doing. Attach to the process of this adventure, not just the outcome. Acknowledge the kindness, generosity, and creativity around you. Do your best, remembering that your best will be different on days of grief and exhaustion than on days of hope and joy. Reach out to others, by phone, email, or videoconference. Remember and honor your relationships, no matter how small. Have compassion for yourself.

And while on your personal voyage, remember this internet meme: “Perhaps when the dust settles, we can realize how very little we need, how very much we actually have, and the true value of human connection.”

Darcy Ing is a clinical psychologist working at Samaritan Counseling Center Hawaii and Waimanalo Health Center.

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