Make each moment count

By Dr. Batya L. Ludman, Psy.D., FT · Published May 7, 2021

We've been through a tough fifteen months and while thankfully things have opened up, allowing us to move forward, each in our own way, we have just been hit with further tragedy. The loss of lives in Meron has filled us with tremendous sadness – the stories and pictures horrific –which has impacted our thoughts, feelings, mood and more. We have had to not just deal with one sudden, unexpected, traumatic event but now another. One can only hope that the lessons learned from the pandemic have changed our lives and our relationships sufficiently such that we will not go back to our old ways of responding and judging others unfavorably but rather will incorporate and focus on the good things that have come out of it as we slowly emerge from the safety and shelter we have built for ourselves and our families. As a Hatzalah first responder on the Psychotrauma Crisis and Response Unit, I can attest that the tremendous caring and outpouring of help, love and attention I have witnessed in the past week is something that we here in Israel should be incredibly proud of.

While no one could have gone through all that we have and not be affected, we need to align where we are now in our heads and our bodies with our current situation. It is probably safe to say that almost everyone, from the youngest to the young at heart, has been experiencing battle fatigue, exhaustion and sadness.

For some, leaving our homes and our makeshift offices feels wonderful and for others, it is filled with angst and trepidation. For many, our being at home has been a mixed blessing. Relationships have been stressed to the max, Zoom sessions have been trying, children have needed their needs met in a multitude of ways, with fewer available resources and increased isolation leaving some to self-medicate with food, alcohol and drugs.

As we begin to lower our masks - figuratively and literally - and socialize more, it is crucial to move into the next phase in a way that enables us to look after ourselves and others with the care and compassion we all so deserve and need. We have been true heroes and the first thing we must do is to recognize all that we've been through, acknowledge our losses out loud, and pat ourselves on the back for all that we have endured. This lends credence to all that has happened and allows our brain and body to slow down long enough to truly register it. While not everyone has lost a loved one or suffered financial losses, with all of the uncertainty, they have lost time, privacy, freedom, companionship, naiveite, the celebration of life events in ways they had imagined, mobility, and so much more.

Having recently spent six days at a (thankfully) virtual international conference on grief, death and dying, I have been once again reminded about the tremendous importance of self-care. If we don't strengthen and look after ourselves, we will be hard pressed to be present enough to take care of our needs, let alone those of the people around us, both now and for the future. We have been forced to slow down in a hopefully meaningful way. Now we must not forget, but rather take forward these valuable lessons we have learned.

For example, telecommuting has transformed our bedrooms and living rooms into home offices. While travel may have enjoyably been minimized to the time it took to walk to our computer, boundaries have been blurred in every way imaginable and our work life never seemed to end. That one little assignment inadvertently gets dealt with outside of business hours, albeit often in bedroom slippers and sweat pants. If you can't get away from work, and if you can't enjoy a break, how can you rejuvenate? On the other hand, if you are working at home and constantly are interrupted by children who need supervision or help in scheduling the next Zoom, how can you focus on your work? Your sense of effectiveness and self-worth, as both parent and employee may feel diminished, leaving you feeling lost and unmotivated.

For the most part, Israelis have shown themselves to be very resilient, making the best of a difficult situation and even prospering. That said, events such as these, especially the longer they go on, combined with concurrent high levels of uncertainty, wreak havoc on your emotional and physical health. While our "numbers" look better than ever, now we are just beginning to see the true impact of the pandemic and its aftermath. Marriages, the parent-child dyad and other relationships are showing the wear and tear of prolonged stress due to mental and physical exhaustion at home, school, workplace, synagogue, and elsewhere.

The best gift you can give now to yourself and your loved ones now is to take care of yourself in a way that makes you feel better. Acknowledging how you feel is an important first step. This involves bringing awareness to and checking in with yourself or being mindful as to how you really are doing. You must tune into the messages that your nervous system is sending you. What sensations, for example, are you noticing? Where in your body are they good, or bad? What are your concomitant thoughts? Have you been clenching your jaw, eating mindlessly and sleeping poorly? Is your stomach in knots, do you suffer from headaches and are you having difficulty focusing or concentrating? Are you irritable and impatient? Feeling kindly toward or judging others? Are you avoiding people or happy to be in their company? Have you resumed work or if looking for work, how is the process going? How is your commute? Which feels better - working from home or the office? Are you working on transitioning better from work to home, even if that just involves breathing as you exit your work office at home and reminding yourself to enjoy a calm moment before opening the door? Do your introvert and extrovert parts feel okay? Are you entertaining or going out? Are you ready for large weddings and other social gatherings or do you still prefer watching from home? Are you cautious, fearful, justifiably concerned? Once you can begin to understand your triggers, you can begin to control your anxiety and lower your stress level quite quickly.

What have you missed during this time that you'd like to be doing again? What have you not done and don't need or want to bring back into your life? What have you done that has enhanced your life and you'd like to continue doing? Are you carving out personal time – even a little bit to begin with - to do the things that you like - be it to work in the garden, complete a puzzle, sit on your deck or enjoy a walk in nature? Do you laugh, listen to music and nourish your soul? Have you gone back into a synagogue or found a way to increase your spiritual life? Are you making time for exercise? All of these can bring a much needed sense of calm. How does your mental and physical health feel more important to you now after all that you've been through? Have you been able to achieve a greater sense of well-being? Have you shared your feelings and your thoughts with your partner or others? Have you learned to better take control over the things that you can be in control over and leave behind or let go of those many things that you can't control? Have you worked to avoid overscheduling while still scheduling time to connect with people that you now realize you care about? Have you reached out to others to check in to see how they are doing? Have you participated in a game night or Zoom trivia? You may discover that tweaking your schedule and changing your hours may provide you with increased flexibility enabling you to turn off your work computer, and spend more time doing things you enjoy, leaving you feeling better. If you are not feeling good, now is the time to seek outside help.

It's now time to reorganize your priorities and ask, "What do I want to do and with whom", rather than, "What do I have to do?" If it doesn't feel good, do you have to do it and if so, why? Consciously making choices and being intentional in what you do as you get back into things is a way to bring more meaning, balance and greater appreciation into your life as you move forward. Recognize that it is not easy to motivate yourself and spring into action. It takes effort, patience and kindness as you establish a new routine. After all that we have been through, isn't it more important than ever not just to count the minutes but to make each minute count?

A version of this article suitable for printing is available here.