Perspective on Control During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Right now it can seem like so much is out of control, and more personally, out of our individual control.  There is both uncertainty about the future and real limits placed on the choices we can make, where we can go and who we can be with.  But perhaps that which seems to limit our control can actually be an opportunity for greater control.

Before I explain, though, it may also be helpful to consider the idea that the world is no more out of our control now than it is at any other given time.  Illness, disease, accidents and natural disasters are always realities of life. These things are never really in our control any more than COVID-19 is in our control.  What’s changed is we’re now awake from the complacency. The false sense of security that comes with the mundanity of everyday life has been wiped away. What’s changed is that our individual and collective consciousness is ever presently aware of this common threat to our lifestyles and our very lives.  This acute awareness can leave us dwelling too much on what is out of our control, when in fact there is much that is in our control, and in some ways more so now than ever.  Taking stock of the things that are in our control, and exercising that control in positive ways, can help instill a sense of peace and stability in troubling and unsure times.

For most of us, there are new and restrictive parameters placed on our lives.  That means more time at home, which means we don’t have to be, in fact we can’t be, someplace else.  This may translate into more free time for many, but it also means more freedom with time.  When we eat, exercise, talk on the phone or sleep.  While this lack of structure can be unsettling, it can also provide us with greater control.  Here are a few examples of things many of us do have control over that I’m trying to be more mindful of.  After reading these few ideas, perhaps spend some time reflecting on other areas of your life over which you do have control.

Eating – For those of us who normally go to work someplace other than home, our dietary choices can be limited.  We eat what we had the forethought to throw in a bag on the rush out the door, or the limited selection of food from establishments within striking distance of the workplace.  Our diets often suffer from the limited choices. If you’re fortunate to have a relatively full fridge, you’ll have much more control over the dietary choices at your disposal.  The down side is: you have much more control over your dietary choices. Nonetheless, the options, healthy or not, are available and within your control.

Entertainment – Although concert halls, movie theaters and sports stadiums are closed, the possibilities for how we entertain ourselves are nearly endless and all within reach.  Hobbies, games, music and television are just a few examples of ways we can amuse ourselves. Many are watching more television during this time, and never before has there been such a diverse array of hundreds of choices.  And the control is literally in your hand, at the touch of your fingers. Like eating, what we choose to ingest mentally can have profound effects on our wellness. In the same way our bodies often tell us when we make bad food choices, pay attention to what you think and feel after consuming entertainment.  By being aware of what our bodies and minds are telling us, we can better control what’s healthy and what’s not. Thankfully, such choices are in our control.

Exercise: Though closed gyms limit where and how we can exercise, many of us have greater control over when we exercise.  Not being confined to an office or other work space, or a particular dress code, can free us from the practical restrictions that often limit when we exercise.  A shower and change of clothes are right there. Or what the heck, just stay in your sweat pants. My guess is many have more control than ever around when they fit exercise into their schedule.

Relationships: Normally, our busy lives limit the when and how we connect with one another.  As we share in this mutual pause many have greater freedom and more time to connect.  Though physical proximity is restricted, schedules have been freed up and we have technology at our disposal.  We can control the time we spend connecting with loved ones and friends.

Your immediate environment: We all have that one place (or places) that can benefit from a little order.  It could be as big as a basement or as small as a junk drawer. Taking control over our immediate environment, and restoring organization and order, can help us feel more serene and in command of the space we are now forced to spend much more time in.  Getting that long procrastinated project finished is an added bonus.

Doing our part to mitigate COVID-19: We are all agents of our own actions and behaviors and we can control the choices we make regarding social distancing.  Essential workers have less choice, it’s true, but even they can do their part within established parameters to mitigate the spread of the virus.  It’s also within our control to choose to help others in so many ways. And it’s not only good for those we help, it’s good for us and it’s within our control.

None of this is to diminish the profound hardship that has befallen so many during this pandemic.  Many have far fewer real choices than others. The point is to work to switch our perspective from what’s out of our control, to which we are subjects, to what’s in our control, of which we can be masters.  

Of course exercising all of this control requires a level of self-discipline that challenges each and every one of us.  But what better time to work on our will power and practice a little self-control. Despite all that’s going on right now with the COVID-19 pandemic, despite all that is out of our control, we have an incredible opportunity to choose to focus on that which is in our control.  Good luck. I’m with you.

Written by: John Richter (Director of Public Policy)

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