Well-Being: Coping Mechanisms

This state of pandemic is not going away and seems to have settled in for a long duration – longer possibly than I would like to anticipate, think about, or project.  So how do we cope?  As an attorney, writer, parent, now home school teacher, and any other myriad other roles any of us have right now or are taking on right now for this temporary time period, I need coping mechanisms to deal with this situation, these circumstances, and world.  We all need coping mechanisms to learn about and apply to see if they can help us through this to a state of well-being.  My top three are running outdoors, reading fiction, and watching uplifting news stories.

First, running, walking, biking outdoors.  Any of the above that sets me outside the walls of my home and into nature to get my heart rate up is good.  It helps me cope.  It can help turn a day around from down to up.  I find the greatest benefits from running and walking to the level that I am sweating and my heart is pounding.  This lifts my mood, my spirit, my energy.  The peace of mind that comes from running is tremendous.  It is so helpful in the moment and stays with me throughout the day.  Even through the night – I sleep better on the days that I run for the most part.  There’s more to a good night’s sleep, but running definitely contributes a lot of help. 

I am finding through this time period of new and more restrictive circumstances, that my body and mind are now dependent on running.  I can’t believe it, but I find such a difference in my body and mind on the days I don’t run, that I am starting to believe that once again in my life when faced with great strain, stress, and new circumstances, running is my first coping mechanism.  It is helpful physically, mentally, and emotionally.  When I am facing a down mood or a body full of pent up energy with no place to go, running is my answer. 

Another aspect of running being a coping mechanism is being outdoors.  There is some great human need to connect with nature.  It must be part of the reason why so many doctors recommend getting outside for a walk or run or just a stroll around the block when feeling blue.  Even if it is a cloudy day, seeing the trees, the grass, and some spring flowers bursting through the gray is all energizing. 

Nature is a quiet reminder of the greater world out there.  It’s waiting for us to explore someday soon.  We will get there.  For now, I like to travel to peaceful places in my mind.  Even though I dream about flying on planes to various destinations all across the globe, especially right now while it is forbidden, I think what would I be doing there that I can’t try to do right here?  I can enjoy the outdoors right where I am as much as I possibly can.  I can be grateful for the opportunity to step foot outdoors. 

I recently read about a man who survived being a prisoner of war for many years, and each morning he opened up a floor grate in his cell to see a green blade of grass that he had found.  Can you imagine?  The horrific circumstances he lived through and his heart was filled with gratitude for the sight of that one blade of grass.  When I take that in and look around outside my home and throughout my town at the abundance of blades of grass I can see, I am overwhelmed with a feeling of tremendous recognition of how much I have in this world.  Even with all the restrictions, the outside world is a huge blessing of wonder.  So even though I have been dreaming of touring through World War II memorial sites throughout Europe, walking along white sand beaches in New Zealand and Michigan, and so many other places of memory and longing, I will find contentment and gratitude right here.  And to quote the philosopher and leader, Marcus Aurelius, twice, “Nowhere can man find a quieter or more untroubled retreat than in his own soul.” And, “When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.”  Thoughts to ponder on your next nature walk.

The reason why I have been dreaming specifically about touring historical sites of World War II is that I have spent many hours listening to audiobooks during the shelter at home period.  Listening to fiction books has a magic to it that I find to be a great coping mechanism.  Not only can it transcend me to another place and time while I am listening, but it can also ease my pain.  I specifically chose one audiobook during the pandemic because I was looking for a book set in World War II.  I had wanted to read this book for many years, but had been overloaded with books set during World War II for a while and had put them all aside.  But, with all the changes that were brought to life and our lifestyles, I wanted to learn about what truly hard times are like.  I wanted to remember that the human spirit triumphed during World War II.  I wanted to believe that these new circumstances may seem hard, but I don’t know what hard really means because the horrors of World War II are unknown to me other than through books and stories I have been told from family members. 

The book I chose is the Nightingale by Kristin Hannah.  Set in France from the beginning of its occupation by the Nazi party to the liberation of the nation by the Allied forces and end of the war, it is a heart-wrenchingly beautiful story that I highly recommend.  It is now on the top of my favorite fiction book list.  What I learned through reading this book (and I thought I knew a lot about World War II from school and other books I have read about the time period) is so much more than I ever expected.  It has the level of impact of reading the Diary of Anne Frank.  I was so impressed with the story that I wondered if it is true.  It is based on a real woman.  I don’t want to give too much of the story away, but there was a woman during World War II from Belgium, not France, who risked her life to save airmen who had been shot down in enemy territory by smuggling them through a kind of underground railroad to free countries and their representative embassies to get them back home.  She was given the Legion of Honor from so many countries including three honors from her home country of Belgium.  She went on to help lepers in Africa after the war.  I can’t even begin to imagine the courage it took for her to do what she did.  It is simply awe-inspiring to know that courage like hers knows no bounds.

I keep going back to fiction set during World War II now because there is more to learn from the resilience of that time.  While some see fiction as an escape from reality, I find it to be a source of reality, another dimension to learn more about how to face our current situation.  The challenges we are all faced with right now with COVID-19 invading our lives is another opportunity to apply what was learned during World War II.  We can face this adversity head on and persevere.  We can teach ourselves to survive it and thrive.  We can teach our friends and family to fight and look for the good.   We can cope and find well-being.

Finally, amidst the negativity on the news, and especially on cloudy, rainy days, finding good news reports to watch and be inspired by helps me cope with the grief and bad news we are inundated with daily.  I am finding that John Krasinski’s weekly episodes of Some Good News via YouTube are something that lift my spirits and reform my belief that the human spirit will win.  I am finding that my favorite news is news that shows friends and family reaching out to each other, to neighbors, to strangers, to lend a helping hand, to start a community table of donated food, to support restaurant workers by ordering food or buying gift cards, and any of the cute stories of children making their parents laugh.  Because through all of this the best news of all for me is that this has given me more time with the ones in my life who are most precious to me, my children and my husband. 

© Megan Davia Mikhail 2020

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