The world is on edge. The deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and others have caused a boiling over of an already heated pot of racial tension that’s been brewing for decades. More than ever there is a need for ongoing, respectful dialogue between white people and African Americans. Things have to change. I’ll say it like this: With all the distrust, tensions, and negative emotions flying between people of different colors right now, we aren’t going to get anywhere without talking and listening. 

I recently had the opportunity to dive into just such a conversation about racial differences with two of my friends and colleagues, Gena and Reggie who are African American. Here are a few things I learned:

Open, real conversations require sincere relationships between white people and African Americans.

I’m talking about developing friendships here. I’m thankful for my relationship with Reggie and Gena because it allows us to talk sincerely. It’s respectful, but it’s real. They can trust that I’m really trying to understand their perspective, even if I don’t word things in the right way. And I can trust that they will pull no punches when telling me the truth from their perspective.  

There are realities in an African American’s world that aren’t part of my reality. And I have to understand that. 

There are things I simply don’t have to worry about because I’m white. I’ve never had to have the conversation with my kids, if you’re out walking and a police officer drives by you, here’s what you do… I’ve never had to wonder if I can get a mortgage loan because of any other reason than good credit. And it’s a mistake to view African Americans through the filter of my own experiences. 

African Americans don’t want others to feel sorry for them—they want others to hear, understand, and value them.

To a degree, this is what we all want as individuals. But what I learned from Reggie and Gena is that African Americans don’t typically feel this from white people. 

As I listened to Reggie’s and Gena’s stories, there were times when I felt myself getting really angry at the sense of injustice I was hearing. It made me want to do something. I wanted to fix things that I couldn’t really fix. And through the course of the conversation about racial differences, I was reminded over and over again that the focus of my mind doesn’t need to be on righting the wrongs or apologizing for things I had no control over. My focus needs to be on listening to the people in front of me, hearing their voices, and validating their experiences. This is where mutual respect and value starts, I think. 

I need to approach the conversation with humility and a spirit of learning. 

I have an obligation to become a student of people different from me. There may be some things I hear that make me uncomfortable, some things that make me angry, and even some things I plain don’t agree with. I need to ask more questions than give opinions—be mindful of my words, yet not so afraid to say the wrong thing that it prevents me from asking questions that would help me understand.

I’m also moved to engage in books and documentaries that help me learn more about the history, culture, and experience of African Americans. And there is plenty out there to choose from. (Check below for a list of links to recommended books.) 

This is a sad but sincere confession on my part. I’ve never been so interested to understand the African American experience until I began listening—really listening—to African Americans. And I can’t reiterate enough that this seeking to understand, to engage, to listen, happens in the context of developing genuine relationships. People have to know you care before they open up. This is no less true in the dialogue between Whites and African Americans. 

After my conversation about racial differences with Gena and Reggie ended, I wanted to talk more. There is so much I have to learn about racial differences. The road to resolving these racial issues is a long one, but maybe it begins with real conversation. 

Book recommendations: 

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness  

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America 

Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria: And Other Conversations About Race

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People are trying to have genuine conversations with people that don’t look like them more than ever before in the wake of the recent deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Cooper, and Ahmaud Arbery. Some of these conversations are happening between long time friends of different races and ethnicities where one person did not realize the magnitude of their different shared experiences. Here are 10 things you should know before talking with your friend about your racial differences. 

  1. Regardless of whether this is your first conversation or your 1,000th conversation, there’s a lot you don’t know about the person you’re talking to. You don’t know what you don’t know. Even if you’ve been watching the news, following social media, participated in protests, and visited museums, there’s a lot you don’t know about your friend and their experiences. Humility goes a long way.
  1. Relationships aren’t so much fixed, as they are built. It takes time to build trust and gain understanding. It even takes time to process our racial differences in our own minds. Setting an expectation of learning about your friend and even yourself is a process, not a one-time conversation. The more you build trust, the more vulnerable people may become, and the more likely they may be willing to share.  
  1. Acceptance and respect are a free gift. The goal in conversation is not to come to an agreement or to win one of you over to the other’s side. Acceptance means accepting the other person for who they are and respecting their very being, experiences, and realities. 
  1. You may hear some things that make you uncomfortable. You may hear about things you’ve done, what your family has done, or what the race you identify with has done. It can be difficult not to feel attacked. And on some things, even after thinking it through, you may still disagree. If you want to build a relationship, this isn’t the time to defend or justify. It’s time to be uncomfortable and seek understanding about racial differences. 
  1. Asking questions shows that you’re interested in the person and their story. Often, we spend the majority of our energy on seeking to win the discussion, prove our point, or show how much we know. When you ask questions from a place of curiosity and a desire to understand, you demonstrate an interest in your friend. This shows that you value them.
  1. Having a genuine relationship means genuinely acknowledging your friend’s realities. Their realities may contain experiences that seem totally foreign and impossible to you. Don’t deny their realities just because they seem unimaginable today. Hear them. Show empathy. Allow yourself into their world no matter how different it may be.
  1. Be willing to acknowledge messages shared through the media and how others may perceive those messages very differently. How two people receive media messaging may be completely different. What you see as just “news,” another may view as racism. Be open to seeing this through someone else’s eyes.
  1. People of any given race may have many shared experiences. However, they are still individuals with their own stories, beliefs, and personality. No one person can truly speak for an entire race (though some try). Yes, there are shared experiences that a black person experiences because they are black. Remember that your friend is an individual. How racial tension affects them may be different than what you see on social media or read in a book. 
  1. Be open to educating yourself about various cultures through research, books, documentaries, and museums. This can help you know questions to ask and things to be curious about. Don’t be surprised when they have not read or looked at the same material. Reading about your history can be difficult when you feel like you’re living the history. This doesn’t mean that you are now an expert. If anything, it should build your resolve to have more diverse interactions and meaningful relationships to further your understanding and enrich your life.
  1. Friendships work when both people feel valued, seen, and heard. This is a basic human need we all share. For too long, blacks and many others have felt unwanted, devalued, and marginalized. The civil unrest across the globe right now, at its core, is a scream to be valued as equals. Talking to your friend is about being part of the solution. Know that being part of the solution starts with valuing your friend enough so that they can be fully known by the people they are in relationships with.

Perfection is not the goal when it comes to relationships. When perfection and getting it absolutely right becomes a priority, then the fear of failure can keep us from taking the first step. Building and strengthening our relationships is at its best when we are able to share experiences and learn from each other to become better people ourselves.

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First, the world shut down. It was inevitable as COVID-19 was spreading. But you weren’t sure how you’d handle it. Work, school, health, friends, jobs, money. There was so much uncertainty.

Then, at some point, you settled. You recognized what you could control. You started making the best of it and even realized that it wasn’t so bad. Who are we kidding? You were surprised at how much you were enjoying it. Slower pace. Family time has been fun time. Meaningful conversations with friends. You found your routine

You noticed the anxiety level in your home decrease. Not because of the absence of issues. Jobs aren’t all steady. Health concerns are everywhere. There’s lots of unrest in America right now. But the slower pace, the presence of the people you care most about, the ability to connect with family and friends, even if they are virtual connections, has helped you to live and process life in real time. 

During pre-quarantine days, many of us were moving so fast that we were simply going through the motions of life, but weren’t processing all that we were experiencing.  We had become accustomed to our way of doing life and never considered alternatives. And now the world is ready to open up and you’re not sure you’re ready to give up the benefits of this new lifestyle. So what do you do?

If You Aren’t Ready, Try These Things

  1. Accept: Just like we accepted the shelter-in-place orders and the fact that COVID-19 was spreading. We must accept that the world can’t stay shut down forever.
  2. Identify your fears: This could be anything from COVID-19 to busyness. You may be scared of losing the deep connections you’ve formed. The return of stress, anxiety, perpetual activity. Loneliness
  3. Name what you don’t want to lose: Family time, slower pace, meaningful conversations, quiet time, game/movie nights, time for mindfulness, and self-care.
  4. Be intentional: Just because the world is opening up doesn’t mean you have to dive in headfirst and resume everything you were doing before. Identify the things you have to do. Think through the things that are optional.
  5. Practice Using One of the Most Powerful Words in the English Dictionary: NO. Be willing to say “no” to those things that compromise the very things you’ve said you don’t want to lose. You WILL say NO to a lot of good things. Good will often keep you from BEST.

You may not be ready for the world to reopen for many reasons. Taking control of what you CAN will help you to re-enter the world with purpose.

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Sam Collier didn’t have his first white friend until he was 21 years old.

“It wasn’t until I had this friend that I realized how different our worlds were. He didn’t understand my world and I didn’t really understand his,” says Collier.

It might be helpful to know that Sam is one of five children. However, when he and his twin sister were born, his dad was not in the picture. His mother gave them up for adoption, and a couple eventually adopted Sam and his sister. 

Sam grew up surrounded by people who looked just like him in Decatur, Georgia. His dad owned a barbershop and his mother quit a corporate position at FedEx to focus on raising both of them. 

Today, Sam is a communicator at Northpoint Ministries as well as the Director of City Strategy for The reThink Group. He is also a nationally-syndicated tv and radio host (A Greater Story Podcast; reaches 100 Million Homes weekly), a top 20 Gospel Billboard producer and the founder of No Losing, Inc. In these roles, he has empowered over 80 thousand young people to have a winning mindset in life to achieve their goals by creatively making education relevant to youth.

At this point in his life, Sam has many white and black friends. Sickened and sad over the events surrounding the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, he believes he is in a unique position to help both black and white people come together and learn so we can all do better with race relations.

Relationships Are Key to Understanding and Change

“Black people have been screaming for many years that something isn’t right, thinking that white people were hearing them and beginning to understand their plight,” Collier says. “In reality, that’s probably not the case. In many instances, I think white people don’t understand Black culture. Honestly, a lot of us don’t really understand white culture. Even though we have been trying to communicate, it’s as though we are on different radio frequencies and both white people and black people have missed each other.

Collier believes that relationships are the bedrock of change for race relations. They are an essential piece of the strategy when it comes to antiracism. After protesting and marching shook the nation in the 60s, MLK built a relationship with a “white” President. Together, they worked to fight evil.

“The first step that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. taught during the Civil Rights Movement was information gathering,” Collier says. “Before you try and solve a problem, you need to get all the information. Seek to see it from every side. We have to get people coming together, listening to each other and coming up with collective solutions for better outcomes for everyone. This is how you shift a nation. Enough voices saying the same thing, running after the same problem, fighting for the same solutions, refusing to quit until the battle is won. Relationships lead to conversations, conversations lead to strategy, strategy leads to action and strategic action leads to change. There is power in conversations birthed out of personal relationships. We have probably never been more postured for this to be able to happen.

Relationships Can Lead to Lasting Change

Additionally, Collier encourages anyone who is a person of influence in any sector in life to talk with those who are feeling the impact. Lean into the pain of why we are where we are and then seek solutions.

If you are white and don’t know anyone in the black community, reach out. If you are black and see an opportunity to influence a white person seeking to learn through friendship, don’t be afraid to enter in, if they are genuine. This relationship may also help you understand where black and white communities are missing each other. This is a huge step in the right direction. Put yourself in new circles. Collier believes one of the best ways to gain perspective and learn how to take action is by being brave enough to friend someone who is different than you. When you get close you start to debunk a lot of myths you’ve learned in the community.

“We also should be looking at policy changes that need to be made,” Collier says. “This will take some time and strategic thinking.”

Collier believes that there is value in both communities being willing to fight injustice in a Kingian Nonviolent way. He also believes that the injustice we see in our country will change quicker as we come together. Let’s work hard to unify our country so that together we can defeat racism and help America live up to its truest ideals.

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I grew up in a time when having a disagreement with a friend was a harmless and fun part of the landscape:

McDonald’s vs. Burger King

Classic Coke vs. New Coke

Grunge vs. 80s Hair Bands

Backstreet Boys vs. NSYNC

Britney vs. Christina

Alabama vs. Auburn

Even now, the boisterous disagreement between the Chick-Fil-A sandwich vs. Popeye’s spicy sandwich was fodder for social media. It was funny seeing videos by fans of both sides extolling the virtues of their favorite sandwich. I, too, became a part of the conversation as I was incredulous that a co-worker had never eaten Popeye’s Chicken. “Never eaten’ Popeye’s?!” 

For many of us, we have been able to have these fun yet inconsequential disagreements or debates with our friends. Now, our disagreements have more weight and can result in a change in our relationship with our friends. We are no longer disagreeing about boy bands and colas, but about politics, climate change, parenting styles, and how we deal with COVID-19.

As a result, those relationships that have sustained and supported us throughout our lives are being tested due to our differences of opinion and differences in actions & reactions.

How do we keep disagreements from derailing our friendships?

1. Take a step back to reassess the relationship.

I take my role as a “friend” seriously. Consequently, I often see my friends as extensions of my family. In this phase of my life and in the midst of COVID-19, I have chosen to reevaluate, realign, and prioritize the friendships that mean the most to me.  

In order to do that, I asked myself the following questions:

  • Can we as friends agree to disagree without being disagreeable?
  • Is this a mutual relationship or is it one-sided?
  • Is this friendship feeding me or draining me?
  • What is the depth of this friendship?
  • What kind of friend am I?
  • Was I overbearing? Did I overshare?

2. Accept that they have different experiences and opinions.

In order to maintain friendships, I realized that I can’t control the actions, thoughts, and opinions of my friends. I can only control my actions, thoughts, and reactions. As a result, I take pride in the fact that I have many friends who are different from me.  They are older and younger than I am. Some have children; others do not. We are from different cultures and different ethnicities. The differences that we have make me a more well-rounded person because I learn from my friends’ diverse experiences and backgrounds.

For many of us, our friends are our backbones and support systems.  It can be painful to recognize that you are not on the same page regarding an important issue, but it doesn’t have to end a friendship. I love the way St. Francis of Assisi put it, “Seek to Understand rather than to be Understood.” On the other hand, “Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future.”

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I’m with you on this, but approaching your boss about continuing to work from home can be a tricky conversation to navigate! Let’s put our heads together and see if we can come up with a way to pitch our idea to the boss!

Many people are probably excited about the prospect of getting back to the office. Maybe they have little ones at home that make it hard to get work done during the quarantine. Maybe being put into the teacher-parent-employee role has been a struggle. Some people just like the office and the camaraderie or the hard distinction between work and home. COVID-19 and quarantine have been extra hard for them.

Then there are people like us. We’ve got our routines down. Our “maximum productivity zones” don’t necessarily match up with a 9-5 schedule. We’ve seen the benefits of integrating work life and family life, being able to take a walk around the block to think through a work assignment, and still be around the house and available to connect with family, too. We’re comfortable working with the team and having meetings via Zoom or the phone. And let’s be real—we are probably working more than eight hours a day and/or definitely getting more than eight hours of work done. Continuing to work from home seems like a Win/Win for everybody!

How To Have This Conversation With Your Boss

  • Remember that your boss is the boss. Have a humble demeanor. See my blog post here.
  • After seeing working remotely in action, your boss might be more open to you working from home, but there are times the boss might want the team to be in the same room. Acknowledge that and show that you are flexible.
  • Emphasize the specific ways that working from home has helped you be more productive, focused and creative, BUT…
  • Don’t be afraid to express how this has also benefited your family and your overall health and happiness. (Your boss knows that family problems and things like stress, anxiety and depression affect your work performance.)
  • Try suggesting a “trial period” so your boss can gauge how it is working out.
  • Understand and be prepared for the possibility that the answer might be, “No.”

How To Prepare For The Transition Back To The Office

  • Don’t wait to start mentally preparing and thinking through the practical things that will be affected by this transition. It was a significant shift to working from home and it will be a significant shift back to the office. 
  • If you were doing a lot of your work late at night or early in the morning, consider shifting your work routine now. Get your mind and body ready for 9 to 5.
  • Think through how this transition will affect your family. Have a family meeting to talk through how family schedules and routines will change. Your kids have also adapted to you being home during the day. They will need time and help to adjust. 
  • Be creative and intentional to find new ways to keep the things going that have helped your family grow stronger and be more connected. 9 to 5 doesn’t have to make your family less connected.

Best of luck to you, fellow worker who prefers to work from home!

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TO: Management

FROM: John Daum

RE: Going back to work at the office

Dear Management, 

What the heck? I just got used to working from home! Do you realize the adjustment that was? Do you think I can just switch everything up now and go back to the office? This disrupts all my family routines and we just got into a rhythm. Who knows if it’s even safe? Last time I checked, you aren’t the CDC. Plus, I can do the same thing at home that I do there. All I’d be missing is bad coffee. You guys seriously need to rethink this. This is so…

[Record Needle Scratch] 

TO: Management

FROM: John Daum

RE: Going back to work at the office

Dear Management,

I want to thank you for how you lead our company through a global pandemic. My family and I are grateful for the adjustments you made that allowed me to stay employed during such a chaotic time. I realize others were not so fortunate. Thank you for your flexibility and considering your people while other companies were only worried about profits.

I would like to say that working from home has been a great experience for me and my family. Additionally, I’d like to suggest that it has benefited the company as well. After the initial adjustment, I believe that my productivity and contribution to the company actually increased significantly. If it is at all possible, I would like to explore the possibility of continuing to work from home and coming in on certain days to touch base with the team.

Regardless of what you decide, I have already begun preparing myself and my family for how the transition back to working at the office will change some of our routines. I believe that some foresight and good communication is essential to make the transition as smooth as possible for my family and me. We’ve met as a family to discuss different scenarios and how we will navigate them—working from the office full-time or working from home on certain days and the office on others.

I’ve honestly wondered how I have been able to work so well from home and actually be more productive. It definitely seems counter-intuitive. There are some obvious reasons—my “creative zone” seems to be later at night after my kids have gone to bed. Also, I’m able to focus on work without distraction from early morning until lunchtime and have about five hours of solid work done before noon.

Beyond those obvious reasons, there have been a few that have come as a surprise to me. Integrating my work life and my family life has greatly reduced my stress about both. 

For instance, instead of the morning being a hectic time so I can beat the traffic into the office, I’ve been able to have a cup of coffee with my wife. Instead of a “working lunch” at my desk, I’ve been able to sit down and connect with my kids and talk about their day. Also, instead of worrying about my elderly mother-in-law who lives with us, I’ve been able to keep tabs on her and build my relationship with her. Instead of fighting traffic to get home, I’ve been able to have dinner ready for when my wife gets home and we eat more meals together as a family.

I know that this is a lot of family talk and not a lot of work talk, but it has become clear that having more family stability and connectedness has made me a happier person. That happiness translates into more energy and focus for work, more creativity, and less distracting stress and anxiety. I have the ability to work from my deck and be outside in an environment that keeps my mind clear. I have the ability to go for a walk around the block and think through a work assignment. Plus, I have the ability to work while I’m in “the zone” regardless of a time-clock. 

This kind of flexibility and efficiency has given me more margin to take care of myself and my family. A healthier, happier worker is a more productive worker.

Thank you for your time and consideration in this matter. Regardless of how my work situation plays out, my goal is to creatively and consistently keep these lessons learned as a regular part of my family life. I believe that if I do so, the company will benefit—no matter where I work from.

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Was I the only one who was worried when COVID-19 forced me into endless hours at home to quarantine with my family? Was I the only one fearful about how this may affect my employment? Anxious about catching COVID-19? Uncertain about the potential damage to my bank account? Concerned about the impact on my children?

No. I’m not the only one. You know how I know? I went to the grocery store and I could feel the anxiety. I scrolled through social media, watched a little news, and talked to people. You could feel it. You could feel the tension and the uncertainty brought on by the coronavirus.

After a couple of weeks, some good advice from loved ones, some timely articles (some written by my co-workers), and prayer, I decided to not allow the outbreak to negatively affect my mental health. A good friend of mine’s words stuck in my mind, “Don’t waste this time.” 

As a leader of a family and within an organization, I needed to be my best self to lead those around me. COVID-19 highlighted my need to be “me” at my best. Being “me” at my best meant taking care of myself so that I could bring the best me into battle with those that are alongside me.

Instead of focusing on what’s been taken away because of the quarantine, I shifted to what needs to be in place for me to be my best. In other words, “self-care.”

Here are the ways the COVID-19 outbreak has improved my self-care. 

  1. Getting outside.  Walks with my wife. Bike riding. Sitting outside while working. Quarantining has helped me be intentional about simply getting outside to work, play, decompress, or chat it up with a neighbor. The experts say that getting some sunshine relieves stress, boosts the immune system, sharpens your focus, improves mood, reduces anxiety and increases creativity. You know what? I concur. I can feel the difference. Sometimes just 15 minutes does the trick.
  2. Exploring my emotions. During COVID-19, we are inundated with information about mental health. Instead of getting annoyed with the information overload, I’ve intentionally identified and explored emotions that I’ve experienced. I’ve done this by talking, prioritizing some quiet time, prayer and writing. Some of those emotions are directly related to the pandemic while some may be a side effect. To identify and explore those emotions with people I trust has been helpful to prevent my emotions from controlling me. My emotions taught me a lot about myself. I should really keep this up.
  3. Connecting with family and friends. Do you know what happens when you’re not always running from one activity to the next? You actually have meaningful, substantive conversations with people you like. Who knew? Simple check-ins with friends, hours-long conversations about life and being held accountable for taking care of myself have all become the norm. Relationships really are what matters most.
  4. Prayer and/or Meditation. Remembering how to be still and be quiet has been beneficial, too. Finding quiet spaces to simply slow down and pray more regularly has helped me be aware of what’s important. Numerous studies show that prayer and/or meditation helps us respond better to trauma and crisis. And just as importantly, it has kept me from that land of fear which can be paralyzing.

Bonus: Watching Documentaries.

I didn’t realize this was so helpful until recently. I have indulged in several documentaries including one by Ken Burns about New York and one he made about baseball. I’ve also checked out The Last Dance about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. It’s been a nice getaway from the mundane and a good chance to learn something new. 

These are all little things that have helped me stay in touch with myself. While working, my focus has been better. Thankfully it has helped me to have more patience with my kids (in other words, I haven’t blown up at them recently). Who knew that there would be positive side effects to being quarantined?

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About four weeks into our quarantine, I told my husband, “I feel like I’m working harder than ever. At the end of my work day, I feel like I need a nap because I’m exhausted.” I really began to wonder if something was wrong with me.

Then I started hearing other people talk about how fatigued they felt. I decided to do a little research, and guess what? Quarantine fatigue is for real. Even with all the Zooming and FaceTiming going on, human beings don’t thrive in extended periods of social and physical isolation. If this pandemic has done anything positive, it has shined the light on the reality that just seeing people on a screen is not enough to satisfy the human longing to be in the physical presence of others or to experience a hug. The lack of that takes a toll on all of us, even the introverts of the world.

It is pretty unlikely we will return to what any of us considered a normal way of life anytime soon. This means we all need to be on guard for recognizing that we are at risk for experiencing quarantine fatigue.

Psychotherapist Paul Hokemeyer, Ph.D., author of Fragile Power, explains in a piece on Health.com that quarantine fatigue stems from that emotional exhaustion the pandemic has placed on our lives. “I’m hearing from all of my clients that they are exhausted from the sheltering in place rules. They feel unkempt. They’re bored. They’re broke. They want to divorce their partner and give away their children,” he says. “This pandemic has elevated the notion of powerlessness and uncertainty to a level we’ve never before experienced.”

Many can probably relate to this. I mean how many of us were planning to be the first in line for a haircut once barbershops and salons were allowed to open back up? Others were clamoring to get back to the gym, and should I even mention retail therapy? I spoke with someone who works at HomeGoods. She said the line to get in on their first day wrapped around the building. People waited two and a half hours to get in and apparently, the wait to check out wasn’t much better.

Since the experts say it is unlikely we will return to what we consider “normal” anytime in the near future, a big question remains. How can we cope with this quarantine fatigue without putting ourselves, our family members or others at risk?

What Can Help With the Fatigue?

  • One of the best things we can do to alleviate this type of fatigue is to move. Not locations, but get up and move your body. If you can’t get outside to walk, run or bike, find something else to do. Rearrange the furniture, do jumping jacks, run in place, clean, plant a garden—anything to break a sweat.
  • Do things to intentionally work your brain. Try things like jigsaw puzzles, crossword or word search, learning to knit or crochet, or learning a new language. Anything that will get your brain to think but in a way that is different from your norm is ideal. This will help with the brain fog you might be feeling.
  • If you have been in the same routine since you started quarantine, consider shaking it up a bit and trying something new. With children transitioning away from online classes and into summer mode for real, it’s a natural time to create a new schedule for them and you.
  • Remind yourself and those around you that things won’t be this way forever. It is for sure inconvenient and in some ways discouraging, but we have come through hard things before and we will again. Your mindset really does matter. If you constantly tell yourself and talk with others about how horrible this is, it will for sure make this time harder to navigate through.
  • Focus on what you can do. You can write letters to people. You can try to safely connect in person by practicing all the CDC social distancing recommendations, plan your next dream vacation or tackle a project you have been putting off because it was going to take too much time.
  • Stop giving yourself a hard time about what you aren’t doing. It’s highly likely that none of us are really functioning on all cylinders. This is difficult. Take each day as it comes. If yesterday wasn’t a great day, give yourself a pat on the back for getting through it even if it wasn’t pretty and then move through today one step at a time.

We still need to be careful and considerate of others, and self-care is actually a vital component of that.

Walking around feeling like your brain is numb or that you are in a dense fog doesn’t feel very good. Putting some of these things into play can help. Notice I didn’t say, putting all of these things into practice. The goal is not to overwhelm yourself, but to do some things differently with the intent of keeping things fresh when everything feels stale or boring. In other words, we all might benefit from hitting the refresh button to help ourselves get through this.

The freeway is a terrible place for my emotional health. 

Perhaps like you, the chance to leave the house for something essential is a bit of a treat these days. A couple of days ago, we needed bread. So, I joyfully hopped in the car to head to my favorite locally-owned bakery with thoughts of fresh sourdough on my mind. 

Joy quickly turned to temper as I entered the on-ramp and encountered other—I’ll call them “drivers”—on the road. Let’s just say that those around did not have the same philosophy of operating a motor vehicle as me. They were either too slow, too fast, or just too unlike me in how I preferred them to drive. I’m a bit ashamed to admit it: choice words flew, and the stink-eye was given from the driver’s seat on several different occasions. I mean, I was irate, irked, ill-tempered. Don’t these people know when a loaf of sourdough is on the line?

I’ve yet to understand what it is about the freeway that can turn my elation into exasperation, my peace into petulance. And maybe for you, it feels like the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, with all the quarantining, working from home, homeschooling, and mask-wearing, have been escalating trips on the freeway of fury. You may be asking yourself, why is COVID-19 making me so dadgum angry? 

Here’s the Situation

We get angry because there’s an unresolved issue somewhere. Many times that issue is buried more deeply in our psyche than we think. Even though I haven’t figured out my deal with freeway driving, I’m pretty sure it’s not the drivers around me that have me boiling. Even if they really are terrible drivers, they’re just the triggers, the spark that sets off the gasoline-doused woodpile already set up in my mind. 

And the COVID-19 crisis has provided us with lots of potential for things to go up in the flames of anger. Consider the situation we’re in: 

  1. The threshold of our tolerance is at an all-time low due to the stress and anxiety that is so common during this time. Most of us are basically on a short fuse. Times are uncertain. Uncertainty begets a sense of lack of control, which begets negative emotions, which begets anger. Pile up the wood and pour on the gas…
  1. Things going on around us are magnified at an all-time high. We’re home and around the people we live with so… much… more. You notice things you never saw before—little, annoying, nit-picky, normally-inconsequential things—which now drive you absolutely bananas. You know what I’m talking about. He leaves his shoes in the living room all the time. She won’t stop texting me while I’m trying to work. The kids are loud, hungry, bored, tired, whiney. One little match on the pile… kaboom.

The Problem With the Kaboom

When we allow the pile to build and the match to drop, it puts a terrible strain on our emotional health and our relationships. When the kaboom occurs, stress hormones flood the brain. Those hormones override the part that handles impulse control, consideration of the consequences of your actions, and the ability to use logic and process empathy, compassion and guilt. We basically lose the ability to govern these higher-order thinking skills in order to compensate for surviving what we perceive as a threat. We go into a “fight, flight, or freeze” mode. 

And this is when people tend to react, give stink-eyes from driver’s seats, fly off the handle, go off on someone, lose their everloving stuff. It’s bad for your emotional health, and it’s bad for your relationships with the people around you. 

Strategies for Dealing With Anger

Below I’d like to offer some strategies for preventing our anger from flaming up. Before jumping in, however, it’s important to acknowledge one thought: anger is normal. In and of itself, it’s a neutral emotion. Heck, countless social justice movements were successfully launched because someone was angry with a legitimate issue. So give yourself some grace. Know that your anger is okay; it’s all in how you manage your anger, what you do with it. 

Here are some things to think about: 

  • When you’re triggered, take a timeout so the spark can burn out. Marriage researcher and relationship expert Dr. John Gottman found out that it typically takes at least 20 minutes of “self-soothing” for the brain transition out of “fight, flight, or freeze” and to get back to normal working order. For you fellow “manly-men” out there reading this, self-soothing sounds a little… tame. However, this is your best ally to keep the woodpile from blowing up and saying or doing something you’ll regret. Take a walk, shoot some hoops, play an instrument, weed the garden, bake a cake—whatever it takes to take the heat out of the spark. 
  • Explore your anger. This might sound a little psycho-babblish, but the idea is to consider what’s really going on inside that’s making the anger build. Sure, something your spouse or kids (or the drivers on the road) did trigger something; but ask, what’s the real issue here? Is it the stress of this pandemic? Is it the unknown, the uncertainty? Are you missing people you normally see in person? Are there ways you’ve typically coped that aren’t available right now? And are you getting enough exercise, rest, clean food, or connection with the people you love? Exploring these ideas is akin to disassembling the giant gas-laden woodpile that’s been building in your mind so that the next time something lights a spark, the tendency for a kaboom is much less. 
  • Recognize the things that are giving you joy during this time. Has there been an upside to being at home more? Has there been more opportunity to hang with your spouse and the kids? Or maybe to learn a new hobby or rekindle an old one? Have you been given the margin to read more, exercise more, watch more movies, complete home projects, or just enjoy the outside? Recognizing the joys that are coming out of this situation is essential to handling your anger so that the anger doesn’t handle you. Acknowledge these joys on a daily basis and adopt a sense of gratitude for those things. When you do, you’ll notice the positive shift in your attitude in no time. 

Anger is a normal emotion. Understand how it affects you physically and mentally, have a plan for it, and learn from it as you focus on the positive things in your life!

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