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What is “emotional poverty,” and what can we learn from it during the time of COVID-19?
Emotional poverty is an extreme lack of five things our human souls need to thrive: connection, satisfaction, inspiration, hope, and security.
Back in more “normal” times, most of us tried to fill some of these specific voids in our lives. When we felt lonely, we cultivated new relationships, or maintained our social connections with family and friends. When we wanted to feel accomplished, we created goals. We took precautions to feel safe and secure when we traveled, whether it was a globetrotting adventure, or just a quick trip the grocery store. Inspiration came our way through new experiences.
At the beginning of 2020, many of us were feeling a bit of “hope” on the horizon, despite our differences and a dysfunctional political climate. An election year always feels hopeful. But, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, all of the vehicles we usually employ to increase our “emotional wealth” are running on fumes in a holding pattern. We’re circling our own lives, and twiddling our thumbs.
During this unprecedented time, we aren’t filling our tanks and we’re feeling more emotionally depleted than ever before. The economy has taken a nosedive, but it’s the soul of the world that’s suffering.
I’m hanging on by a thread, to be honest. I’m hiding behind my social media platforms more than ever before. I feel like it’s all I’ve got. Zoom happy hours are fun, but at this point they feel like a chore. Virtual meetings for work are productive, but they’re a far cry from the physical human interaction I crave. I do not think I’m alone in feeling “boxed in,” literally and figuratively.
How then, do we continue to live inside the emotional poverty of Covid-19? As we roll the dice and “re-open” the country, can we find a new normal and stop mourning our previous way of life? How can we feed the five categories of emotional poverty while absorbing the changes and our feelings of melancholy? I’ve been told to “stay positive.”
The sentiment is well-intended, but it’s not doing the trick.
Here’s what I think will work:
We can do things that aren’t related to Zoom and social media. For example, stopping to really speak with our neighbors is one way to connect, because lately, everyone seems to be getting outside. I’ve lived in the same neighborhood for 20 years and there are people walking around my block I’ve never seen before. Instead of simply waving and walking past, I’ve begun to introduce myself (six feet away, of course). I’m doing this newfangled thing called “stopping to chat” for a bit and it’s wonderful. My neighborhood suddenly feels like a cozier place.
Another way to connect is by writing old-fashioned, pen to paper letters for my friends and loved ones. My new writing jam is “no computers allowed,” which is challenging. Deep in my writer soul I want go back and edit the crap out of everything, but I know there’s merit in a letter that’s raw, real, and unfiltered. Keeping things light and uplifting, I’m offering a different and more authentic type of connection through shared anecdotal stories that aren’t posted on a timeline. If nothing else, we humans need to feel seen, which is why we’ve fallen prey to the lure of easy and instant validation on social media.
Engaging in any sort of physical activity or labor has a bucket of rewards built in. When we step away from Netflix, and finish a few projects we “never have time for,” we feed our need for satisfaction, which is about finally finishing the things we’ve started. Plant a victory garden, or clean out a storage closet. Paint a few rooms. It feels good to get things done.
Also, many of us are getting more exercise these days, which is therapeutic! If we add just 20 minutes more per day to the increase we’ve already established, it becomes a small change that changes us. There is satisfaction in doing more for our bodies, and taking control of the things we can control in times of crisis. Our health is one of them.
I’ve always been a list maker, and lately, I’m feeling inspired after organizing my thoughts. “What I want for the world” and “where I’d like to travel” are just two that come to mind. Wish lists work. “What I’d like to change,” and “things I want to learn” offer creative inspiration amid my current circumstances. I’ve even made a list of all the excuses I’ve carried over the years for why I can’t do what I want, and boy, was it an eye-opener. Feeding the lack of inspiration in our lives requires a motivational starting point, which is why simply making a list works. It gets our creative energy flowing, and that’s exactly what our human soul needs to thrive.
It’s time to start scheduling things again. It can be something trivial, like planning a party for example. It doesn’t have to be next week, and it might not happen at all, but there is hope inside the planning. It creates something to look forward to.
It can be something heavier, like getting behind our Presidential candidate, because voting in a big election is a hopeful endeavor. Going forward, the health of our soul as a nation (and the challenges we are encountering with our policies and ideologies) depends on who wins in November. Hope is how we fight our way through the chaos of uncertainty.
Collectively, we can employ a combination of common sense and cautious optimism to feel secure once we get moving again. We can’t hide inside our homes forever. When everything begins to roll open, we’ll need to remember that the virus isn’t gone, but if we want to participate we must continue to keep our guards up. We must wear our masks, wash our hands, and maintain distance from older people and those with health conditions. We must take all the same precautions we did before. Local businesses need us, and they are taking precautions too. It’s irritating to cover our faces, but there is security in doing so, and I for one, will not mess with that feeling, for myself or others.
We can establish a new normal together if we fight the emotional poverty we’ve experienced during Covid-19. There is more than one way to fill our tanks with the things our souls need to thrive, and it’s time to start exploring them.
Our “new normal” depends on it, and human beings have forged new paths since the dawn of time.