Finding Purpose in Smiling at Strangers.
Yesterday in clinic, I had three remedial massage patients, back to back, talking about their headaches. There were a variety of potential causes, from poor posture, to too much sitting at their desk, but when it all came down to it, much of the cause was from COVID related unhappiness. This is a vastly unprofessional diagnosis, of course, but the one vast looming elephant in our collective rooms is that we are unable to get on with our lives.
I find this inability to make plans particularly clashing with my list based, plan making, ever-so-slightly perfectionist world. I find myself making plans for holidays to take in three years time, as that seems to have some faint resemblance to having a positive outcome, which I cannot yet see for any plans in my immediate future.
For most of us, planning ahead, understanding that there is an outcome, gives us a sense of having some point to the otherwise sometimes senselessness of living. Normally, we work, we play, we rest, and this cycle works because we punctuate it with a holiday, or a change at work, or an event, which gives us pause. In this pandemic holding pattern, there is no pause, no punctuation of passing life, culminating in the feeling of no purpose.
I know that we are, in fact, the lucky country. In comparison with other countries, our sense of actual loss, in terms of death of loved ones is minuscule. This is small comfort for those who have lost their family, often in uncaring solitude, but compare our figures to those in other first world countries. Our 816 deaths (as at 15 September, reported by Worldometer) barely registers, next to to nearly 199,000 in the US. And don’t just pass this off as being higher due to the high population. On a per head of population scale, we have lost 32 people per million of our population. In the States, their loss is up at 600 per million.
I also know that we were blessed by having been hit by the virus comparatively later in the spread, so that we were faintly prepared. And that we had just come out of summer, with our vitamin D levels and immune systems replenished and in a position to fight. Regardless of all this, I am fighting the urge to feel relentlessly hard done by, by a faceless enemy which is stopping my life from following the plans that I had made.
For so many of my patients and myself, there is the impression of life on hold. Added to this, being told what to do by the leaders of our country, and we are left without control. Taking us back to our lack of positive outcome, and purpose. A lack of purpose is linked to a sense of anxiety and will actually affect our outcome for long life. A study by Hill and Turiano in 2014 noted that “having a purpose appears to widely buffer against mortality risk across the adult years.”
So in this waiting room stage of the pandemic, as we twiddle our thumbs whilst watching the daily numbers of disease and death, it is important to create small patches of purpose in our daily life. Imbue your life with positive steps to take advantage of this time, not because you are a bastion of health and virtue, but because it will allow you to feel a small step of achievement. Simple advice from your naturopath who will endeavour to follow it herself.
Get to bed at the same time, just because it helps imbue good habits and quality of rest. Go for walks every day because there are things of beauty to appreciate in the spring landscape. Soak up the sun to increase your daily intake of vitamin D. Smile at strangers. Just because it enhances the day for both of you, and because the difficulty in smiling through a mask means that we smile even more widely, and this adds to our genuine feeling of wellness.