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Things have gotten pretty wild, right? Just know that however you are feeling, it’s OK and tons of people are there with you. If you’re feeling anxiety or fear, sadness or loss, or anything else, you are amazing the way you are and the way you feel. Talk to people if you can and share your feelings, especially those feelings you might not be proud of in the moment. You are loved and understood always.
That’s basically the entire article right there, so feel free to go do other things if needed. Just try not to open Twitter, which has always been a pre-apocalyptic hellscape, and has effortlessly transitioned into a mid-apocalyptic hellscape.
A quick backstory
If you’re still here, let’s zoom back to January. As the coronavirus stories started popping up more and more, I saw an interesting thing in a few training logs: severe anxiety. There were some athletes sounding alarm bells about what was coming. They were the hipsters of hand sanitizer, stocking up before it was cool.
I tried to calm their fears—my anxiety seems to be confined to things that seem equally improbable, so I have personal experience. But then I heard from my wife/co-coach Megan, a doctor who is doing an epidemiology PhD at Stanford, and the coolest cucumber I know.
“We need to get our car back to Colorado eventually, so just in case, prepare to drive away from the Bay Area.”
That was weird. It seemed overblown, and I had to summon all of my strength not to mansplain the virus to a Stanford MD/PhD. Somehow, I overcame.
As the problem became more apparent over the next six weeks, more feelings were shared in training logs. Some people had flare-ups of decades-dormant OCD. Others anxiety, depression, fear, sadness. There was gallows humor, including an athlete that asked if they could use hand sanitizer as lubrication (I assume for running reasons, but I didn’t follow up). Everyone responded so differently. Maybe it was news source, background psychology, susceptibility of family and friends, whether or not they had been mansplained to that day. Whatever it was, the new normal was becoming fully weird.
A couple of Fridays ago, Megan sounded the alarm as we traveled to a race.
“I think Stanford is going to cancel everything, so pack what you need.”
Even then, I downplayed it at first, but I eventually came around. I didn’t clean out the fridge before we drove to Colorado, though. You can take the mansplaining out of the man, but you can’t take the man out of the mansplaining.
Social distancing became a term we all knew, and not just what Jim Walmsley did at the start of every trail race. Even though the alarm bells had been ringing for a bit, to paraphrase Ron Burgundy, it all escalated quickly.
Last week, the chocolate energy gel really hit the fan. I was watching an NBA game when they cancelled the season. We all suddenly became aware of how much we pick our noses. The president went on TV to say full sentences for the most part. Tom Hanks was infected. In an emergency action, Hanks became president. Don’t fact check this.
Running is a microcosm for society as a whole, and almost every event was cancelled within a day. Social distancing became a term we all knew, and not just what Jim Walmsley did at the start of every trail race. Even though the alarm bells had been ringing for a bit, to paraphrase Ron Burgundy, it all escalated quickly.
Where we are
And now everyone was impacted, no matter what the news source or background psychology. Behind the scenes in training logs, every emotion poured out, and it’s all still in flux, and it’s all non-linear as emotions can be. Some of those athletes that were full of anxiety and OCD in January became calm and accepting. For others, anxiety has turned up to 11, magnified by the uncertainty of it all.
Psychologists say that anxiety is partially related to our brain’s desire to map structure onto an uncertain world. Well, right now we have lots of uncertainty and the removal of lots of structure. It’s an immensely hard and strange time. Some people feel overwhelmed, scared, or sad. Some people become problem-solvers, which in this uncertain moment could manifest as some interesting social-media posts. Some launch into fear, denial, anger. For others it’s like a snow day, full of adventure. All of this is mapped onto a world where economic disparity and privilege is inextricable from actions and options.
Some launch into fear, denial, anger. For others it’s like a snow day, full of adventure. All of this is mapped onto a world where economic disparity and privilege is inextricable from actions and options.
Through it all, the beauty of the human spirit shined. People are thinking about social good and collective action in a way that is unique to crisis. And it’s on full display in the athletic community. But throw that beauty of the human spirit in with the fragility of the human body, the uncertainty, the political situation and the economic downturn, and it can get overwhelmed by the bitter tastes, particularly if you’re looking at TV news or Twitter.
Uncertain weeks ahead
Fast forward to now. We are in a world of uncertainty, and probably will be for a bit. I coach psychologists who are scared and sad. I coach hourly workers who are laughing. Our responses to the crisis are as unpredictable as the pandemic itself.
In that swirl of uncertainty, just try as hard as you can to cut yourself slack. This moment is hard. There is no universally right answer. Danielle Snyder, counselor at Inner Drive Athlete, says, “No feeling is wrong. The more you try to discourage the feeling, the stronger the feeling will become.” She says to talk to people about how you feel (contact her here) and encourage yourself through it all.
You’re a collection of semi-organized stardust that came together to run and laugh and love (and fear and worry and read semi-coherent brain splats), and that’s so cool. And, damn, you deserve so much love just for being.
And that’s the big message of this article: you are amazing, and we got this. When this article says you are amazing, that’s not a conditional statement. You are not amazing if …, you are amazing as you are. You’re a collection of semi-organized stardust that came together to run and laugh and love (and fear and worry and read semi-coherent brain splats), and that’s so cool. And, damn, you deserve so much love just for being.
You’re amazing and loved not because you achieve something or run a fast time, and certainly not because you emotionally handle a pandemic exactly as advised by the CDC and your therapist. You’re amazing and loved because you exist. The things you might not always love about yourself are amazing too, because they’re an essential part of what makes the semi-organized stardust so delightful just as it is. As long as you don’t intentionally harm others, you are freaking amazing just for being, and for being you.
So cut yourself slack. We’re moving into a new unknown, mapped onto all the old unknowns, with the ever-presence of all the unknown unknowns lurking around the corner.
As we move forward, give yourself all the grace you can. Talk to counselors and other mental health specialists because they went to school for a long time to help you think through all of this hard stuff. Talk to friends, spiritual guides, and golden retrievers too (while practicing all advised precautions). Mental health is health, and treat it accordingly.
And remember that other people are going through this weird time right there with you. Some people have it way worse–have compassion for them. Some people have it way better–try to extend compassion to them too. Everyone’s responses are different, and even though there are actions we all should take for community health, emotions do not follow 10-point guidelines.
We’re all in this together, even if our togetherness needs to be expressed from a safe social distance.
David Roche partners with runners of all abilities through his coaching service, Some Work, All Play. His book, The Happy Runner, is about moving toward unconditional self-acceptance in a running life, and it’s available now on Amazon.