Sometimes you are walking along, imagining that you are in a well-manicured park, and suddenly you find yourself in a dark wood. No compass, no map. Hungry and alone. Our country is in a dark wood right now. How we think about this experience and the actions we take will determine our path out of it and the sort of world that will exist when we finally break through the trees.

When you are lost in the woods, it is natural to feel frightened and wonder if you will ever make it out again. You may look back over your recent decisions and berate yourself for not having taken steps to better prepare: Why didn’t I pack more food and water? Why did not I need read up on first aid and bring implements to start a fire?

While we can’t turn the clock back to before the virus, we can gather our wits and our resources and start to move forward with more confidence.

During times like these, certain values or qualities can provide a compass to guide us through the woods. Your list may be different from mine, but here are a few that came to mind.

  • Acceptance: Life is much harder when we fight with reality. Acceptance does not mean passively submitting to anything that happens. Rather, it means learning to paddle with the current rather than trying to paddle upstream. There’s much to accept right now, including being away from one’s friends, losing jobs or internships, or missing out on an in-person graduation.
  • Curiosity: A time like this may never come again. What can you learn about yourself and others that will expand your perspective, understanding and wisdom going forward?
  • Growth Mindset: Along with curiosity, having a growth mindset will better enable you to rise to meet the challenges you face. A growth mindset often entails seeking out new knowledge, skills or resources that will help you meet the moment and life beyond. A growth mindset allows one to notice not only losses but also opportunities.
  • Love and Compassion: This is a time to let others know that you are thinking of them. Instead of just focusing on your own struggles, consider whether you have a friend or relative who might appreciate you checking in on them.
  • Service: Everyone has been affected in some way by the pandemic, some more than others. In some communities, high school students have been delivering groceries to the elderly. Is there someone you know who might need some extra help? When we are giving to others, we generally feel much better ourselves.
  • Balance: While it can be practical and empowering to stay well informed, make sure to balance your consumption of COVID-19 news with other activities that nurture your overall wellbeing. This could include exercise, listening to music, eating well or working on school projects.
  • Center: How do you connect with your center? For some of us it may be conversations with loved ones or close friends. For others, long walks in the mountains or on the beach. Some people meditate or do yoga to connect with their inner being. Others gaze at the stars and feel a sense of awe. Whatever activities help you find your center, make sure that you do them often.

Finally, keep in mind that we will get through this. Some of us will discover reservoirs of resilience we didn’t know we had. Many of us will grow from this. And some of our relationships will deepen as a result.

During this time of particular challenge, how do you want to show up? What will you want to say to others ten years from now about how you handled this unique time in our country’s life? What would you like to be your role and contribution to the new world that will rise from the ashes? The values you embrace and the choices you make each day can help you find the most promising and enriching paths out of the woods.

Mark Evans, Ph.D.

Senior Staff Psychologist