The List of Eight: Coping with COVID-19
C. Stuart Mauney | For the Defense – June 2020
DRI for Life
Does the COVID-19 pandemic have you bouncing oﬀ the walls at home? Compliance with a “stay-at- home” order. Social distancing. Inability to visit with family or friends. Restaurants closed. Yes, you do need a haircut! For me, cancellation of March Madness and postponement of The Masters golf tournament. The death, the hurt, the unemployment. We are all grieving in our own way—grieving the loss of normalcy, grieving the economic loss, grieving the loss of connection.
How do we handle this discomfort, this grief? As a volunteer for the South Carolina Bar Lawyers Helping Lawyers program, and as a mental health advocate, I have read countless articles on lawyers and mental health. As a result, I have come up with “The List of Eight.” It is simply eight things we can do to stay mentally healthy. The content is just the best of the best that I have read, along with what has worked for me.
Resilience is the ability to adapt well in the face of adversity, trauma, or tragedy. It is the process of “bouncing back” from these diﬃcult experiences. In building resilience, we should remember where we have a measure of control rather than wasting our time on things we cannot control. We should also learn to examine our thinking. We should look for speciﬁc evidence to support the accuracy of our thoughts; do you really think the judge is going to throw you in jail for making one mistake in a hearing or trial? Resilience also reminds us not to think of the world in terms of “black and white” or “all or nothing.” Further, we build resilience by developing meaningful relationships. Pay attention to how much the people around you motivate and energize you. If you feel drained or exhausted after spending time with someone, perhaps reconsider the value of that relationship. Finally, resilience means understanding that striving for professional excellence is a good and worthy goal, but trying to achieve perfection is not.
Businessman Thomas J. Watson provided the management and leadership for IBM to become an international force. When he died in 1956, he was called the greatest salesman in the world. Watson knew something about failure: “You can be discouraged by failure, or you can learn from it. So go ahead and make mistakes, make all you can. Because, remember that’s where you’ll ﬁnd success— the far side of failure.” We have all been to the mountaintop in life, and we have been in the valleys of diﬃculty, hurt, and disappointment. When you look at the top of the mountain, you see that vegetation is scarce and the soil is rocky. There is little growth. In the valley, everything is full of life —green and vibrant. It is in the valleys that we ﬁnd personal growth and development. Ernest Hemingway said, “The world breaks everyone, and afterwards some are strong at the broken places.” We should make sure we are deﬁned not by our circumstances, but by our reaction to those circumstances.
Many of our thoughts are defeatist. Our brains are hardwired toward the negative. However, it is possible to train our brains to be positive. Practicing gratitude means acknowledging the goodness in our lives and that the source of that goodness is often found outside ourselves. Gratitude is strongly associated with greater happiness, more positive emotions, and the ability to deal with adversity. It is also an important part of building strong relationships. Write a thank-you note to someone who has aﬀected your life, either personally or professionally. Send at least one note of gratitude every month. Keep a gratitude journal. Make it a habit to write down the things for which you are thankful on a daily basis.
We should ask ourselves how we can reframe disappointment and hurt into appreciation and gratitude. As bad as it might look and as much as it might hurt, there is always something for which we can be thankful.
Take Care of Your Mind
In addition to practicing gratitude, mindfulness and meditation can help rewire our brains. There are a number of apps available. Give them a try!
Go Outside, Spend Time in Nature
I have a sign in my oﬃce at work that says, “The beach is good for the soul.” Who can argue with the positive eﬀects of spending time in nature? Indeed, there is signiﬁcant research that demonstrates nature’s important role in overcoming mental fatigue and improving our ability to focus and direct our attention eﬀectively. Attention Restoration Theory says that nature has the capacity to renew our attention after we exert mental energy, such as working tirelessly on a brief or getting ready for trial. We have a profound need for time in nature and outdoor spaces, and we suﬀer when we do not get it.
Do Something Physical
I am not sure there is much else to be said about this, other than reminding ourselves that exercise is not only good for our physical health, but also for our mental health.
Reducing Screen Time and Social Media Addiction
I am a social media addict. For that reason, and many others, I deleted my Facebook and Instagram accounts in March 2019 and have never looked back. For many of us, the phone is a constant source of distraction, with emails, calls, texts, and social media. Research suggests that 75 percent of us keep our phone within reach on a 24/7 basis. About 10 percent of us sleep with our phone under our pillow. Everyone has their own strategy for avoiding the distraction. The idea is to decrease the amount of time the phone is within our reach. Some people set a time every day that they won’t have their phone with them, or within reach. Plan ahead with your spouse and family not to have your phones within reach during dinner or during the evening. Finally, it’s not just screen time and social media. Do not let technology control your life.
Help and Be Helped
One of my favorite quotes is, “If you see a turtle on a fence post, he had help getting up there.” While this quote has a political origin, I like it because it is a beautiful analogy for one of the greatest gifts you can give to another human being: Help. When we think about all of the people in our lives who have helped us, it starts to become clear that all our life goals are just a series of impossible fence posts that simply cannot be reached on our own. Making that jump to the top of the fence post is insurmountable unless we have a hand to lift us. Everyone needs help to climb that fence post, and I am certainly no diﬀerent. My wife and kids, my work family at Gallivan, White & Boyd, and my faith—all have helped me climb the fence posts in my life.
If you are the one who needs help, remember that there is hope and that you are not alone.
C. Stuart Mauney is a partner and certified mediator in the firm’s Greenville, South Carolina, office. His primary areas of practice are business and commercial litigation, professional negligence, tort and personal injury and commercial transportation (trucking). He is a volunteer with the South Carolina Bar Lawyers Helping Lawyers program and past chair of the Gateway board of directors, a psychiatric clubhouse day program for the chronically mentally ill in the Greenville community.
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