“Flatten the Curve” is a term we hear daily in the media. Happily, it’s a concept that seems to be working for us as Americans. Governor Andrew Cuomo was on TV this morning talking about how NYC only needed 90,000 hospital beds instead of the 100s of thousands they worried about needing when this pandemic started. While it’s still a staggering figure, it’s doable—and much better than the expectation, all because New Yorkers are staying home and flattening the curve. Dr. Fauci has reported this week that they are recalculating the numbers of people daily who will contract COVID-19 and the number who will die from it all because Americans are making the conscious decision to stay home and flatten the curve. In a matter of weeks, “flatten the curve” has become a ubiquitous phrase in our daily communication. It will forever be tied to our memories of this period of quarantine, but it is an incredibly useful phrase in our mental health arsenal too.
While I was coaching a client today on her overwhelm, we were talking about all of the things she had to do. She’s a successful mother, wife, employee, and graduate student, and like many of us who are trying to accomplish a lot in a new and challenging way, overwhelm is meeting her around every corner. As we were discussing her decisions about her school work, she looked at me and said, “I need to flatten my own curve!” BOOM! That was a mic-drop moment for me. This metaphor we have been using to describe keeping the virus at a manageable level is the perfect metaphor for the overwhelm we are all feeling right now! We can either let our anxiety and overwhelm shoot out of control or we can make the decision to flatten the curve.
And it is a decision as conscious as the one we make to stay home and isolated. I could go to the store to get that one ingredient for the recipe I’ve been wanting to make, but for everyone’s health and safety, I will stay home and make something else instead. Likewise, I could sit at home with the kids running around like crazy people, ignoring my to-do list, and spinning in overwhelm, but for my own peace of mind, I will focus on my list and complete one task on it.
And here’s an interesting tidbit: overwhelm can’t coexist with action! It is impossible for your brain to spin in overwhelm while you are focusing on completing a task. Overwhelm demands your full attention. Like a virus, it rages out of control taking over everything ... unless we flatten the curve by taking action!
So when you start to feel the panic and anxiety rise up inside you, meet it with some kind of action. Make a to-do list, revisit the list you already have and pick an item on it, complete some kind of task. FLATTEN YOUR CURVE and move from overwhelm into a level of accomplishment that will help you look back on this period of quarantine with a gratitude for the way you handled the situation instead of a list of regrets.