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When Major Life Changes Happen During COVID

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Seth J. Gillihan, PhD - Blogs
By Seth J. Gillihan, PhDClinical psychologistAugust 18, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic forced us to adjust nearly all of our day-to-day routines and activities – work, exercise, grocery shopping, socializing (remember that?), even going for a walk. Now that we’re a few months in, you’ve probably found a way to manage your everyday life in this “new normal.”

But, of course, life is more than just everyday activities – big things happen, too (and they don’t care if there’s a pandemic going on).

You move to a new city. Get a new job. You start college, or you graduate. Your youngest child moves out. You get married. You have a child, maybe becoming a brand-new parent. There are also major losses that will happen through this time: the death of a loved one, or a beloved pet. Divorce. A major illness (COVID or otherwise). Losing your job.

Whether or not we welcome the transition, it’s stressful. Selling a home, for example, was already a bit of a nightmare, and now you have to manage every step of it in the context of social distancing and radical uncertainty. And you probably don’t have all the supports you normally would depend on, like being able to spend time with friends and with family we don’t live with.

It can feel like there’s no solid ground to stand on—no home base to operate from. How are you supposed to navigate a seismic shift in your life, when the world already feels so off-kilter? We need to find a center—a constant—something that helps us stay grounded when everything else is in flux.


For some of us, stability comes from our religious or spiritual commitments. Maybe you find comfort in rituals: lighting the Shabbat candles, kneeling toward the east to pray, reading the Bible, praying the rosary, sitting in stillness. These practices can connect us not only to the rest of our lives, but to countless others who have practiced them over hundreds or thousands of years.


Even as toddlers, we orient ourselves through our closest relationships. Studies show that young kids with a secure connection to their caregivers are more willing to venture out and try new things. The same is true for adults. That’s why it’s more important than ever to stay in close contact with our loved ones during COVID, and even more so during a major transition. Loving relationships are crucial to our well-being in many ways: getting a different perspective; remembering we matter; knowing we’re loved.


We moved many times when I was growing up—I attended school in six different towns across three states, from California to Kentucky. While my family was an invaluable source of stability through these changes, so was the music I loved. This might sound superficial, but music can touch us on a deep level. I remember the last time we moved, in the middle of my sophomore year of high school. One of the first things I set up in my new room was my tape player (this was 1991), and I put on my favorite Tom Petty album. I still remember the feeling of familiarity as I listened, and the profound sense that things were going to be all right in this new place. Maybe for you it’s Beethoven’s seventh symphony, Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue, or The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill—anything you find grounding and meaningful.

Inner Knowing

We don’t actually need anything outside of ourselves to find stability. Each of us has an inner core—a secret place within us that is who we’ve always been. Through all the changes and stages of our life, through the joys and traumas, pleasure and pain, it’s been there. Maybe you think of it as your soul, your spirit, or your heart. Whatever you call it, it’s there waiting for you. When life is stormy and the winds are howling, we can drop into that place of stillness. It’s like diving beneath the waves, and descending to a depth where all is calm. We can find this place in meditation, or through prayer. We might find it as we lie in bed and let everything we don’t need melt away. Sometimes it finds us, in surprising moments of tranquility. It’s actually here, right now. As present as ever. Take a gentle breath in through the nose. Exhale slowly. Arrive fully in this moment. This inner knowing is always with you. Always available. As close as the breath.




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About the Author
Seth J. Gillihan, PhD

Seth J. Gillihan, PhD, is a licensed psychologist and host of the weekly Think Act Be podcast. He is author of The CBT Deck, Retrain Your Brain, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Made Simple, and co-author with Dr. Aria Campbell-Danesh of A Mindful Year: 365 Ways to Find Connection and the Sacred in Everyday Life. Dr. Gillihan provides resources for managing stress, anxiety, and other conditions on the Think Act Be website.

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