I often begin my therapy sessions by asking my clients how are they feeling. As I consider how I have been feeling over the past several days, I notice a myriad of emotions washing over me. What the world is going through is weird, like nothing I have ever seen before. It is a scary and confusing time. It feels surreal. These are frightening times for so many people and I feel a deep sense of grief for those who are suffering.
My prayers go out to those who are sick, have lost loved ones, those who are facing financial hardship. My prayers go out to those who are by themselves. My prayers go out to nurses, doctors, healthcare professionals, and anyone who is putting their health at risk to protect ours. We are all in this together. This pandemic touches everyone.
When one is overwhelmed with unpleasant thoughts, feelings, experiences, and an overabundance of information from the news and social media posts, we can practice behaviors that work against us, rather than for us. Some behaviors that work against us include overeating, undereating, lack of sleep, overspending, lack of proper hygiene, aggressive communication, panicking, and defensiveness.
During this challenging time, I would like to invite you to consciously engage in behaviors that work for you. I want to encourage you to calm your mind by following these recommendations.
Stay Connected to Friends and Family
Even if you can’t visit friends and family due to social distancing, you can still make a phone call, videoconference, facetime, etc. We are social beings and we are meant to connect with others. Social distancing does not mean that we can’t connect. Indeed, we can be more intentional about how we connect. Instead of talking to your children while scrolling through your social media feed, you can choose to be present and listen to them. Instead of texting a friend, you might make a phone call or write them a letter. Staying connected to others does not have to stop right now. Indeed, we need to connect with others more than ever.
Minimize Time Watching the News and Exposure to Social Media Posts
All things in moderation, right? Although it’s tempting to want to seek out regular updates on COVID19, it’s important to minimize your exposure to the news and social media posts. A few minutes a day is fine, but certainly not several hours. It makes sense to want to stay informed on recent updates, and we also have to keep in mind that news coverage delivery can have a leaning towards despair and the impossibility of a situation. It might be a good practice to disable constant notifications from news sites or social media, especially if you’re noticing an increase in stress, anxiety, or depression.
Calm Your Nervous System:
When we become overwhelmed with fear, we activate our fight, flight, or freeze response. Keep in mind that fear is nature’s protector. It’s a reminder to take good care of yourself. The concern is when we become hijacked by fear because this is when we lose contact with compassion and perspective. You can calm your nervous system by doing a few different things.
- Simply focusing on the breath is one powerful way to be present. Count to 5 on the in-breath and count to 5 on the out-breath. You can do this for 2 minutes and you will notice a difference in how you feel.
- Use mindfulness and meditation apps. There are great apps that can guide you through mindfulness activities that help to reduce fight, flight, freeze like Headspace and Insight Timer.
- Naming the senses is also a way to nurture yourself. My family sat outside a few nights ago, and my daughter guided us through this activity: name 5 things you can see, 4 things you can feel, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste. We felt so refreshed at the end of this activity.
Stay Aligned with your Values:
Consider who you want to be as you move through this difficult time. What matters to you? What and who do you value? The character of who we are is not measured by how we show up when things are easy, but rather how we show up when things are difficult. If you value being of service to others, consider what you can do to help others who may be more affected by the outbreak than you. You might consider volunteering virtually or donating blood. If your health is important to you, make sure to continue to practice good hygiene, eat well, and exercise. If being a good friend or neighbor is important to you, continue to check in with friends and neighbors to see how they are doing.
Practice the 4 P’s (Pause, Process, Pray, and Proceed):
My good friend, Patty, shared the 4 P’s at a healing circle I facilitated about a year ago. She recommends that when you’re dealing with difficulty, you can do the following:
- Pause: Take a moment to be still, and take a deep, refreshing breath. Name what you’re aware of: fear, anger, sadness. By simply naming emotions, you can reduce the distress that may accompany those emotions. When you name the fear, for example, it reduces its power.
- Process: Allow yourself to really see and understand your thoughts and feelings. Don’t push away thoughts and feelings. Just allow them to be there.
- Pray: If you believe in the power of prayer, then practice it. Prayer offers emotional comfort, resulting in fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression.
- Proceed: This is about committed action. This is a step-by-step process of acting to create a life of integrity, true to one’s deepest wishes and longings.
I know it might seem difficult but you CAN calm the mind during this difficult time. Comment below and let me know how you are coping. Of course, this blog does not serve as a replacement for professional help. If you need professional help, please don’t hesitate to reach out to professionals who have the expertise to support you. I am grateful that many mental health practitioners have transitioned to tele-behavioral health so that folks can be supported during such a challenging time.
Be Safe. Be Well.