The Corona virus has introduced a lot of uncertainty. Our lives have changed in a way we didn’t expect or had a chance to prepare for. We need to find a new balance, while our circumstances seem to change rapidly.
How do we deal with this in the best way possible, and what meaningful lessons can we take away from this?
Limit exposure to anxiety evoking news
I frequently hear my clients say that they feel pulled towards reading the news or checking their social media, but then after reading it, are left feeling anxious. It is not a surprise, as catastrophe sells, and media will feed us shocking stories that work on our emotions. Reading news reports can leave us feeling threatened, powerless and hopeless. How often do you check the news, how often are you on social media? Ask yourself whether this is helping you deal with this situation, and how it impacts your well being? Checking the news might calm you down temporarily, but how do you feel after you’re done?
If you feel it is important to check the news, then ask yourself what kind of news helps you feel more informed/empowered? See if you can structure the amount of exposure by:
- limiting the amount and duration of times you check the news, and
- think about what kind of material you would like to read or do without.
We often find ourselves worrying about things that make us feel anxious. Ask yourself
if the thoughts you are having are helping you. Your thoughts might be helping you come up with an action plan, like how to best take care of yourself or others. In such cases your thoughts are empowering. If you find you are worrying about things you cannot change and it is not helping you move forward, try to look at the thought and then let it go, by “putting the thought away in an imaginary drawer”. The drawer might pop open every now and then, with this thought. Try and imagine
putting it back in the drawer. You might have an image that works better for you, to help you let go of your thoughts. Like holding a balloon with your thought in it, and then letting go of the balloon and watch it climb up in the sky.
You can reserve a specific time in the day to take a closer look at your thoughts. Instead of letting your thoughts go in circles in your mind, you can write them down. This way you are making sure you become aware of your complete thought and you can examine the thought(s). Whenever you catch yourself ruminating at other times, allow yourself to postpone these thoughts to the allocated time. Ruminations tend to reinforce anxiety, so allow yourself to decrease the amount of time spent ruminating.
If you would like to learn more about how to relate to your thoughts of feelings differently you can watch Russ Harris’ struggle switch video.
Structuring your day
We are living in a period of uncertainty. Structuring our day, and creating a routine, allows us to create predictability and order in an unpredictable environment and allows us to experience a sense of control. While we can’t control outside factors, we can control how we choose to behave. A predictable and doable schedule, that balances activities that we enjoy, with meaningful activities and chores that we need to do, can help us get through the day, give us a sense of purpose and maintain our well being.
As a side note: when you are at home with children, make sure to set realistic expectations. The daily schedule usually includes multiple factors, like school work, preparing food, taking care of kids, etc. It is more important to get through the day in one piece, than if you reached schedule point 8 and 9. Don’t let schedules become a source of stress. See if it is possible to find relaxing moments in some of the activities you do with the kids.
Routines can include the following aspects in your day:
- Positive social connections
We are social being and innately programmed to connect to others. Positive social connections influence our mood. We might not be able to meet our friends and family in person, due to social distancing, but we can still including activities in our day, that allow us to feel connected to others, like reaching out to friends or family through video/calls, consciously experience moments with our roommates/family members, being creative with date nights with our partner, reaching out to friends we had meant to reach out to for a while, etc.
- Pro-social behavior
Research has shown that pro-social behavior is related to well being. Including acts of kindness, like helping, sharing and comforting others. Tap into what comes naturally to you, whether it is checking in with family, volunteering, donating, helping the community. See what activity would connect to your values, the kind of person you’d like to be.
For those who are stuck at home, the daily amount of movement is usually impacted. Exercising can help prevent stiffness, has health benefits. Additionally it allows us to experience a sense of control over our body and health, making sure we stay/become fit. Additionally it allows us to connect to our strength and feel this in our body. Exercise and yoga are great tools. There is a lot of material online. Try and find the exercises you enjoy. I personally enjoy short exercises that use a variety of exercises, like the Corona workouts Jen Curtis generously posts online free of charge.
- Create/make art
Whether it is cooking, painting, doing arts and crafts, making music, finding what relaxes you and allows you to enter a ‘flow’ is a wonderful way of balancing out stress. When you are at home with children, you might be able to join your kids when they make art.
- Meditation/Relaxation exercises
When we are stressed, our body reacts and our muscles tense. Just as our thoughts can activate our body to either be in a fight/flight or relaxation mode, so can our body give our brain the signal to relax. Certain exercises allow our body to relax and therefore signal to the brain it doesn’t need to be in flight fight mode, others help us relax our mind.
Try exercises like: deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, and mindfulness (e.g. Sam Harris’ short mindfulness exercises).
Finding meaning amidst Corona
To most of us these are challenging times. I find it interesting how it meets everyone of us in a slightly different area. Most of my clients do not just experience hardship. When they scratch the surface, they find that these unique circumstances that most of us have never experienced before, also shine an interesting light on unexplored territories of the self. It allows us to experience what is meaningful to us in life and what we value less. Quite a few clients have reported being less disturbed by the hectic daily life, as most activities outside have come to a standstill. For some, this allows them to experience and connect more to the here and now, instead of chasing after the next moment/goal, or feeling they should be doing more/be elsewhere due to a FOMO (fear of missing out). In a way these unfamiliar circumstances allow us to reevaluate how to live a meaningful life.
If you have skipped reading all of the above, and want to come away with one important guideline, than just read this:
When trying to figure out what the best way for your to go about dealing with this situation is, ask yourself: “how is this working for me?”.
If you would like to look at more helpful resources of how to deal with our current situation, also take a look at the video of psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk and Russ Harris illustrative Face Covid video.
I hope this has been helpful to read. Take good care of yourself!