All of this is so surreal. As I was hiking today, I found myself curious about our current reality and how this could be happening. In so many ways, these are scary times and it can feel quite overwhelming, because the reality is, this is happening. Our fears, worries, loneliness, and grief are just as real as COVID-19 and they need our attention.
There is a lot of helpful information out there on how to approach this unprecedented global experience. As it comes across my newsfeed and email, I am finding myself struggling to track it all. Thus, my intention is not to add to the clutter, but creating a living document (see my COVID19 Resources Page) to be updated with this information in one place, for you, for me, for all.
There is no one “right” way to navigate these scary and challenging times with our mental health and wellness in tact (or at least not wildly out of control) and these are just some ideas, not an exhaustive list. My hope is you will sift through this post, take what seems to resonate and reflect on it further to tailor it to work for you, discarding what doesn’t fit.
Our nervous systems are rightfully dysregulated right now. With all that is happening, from the scary news stories to hoarding of resources giving the impression of scarcity, to people not taking this seriously, to physically isolating, this is a lot to take; it is hard for us to regulate into our Social Engagement System where we feel safe enough to connect or even just to be. (For a deeper look into regulating the nervous system, see my previous blog post on how our nervous system helps us and other post on regulating the nervous system). In addition to whatever was going on for us before, we are now faced with a new and quite significant stressor.
Why is regulating our nervous system important? First, if we can regulate our nervous system our bodies are better able to access the resource of our immune system to help keep us healthy which is crucial right now. Further, I find it helps if we can identify and understand our autonomic state, that is if we are in the “rest and digest” response of the Social Engagement system, our fight or flight response, or in shutdown/freeze; with that knowledge we can make efforts to shift back into a state of regulation, back into the ventral vagal response of our parasympathetic nervous system (more simply named the Social Engagement System), back to where we can rest, digest, learn, and connect and where our immune system is at its strongest.
Key to being able to regulate our nervous systems is the breath and often, the breath with slow, fluid movement. This could be a walk, yoga, Tai Chi, or some other movement in which you engage the breath. One of my favorite ways to help calm the nervous system that is easy to do almost anywhere is volcano breathing from Yoga Calm. To do this, place your palms together in front of your chest. As you inhale, extend your arms slowly up over your head with palms still together using the entire inhale to lift your arms. As you exhale, reach our arms out to the sides to make a big circle and having your hands meet back in front of your chest using the entire exhale to get there. Repeat several times.
Another essential piece of regulating our nervous systems is to limit our exposure to news and information about COVID-19. Yes, it is important to have enough information to protect yourself and your family. However, having the news on all day or checking news sources throughout the day can be overwhelming to even the calmest person. Thus, I highly recommend selecting just one or two reputable sources to stay informed enough to stay as safe and healthy as possible while also following local guidelines for physical distancing and staying at home. My suggestion is checking out either the CDC website or the World Health Organization (WHO) website and then checking your local government website (in Colorado, they have a specific page set up for COVID-19.
If you are choosing to watch news or information about COVID-19, or even if you aren’t, consider balancing this out with noticing some of the beautiful ways people are helping each other or finding some of the humor in life right now (the toilet paper thing is pretty funny - assuming you have some!). Have you seen how at hospital shift change in Atlanta, people stand out on their balconies and porches and cheer loudly? So lovely.
Sufficient sleep is essential both for coping effectively and reducing our anxiety and depression as well as for helping bolster our immune system. See my blog post on Tips for Better Sleep to help improve your sleep.
For most of us, our regular routines have been disrupted. Given that COVID-19 may be with us for a while, it is important to find a new daily routine or schedule to create some sense of normalcy. This can help us feel more centered or grounded at a time when there is so much uncertainty in the world; our routine is something we can often control to some degree.
Some grounding ideas for starting your day include journaling (I find this super helpful to just dump the mind by stream-of-consciousness writing every morning), cultivating gratitude through a gratitude journal or jar, reading something spiritual or inspiring daily (even could be a quote), working with the breath, or meditating (Insight Timer is a free app and has thousands of free guided meditations). Throughout the day to ground, feel your feet on the floor, practice 5-4-3-2-1 (notice 5 things you see, 4 things you feel to the touch, 3 things you hear, 2 things you smell, and 1 thing you taste), or notice things in your surroundings in other ways.
Stay Engaged, Stay Connected
Staying connected can be tough right now due to physical distancing and stay-at-home orders. Thankfully, many of us have access to the internet. Perhaps instead of texting, now is the time for phone calls and video chats or even video messages to our loved ones. Instead of dinner out with a friend, perhaps we video chat with a friend as we eat dinner separately but simultaneously.
At times, social media can be a nice way to connect and I am noticing using it too much can increase anxiety both through scrolling (even during non-crisis times I notice an increase in anxiety in my body when I scroll through my newsfeed) and by being exposed to COVID-19 related posts almost constantly. Thus, you may seek out additional ways to stay connected. Many faith communities have moved their offerings online as have yoga studios and other communities. We are likely going to be physically distancing from each other for quite some time. I highly recommend not also distancing socially but rather finding ways to stay connected from afar.
It is also helpful to stay engaged in some way. Maybe this means taking an online course you have wanted to take for a while, starting a new at-home hobby, learning a new language (I like the Duolingo app), doing some art, or perhaps trying yoga for the first time. There are so many opportunities for these types of activities and more. I will try to list different resources for this on my new COVID-19 Resource Page as I find them.
Move Your Body
Our bodies are made to move and staying at home can make this challenging. However, moving is not only essential for our physical health and well-being but also for our mental health as well. So whether you find workout videos on YouTube, subscribe to a service, dance in your kitchen, or do your own workout routine, find a way to move your body at least thirty minutes a day.
Take Care of Your Body
Crises like a global pandemic can often through our bodies off kilter. It is important to find ways to fuel our bodies with plenty of water and nutritious foods. One way to think about this is asking the question “how can I nourish my body today?”. This isn’t about restricting certain foods or following a special diet, but rather about connecting with how your body feels and helping nourish it.
Most of us are suddenly faced with a drastic increase in the amount of time we spend with the people in our homes. Whether this is roommates, partners, family, or someone else, we are likely not used to so much time together. Thus, it is essential that we still have some time apart. Whether we create certain times in the day that are quiet, alone times (as much as you can if you have kids), get out for a walk on our own (while physically distancing of course), or something else, we need to be able to have some personal space.
During times of struggle, finding ways big or small to help others can help both them and ourselves. Support local businesses. Check in on neighbors. Make cloth masks and donate them. Thank your grocery store workers. Check on elderly or immunocompromised neighbors. There are so many ways we can show up now and doing so will help us feel less alone and part of a community fighting this together.
There is so much we cannot control in all of this which can be scary. My hope is you have found some of these ideas helpful, perhaps as a way to shift your focus to things you can control. In times of challenge, I have found what gets me through it is often stepping back (as much as I can) and reflecting on what I am learning from this and how I can grow. It doesn’t make the pain less, but certain reduces the suffering and shifts my focus to my own locus of control. Remember this is temporary - it may be a longer term temporary than we are used to, but we will find our way through this. May you be healthy and well!