The news can be frightening. Our extra-curricular activities, a good number of which provide joy, are cancelled. In many ways we are left to our own devices to uplift our moods at a time when the odds are against us. Anxiety is up, and tools to fight depression are down. We are living through a global crisis. You can check the World Health Organization for recommendations on how to navigate this new reality. And, to care for yourself mentally and emotionally, here are a few things to know while semi-isolated, yet virtually bonded by this pandemic.
First, look to see if your mood is calibrated by fears and anxiety or by compassion and kindness. We may all feel fearful. It’s natural to have some level of anxiety when faced with the unknown. At other times we live in the illusion that we can control our environment, but now, we’re faced with the fact that we don’t always have complete control in our world. Lack of control, or feelings of powerlessness leave us vulnerable. And, many of us may feel fearful of that vulnerability. Add to that the many warnings viewed on the media stoking our fears, and we can feel like a hot mess.
In times like this there’s a simple exercise. Close your eyes and think of a good friend, either real or imagined, who is patient, kind and compassionate. Then see yourself as that friend. You can open your eyes, becoming the friend you’ve conceived.
How would you treat a friend who might be scared? What would you tell them? Tell yourself those things. Be the good friend to yourself. Write down anything that might bare repeating, something like “slow down,” or “read a poem that gives you solace.”
It’s important to know that feeling afraid at this time, is natural. In fact, some news outlets count on it, since fear sells. Fear is a most contagious symptom. Limiting your fear, or, stepping away from fear and anxiety, allows us to enjoy small moments like seeing the sun rise when few people are out and about, or, laughing with a loved one.
Another short exercise you can try is lightly closing your eyes, putting your feet firmly on the floor if you’re sitting, and do a body scan from your head down. See what physical sensations you experience. Mentally identify them. For instance, tightness in my jaw, tension in my shoulders, butterflies in my stomach area. It brings us into the here and now and allows us to focus on specific physical manifestations of anxiety.
A tried and true exercise is to sit in a quiet place and uncross your hands and legs. Close your eyes. Then starting at your feet tighten and release the muscles. Move up your body tightening and releasing isolated muscles until you pass your forehead. Finally, tighten and release all muscles in your body at once. It will help to loosen you up substantially.
In addition to anxiety, depressive symptoms might arise. If you’re able, seek professional help. Have virtual sessions with your psychotherapist, use a therapy app if a therapist isn’t available to you, reach out to your support system. Join online groups for solidarity.
Other resources to soothe yourself are online art galleries and museums. You can look up the art you love, or Travel & Leisure has a wonderful piece that can take you on a global art tour. https://www.travelandleisure.com/attractions/museums-galleries/. A delightful diversion and awe-inspiring site is one created by the indominable Laura Benanti. She encouraged high school performers to create videos of the solos they haven’t been able to perform at their school musicals since public gatherings have been suspended. https://www.instagram.com/explore/tags/sunshinesongs/. YouTube is a perfect source for performances, speeches, talks, old commercials, tutorials, and instructions. I have gone to YouTube for Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand singing together, Yoga and Pilates classes, TV theme songs of the 60s, and nature videos, to name a few.
If you’re not inclined to explore other avenues of joy, you’re not alone. We are more inclined to devolve into old habits when we’re stressed. I certainly have found myself cooking and eating comfort foods rather than steamed vegetables. Actually, I rarely, if ever, eat steamed vegetables. I just don’t care for them. Nonetheless this morning I made blender hollandaise sauce to cover my eggs. I haven’t done that in years. Oh boy, did I enjoy it. Some of us may become more reactive, quick to anger. Others may bake or cook and eat comfort foods, like me. Still others may go for another glass of wine. While others may binge watch more tv while we’re unable to visit our offices. And, the list goes on. Remember to have compassion. Enjoy it, if you go there. Be aware of its impact on others. Compassion and patience for ourselves is imperative as we find we’re acting in ways that don’t thrill us. We can try to remember that this is a time-limited experience. We will move on, and we always have the next moment to make another choice. Or, we can implement kindness for ourselves and others by appreciating that we are beyond our capacity to make a change now. We can know that we’ve made changes in the past and we will do so again, if we so choose.
Remember to reach out to others. Being able to speak with those who support us is invaluable. We can reach out to volunteer, when possible. Or, we can reach out to ask for help. That may take courage. And, courage is exactly what is called for now. Let’s support one another to get through this unique historical moment.