NOTE: This article was co-written by members of the Anna Marsh Clinic Staff
As the new and unprecedented reality of a worldwide pandemic sets in, people from all walks of life are grappling with feelings of uncertainty along with understandable emotions including fear and anxiety.
Even in the midst of what seems like a fast-moving situation, we know we will be coping for a period of time with a variety of temporary, but life altering responses, aimed at keeping as many people as possible safe and healthy.
Fortunately, we can all take simple, concrete steps to manage stress and create our own reservoirs of emotional and physical resilience. That said, it’s important for each of us to set a pace that will see us through a marathon rather than a sprint.
We have spoken with many of our clients, friends, and family members about how best to cope with the distressing feelings and thoughts we may be encountering. In a rapidly changing landscape that’s impacting our professional, personal, and social lives, feelings such as calm, concern, worry, fear, panic, sadness, confusion, and anger can fluctuate quickly and give rise to considerable stress and anxiety.
Experiencing such a broad and fluctuating range of intense emotions can make it exceedingly challenging to find clarity and a sense of mooring. That’s why it is so important to first provide ourselves with the emotional nourishment we need before we look to have a positive impact on others.
So, what does such “nourishment” look like? It will be both similar and different from others around you. Strive to find your own recipe and bring new ingredients on to your list. Here is some of what we have learned as fellow human beings and mental health professionals.
- Schedules are important. Many of us have had our daily life upended, not only by physical distancing, but perhaps you have been laid off from your job, your children are home, your typical activities such as the gym, meetings, classes, social gatherings, the community coffee house, etc., are not an option. Create a new schedule and set up a plan for each day and provide some daily variation. Set a daily goal that is really achievable.
- Try new forms of connection. There are multiple sites on the internet for classes of any type (yoga, academic, music, book discussions, and readings for example). Consider listening to a talk or signing up for a class on anything that interests you.
- Get outside and see and feel nature. We live in a beautiful, rural area with lower density population. Find a place where you can be alone, or with family you live with—your yard, a trail, anywhere you can abide by physical distancing. Look to the sky, learn about the stars or cloud formations… just breathe. Look at the ground, and smell the coming of spring and the awakening of many beautiful forms of nature.
- Catch up on those household chores that we never really feel like doing. Clean out that drawer, go through that overfull closet, or if brave, try to make some sense out of the attic or garage. Even spending 30 minutes on something tangible and concrete can help us focus elsewhere and boost our resilience.
- Move your body—whether in your home or that walk outside. We don’t need a gym or an in-person class to exercise. Go up and down steps, remember those exercises from childhood, like jumping jacks. Order a jump rope or hula hoop and gently stretch—and breathe. Focus on what is good for your body. We need to move for stress release and good health.
- Consider practicing mindfulness or meditations. Even if this is new for you, the internet offers many instructions on such practices, If you already have a practice, now is the time to use this! And do not be intimidated—try a short 3–5 minute guided practice. Consider trying a self compassion, breathing, or loving kindness exercise.
- Limit media exposure—please use media from your trusted sources, to educate and inform and help guide your decisions. Do not overwhelm yourself with information that will only increase your anxiety. Take a media break, even for an hour!
- Remember that anxiety, fear, and panic thrive on the unknown. And as anxiety and panic are contagious, so are compassion, patience and kindness....take a moment every day to share compassionate energy with yourself and others....thank the cashier at the store, the person stocking the shelves, and other service providers. This is a great way to pause our own cycle of panic and remind ourselves that we are part of a larger community—we are truly interdependent and we need each other.
- Stay connected to friends, family, and your communities via phone, Facetime, and or another source (skype, zoom, etc). Check in with how they are doing both physically and emotionally, and share ideas for coping. Remember, giving comes in many forms and raises our self-regard and sense of purpose. If you are the one who is struggling, share your feelings with someone you trust and let others know of your specific needs such as groceries or health care.
- Consider contacting a prior or current teacher, mentor, counselor, therapist, or spiritual or religious guide. Reach out to those who can provide counsel.
- Keep perspective – as wisdom traditions have taught us…'this too will pass’. It will be longer than anyone would like, and where you have choice and influence, strive to use that well. How you do so will also be part of your story.