We are all in this together and it is helpful to keep the universality of it in mind. No one is exempt and we are learning as we go. The scope of what we are going through is so enormous that we cannot fully process it all. Some people have more complicated situations than others, but we are all in the throes of coping and adapting. This is new to all of us. We need sound and beneficial psychological and physiological understanding of what we are experiencing and solid and practical coping strategies to support our functioning.
If we start with the meta view, we recognize that we are mammals and a social species. We are being asked to live in such a way that is contradictory to our biology. That alone is going to set up psychological, physical and intellectual reactions that are complex, painful and most likely unwelcome. The first step of managing this effectively is simply to recognize this and know that living in opposition to our nature creates a mixture of feelings and reactions that may or may not be helping us cope. We gather our information and social connections through our senses and now the access to sensorial stimulation is blunted. The mind and body will go into high alert to try and sort this out and achieve some mastery over a situation in which there is no control. The mind and the body will search for experiences that diminish helplessness and isolation. What is left in its wake can be increased agitation, increased anxiety and hopelessness, increased frustration, worry and fear and diminished motivation. Depression and panic can be lurking in the background. That is the tough part and it can be a roller coaster.
The good news is that there are several things we can do to ameliorate this very difficult situation and restore ourselves to a healthier balance. We need not and in fact, should not wait for motivation to carry us. We need to rely on the desire to feel more like “ourselves” as the impetus to put some changes into our routines.
These are the elements of self care needed to do just that and they need to be practiced daily.
Many people are working harder and longer from home and this is an area of caution. Work is not going to take us out of social deprivation. It can help, but it can also be a distraction and it is not sustainable. The better solution is to work less and work smarter.
Good nutrition, hydration and sleep are essential. Our resilience is compromised and we need to have this foundation on which to build.
First thing in the morning, you need to take your psychological temperature. Literally, “How am I feeling?” Make a mental note and/or jot it down. On a scale of 1-10 what is my anxiety level, my agitation, my frustration, my sense of hope. The readings on your own state will help guide you through the day. Keep in mind that our emotional reserve tanks are very low and what previously sustained us no longer works. Renewal is more the key.
We need to get outside everyday. Remember that we are mammals and are not designed to live indoors for long periods of time. It will take its toll. We need natural light and a change of scenery. Take a drive; in town or in the country. You will be surprised how much a difference this makes. We need to be outside at least 30 minutes and if possible longer, everyday.
Everyday we need some kind of exercise for at least 20 minutes. It can be walking, riding a bicycle, running, swimming, dancing, yoga. The format is not as important as the actual movement. Again, we are working with biology and nature and not in opposition.
Everyday we need some form of intentional relaxation for at least 20 minutes. It can be meditation, yogic breathing, visualization, yoga, tai chi, qi gong. Again, the format is the not the important part.
Everyday we need some contact with someone outside our bubble or outside our solitude. It can be Facetime, Zoom, audio, text, visiting from your front door or from the street. Actual face to face contact while social distancing is restorative. Keep in mind none of these has the staying power they did before the pandemic. Ongoing repetition is necessary.
Everyday we need some intellectual/creative stimulation that is not work and again the format is not the important part. It can be board games, or dominoes or checkers or chess. It can be books and movies and conversation or Suduco or puzzles. It can be throwing pots or making cards or drawing or gardening or painting the bathroom.
Everyday we need to limit our exposure to the news. It should be limited to 30 minutes. We are curious and drawn to the latest story, but keep in mind that the news media is a for profit entity and in order to make more money they need a bit of sensationalism to keep their readers in tow. NPR & PBS also wants to keep their audience. Long exposure is usually an effort toward mastery over the geopolitical environment along with medical updates. The effect, however, is
increased anxiety, agitation, helplessness and hopelessness. Learn what you need to in order to keep yourself and your family safe and healthy and informed and then back away.
Remember what you are grateful for and make a physical and/or mental note. If you have a home and job, your are one of the lucky ones.
If you have a therapist, be sure you are scheduling your appointments at least every 2 weeks. Some people are a bit leery of Zoom therapy sessions. They are not as good as face to face. They are, however, extremely effective and a good place to say whatever you need without constrictions or censor. This definitely helps with lessening the negative and difficult feelings. If you don’t have a therapist, give the EAP a call and set something up. Everyone benefits from having someone to talk to privately.
Check your attitude. Fears can manifest as frustration and contempt. Thinking you have the right answer might make you feel better in the moment and give you a sense of control, but it is an illusion. Talk about your fears directly.
Stay on your side of the net. Don’t criticize. Instead say...I feel, I prefer. Give others plenty of space for irritability, tension, and fear.
Have some fun.
We have a ways to go before we are past this pandemic. We need to be intentional in managing this as a marathon. You can feel better. What you can gain mastery over is yourself and your own feelings. It takes effort and the results are totally worth it. We are powerless to control or manage the pandemic or the political environment . We need to take charge of what we can actually influence and that is our own internal landscape