This pandemic is asking a lot from all of us and is challenging on many different levels. Our daily patterns have been uprooted and expectations of the future uncertain. Many of us are dealing with underlying feelings of tension, sadness and grief; there is a lot of suffering we tend to carry around with us.
Depending on your situation, this is a period of adaptation and a lot of consideration for each other in our households, or one of overwhelming loneliness. We all miss human contact with our dearest family members and friends.
Meanwhile, we are inundated with news and information about the coronavirus, the economy, the suffering that is spreading around the world and, above all, the enormous amount of uncertainty in our own lives. All of this can be overwhelming and make you feel like there’s no hope for humanity, yourself, let alone time to help others. However, in our research and personal experience we have found that it is essential to our mental health to stay as connected with yourself and others as possible.
Here’s what we CAN do to protect our mental health!
- Limit the checking of news sources
At the beginning of the corona crisis, the situation seemed to change hourly. New measures were announced on the daily and the situation became increasingly tense and far-reaching. Now that measures have been put in place - and many of us are primarily staying at home, most of us no longer need to keep checking the news so often. Instead of constantly consuming the news, you can choose to take in some news once or twice a day. This way you stay informed and you give your brain some much needed rest in the meantime.
- Stick to quality
In a crisis like this, there are many pitfalls when it comes to how we consume information. In our human quest for meaning, we look for information and stories that offer us something to hold on to. Social media is a minefield in times like this. Therefore - for your own mental health - limit the use of social media platforms like Facebook, this channel in particular is full of fake reporting and inciting 'news'.
As tempting as it can feel to be informed by social media stories and opinions - it only adds to stress and misery. Stick to the familiar facts and backgrounds of reliable sources made by real journalists.
- Practice small moments of mindfulness and breath-work
Practicing mindfulness cultivates mental health. By regularly shifting your attention to the moment you will notice that you experience less stress and learn to deal better with uncomfortable feelings.
Do you feel fear, stress, frustration or loneliness? Then bring your attention to this feeling and observe what it does in your body. Allow time for some serious deep breathing. By putting breath and oxygen to these tense places (holding patterns) in your body, you will allow for more peace within yourself and a more calm state of mind. This all helps you better understand that uncomfortable feelings are okay, and you don't have to run from them.
- Practice patience and compassion with those you live with and for yourself
Are you in isolation with your partner, your family or other housemates? Then actively do your best to maintain the atmosphere, to exercise patience and, above all, to communicate openly, clearly and honestly.
It helps us all to keep open lines of communication with each other, especially when we are being challenged in close proximity! There will be occasional frustrations, however if we do our best to maintain some quiet space and time alone, we are more apt to live together in a peaceful environment. Normally, we may withdraw or flee the situation when we are not feeling our best. If this is not possible, it is extra important that we give ourselves and our housemates space and compassion.
- Work on limiting loneliness
Loneliness is a heavy burden. If you find yourself feeling lonely during this time, allow yourself to do what you can to lessen this feeling. Keep in touch through video calling. It's not the same as meeting in person or at a social gathering but it does fulfill part of the need for connection.
Don't be afraid to speak up and ask for help. Others often do not realize how lonely someone can feel and would immediately want to connect somehow if they knew. It could be setting up a video connection and/or leave that time and space open while doing other things like cooking, folding the laundry or drinking your morning tea. This way you experience a little more of that everyday connection; being in someone's presence without having to constantly chat about something specific. This feels really nice to do with someone in your circle.
- Keep taking good care of your body
Taking good care of yourself will help reduce depression and mental stress. Keep exercising even if you don't go out on the street. YouTube is full of useful videos. We love streaming The Class by Taryn Toomey.
Eat healthy foods. For many people, sitting at home leads to unhealthy eating habits. Eat lots of fruit and vegetables, whole grains, legumes plus some seeds and nuts. Truly digesting a balanced diet will allow for much less stress in your life.
Get enough sleep and work to improve your sleep quality when needed. Spend the last 2 hours of the evening AWAY from your screens and try to experience at least half an hour of daylight each day. Go outside in the garden, your back yard or balcony, or just simply sit by a window for a while. If you are not able to get outside, it is important that you take vitamin D supplements, especially if you eat a plant based diet.
In addition to practicing mindfulness and breathing around uncomfortable feelings, it is smart to meditate for at least 10 minutes or more each day. This small habit allows you to live in the moment and put your problems in perspective, as well as take your thoughts less seriously. Ultimately the more meditation in your life, the easier the challenges become, feeling much less stress and overwhelm!
- Keep a gratitude journal
Write down what you're thankful for and why. This will help you shift your attention from stressors to the nice things your life. Gratitude helps you develop more joy, even in difficult times. It's a little effort with big reward. You can even turn this into a fun joint routine with a partner, friend or kids. For example, going around with the whole household for dinner: "What are you grateful for today and why?" Gratitude creates an upward spiral, making it easier to stay positive.
- Do useful things
Doing something practical and useful can help us snap out of negativity, even if just for a little while. By working with your hands for a moment you move your attention out of your head and away from your negative thoughts.
Clean your house or tackle a paint project you’ve been meaning to address. Take care of your plants, shift the furniture, organize your papers, clean a cupboard, make a nutritious meal.
Put your smartphone away, close your laptop - let that whole corona crisis be what it is - and do something useful with your hands. It helps!
- Try to help and support others
In addition to doing useful things with your hands, you can also make yourself useful to other people. This is a great way to experience fulfillment and meaning in uncertain times.
Find out what others need and find out how you can make a difference. In these times of isolation, your options are sometimes limited, but everyone needs something: a listening ear, a new pair of shoes, prepared lunches, cleaner air and water, maybe donating to your favorite charity or non-profit.
Keep checking on your community and environment to see how people are doing and what is needed. So many beautiful things are happening during this period - and you can contribute to that.
- Take it one day at a time
Everything is temporary - including the pandemic. We will look back on this with mixed feelings and we will share our stories with the next generation.
Trying to hold on to this way of thinking will help us all put this situation into perspective as it is happening. We know from history that humankind has overcome great upheaval, we are a very resilient species and with the help of the people we love, we will all make it to the other side of this pandemic.