COVID-19 is impacting us all in one way or another. Whether you have financial concerns, job security uncertainty, health problems, family worries or a general fear over the future, these are normal experiences at this time. Stress and anxiety are on the up as is social isolation and many of the usual coping strategies that we use to regulate our emotions. If you are feeling stressed here are some things that you can do to get it under control.
Acknowledge Your Feelings
It is tempting to try to brush your feelings aside and pretend that you are fine or to block your feelings by filing every minute of your day with activities. Brene Brown talks about the importance of connecting with and expressing your true emotions, saying “Unexpressed emotions metastasise and come out in unpredictable ways.” When you find yourself irritable or angry it is often the expression of earlier emotions that were not acknowledged. Take time each day for some silence with yourself and acknowledge the emotions that you experience. Just acknowledging emotions is a form of regulating emotion, when you feel it and experience it fully, you are able to control it rather than it controlling you.
Show Self Compassion
Worse than experiencing anxiety and worry is the additional feelings that we pile on about these emotions. We feel guilty because we conclude that we shouldn’t be stressed because others have it worse than us, or we feel shame that stress is making us less productive than we should be. Alain de Botton said of this current time that it is normal to be feeling negative emotions. Accepting that there is going to be a range of negative emotions that you experience and being OK with that is essential. Show some empathy for yourself and don’t expect perfection when the world is experiencing massive uncertainty and every aspect of lives has been turned upside down.
Give Gratitude Daily
Our brains are naturally wired to notice the negative. And there is plenty of negative information around right now for our brains to cling onto. Studies have also shown that stress is contagious, so even if you are feeling relatively calm your stress levels can increase just because people around you are stressed. This can make it difficult not to get swept up in the crisis and overthink the worst case scenarios and panic about things that may not happen. To help manage all of this you can deliberately find things to be positive about. Through a simple daily gratitude practice you can train your brain to notice what is positive and good in your life. Each day note down between 5 -10 things you are grateful for, it doesn’t matter if they are big or small.
Connect with Others
At the moment we are physically isolated from others but that doesn’t mean we are socially isolated. Because everyone is in the same boat and stuck at home this can be a good opportunity to connect more to people you care about. Connecting with others releases dopamine which is an important chemical in managing our mental health. Schedule in catch up time with family and friends. Schedule individual and group catch ups with people you care about. To prevent Zoom fatigue try and limit calls to less people – processing lots of different faces at once and trying to communicate with a big group can be really draining. Make the catch up time fun by scheduling virtual games and quizzes. I am doing a book club with my friends and it is a great way to connect and focus on something others than the coronavirus crisis!
Practice Box Breathing
Slowing the breath is a simple way to feel more calm and peaceful at a moment’s notice. When you feel negative emotions coming or someone does something that triggers you, before you react take a moment and take a few deep breaths, in through the nose and out through the mouth. This slows the heart rate and helps you to respond with more clarity. Another technique you can use is box breathing. Box breathing is a technique used by the Navy Seals to help them stay calm and focussed in stressful situations. Here’s how to do it: Inhale for 4 seconds; hold for 4 seconds; exhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds. Repeat for five minutes, or as long as is necessary to feel refocused and relaxed. This website has a lovely visual that helps you do it in time
Get a Routine
Routines help us to feel a sense of normalcy when life is anything but. When working from home it can be easy to slip out of your normal routines and many of your workplace routines are gone completely. Adapt your morning routine to suit your new working situation. If you have more time because of a lack of commute what can you use that time for? Give yourself a set time for lunch during your day, you can use that time to connect with family or to simply give yourself a screen break. With no separation between work and home it can be easy to forget about work times and the day blurs into one. With kids at home your mornings may be taken over by home schooling. Whatever your situation find a routine that works for you and find time for yourself and family activities.
Find your Happy Activities
Just because we can’t socialize in the same way doesn’t mean we can’t find enjoyment in other things. This is an opportunity for us to embrace a slower pace of life without all the external demands on our time. While this may be driving extroverts crazy, I am sure Introverts and ambiverts are enjoying this time to connect with themselves and close family. Connect to things you can do at home that bring you joy. We are lucky that a world of online activities is at our fingertips. Whether it is exercise, playing games, cards or online cooking classes, do what you love!
Start at Calming Practice
Many of us are spending a lot of time on zoom calls, or maybe on Netflix streaming. Whatever you are watching, screen time is no doubt going up! The constant movement from TV shows and the blue light from laptops and phones triggers your brain to be ‘on’ and you may find it difficult to disconnect and sleep properly. Your mind needs time each day to disconnect and be free from stimulation. Find some time each day with a mindfulness activity that will settle your brain. It could be a daily meditation, a jigsaw puzzle, colouring book or sewing. There are great apps to help you get into a consistent meditation practice like Calm or Headspace. If sleep is a problem for you Calm also has some brilliant bedtime stories to get you into a sleepy state of mind!
I hope these tips are helpful and you can find more calm, happy and joyful moments in this time of lockdown or semi–lockdown. We have created a one pager download of these tips to keep as a reminder for yourself. You can download it here.