Whether we are facing social distancing, self-isolation, quarantine, or lockdown, these uncertain times can be hard, especially for those who have emotional and mental health concerns and relational difficulties.
I am also acutely aware that for some people, ideas may feel redundant and not remove the very real fear of domestic violence; grief and loss; compromised health or pervasive suicidal tendencies. It is my hope that whilst I can validate your very real concerns, maybe one of these ideas or thoughts may ease the burden even a little.
For the majority I’m hoping these tips will draw you to seek and find a deeper meaning, sense of purpose and a back to basics type of beauty that is worth engaging. Here are my top 10 tips for coping:
- Keep a Routine – get up at a specific time; have a shower if that is your usual routine; choose some clothes you feel good when wearing; make yourself presentable (I’m enjoying not blow drying hair and putting on the ‘full face’ but still some powder and lippy!); have a healthy breakfast; and plan some activities to do for the day. Keep your surroundings clean and tidy, a place pleasant to dwell in.
- Minimise Media – rather than soaking and surrounding yourself with an onslaught of 24-hour COVID-19 news and social media, choose a reputable source and check for major community updates in the morning and the evening. Avoid a constant focus on fear and drama.
- Relax, Recharge, Reset, Reframe, Recalibrate – think about the times you have said “if only I could get a break/have a change/recharge?”. Sometimes current circumstances push us to change in ways that we have battled to do so in the past. Have faith in your ability to rise above adversity and learn how to become more adaptable / slower paced / present and still, and not be fueled by a frenetic state of busyness and hyper-arousal. Some people fear if they stay still and stay put that bad things will happen. Maybe circumstances now offer an invitation to prove that’s not the case, that momentum might be replaced with meaningfulness, reflection, innovation, imagination and more peace. Maybe you will like the new you, a quieter self that feels more connected and less on auto-pilot. As adrenaline and cortisol levels lower, you may start feeling things differently and with more appreciation, calmer and more focused. Adrenaline forces us to keep going, but there are long term costs to health.
- Reflection and Revival– The whole of society is literally on reset. What does this mean for you? Where are you noticing big societal, individual and relational changes for the better? Have you thought about the power for social change that is currently occurring? Less pollution; more family connection time; time to creatively prepare homemade food and exercise; less pressure to look good and have your ‘game face’ on all the time (with the shutdown of beauty clinics maybe natural beauty will re-emerge and more acceptance of a few wrinkles and less exaggerated lashes!); back to basics and appreciating the simple things; a push to produce and buy more Australian products; proof that employees can be trusted to work from home and in fact may be more productive due to being able to balance life; STDs will stop increasing due to a ‘bonk ban’ on hooking up due to social distancing (maybe people will reflect on what ‘good sex’ is and the need for intimacy); we have time to really focus on what our kids are looking at on screens; we’re noticing we haven’t seen our elderly neighbor today … when we’re through COVID-19, what will be worth reviving and what will we fight to keep the same?
- Keep Moving – Exercise not only manages your heart, cholesterol, weight and mobility, but is really important for your ‘feel good’ neurotransmitters such as endorphins. I’d recommend combining this with going outside and getting some sunshine for Vitamin D and fresh air, to shake off the sense of containment and bask in the great outdoors – walking, running or if you’re super fit, a bootcamp or HIIT style workout in the backyard or park. Youtube has a huge range of in lounge room exercise options including yoga and Pilates – change it up with different instructors.
- Practice Mindfulness and Spiritual Connection – before you make excuses and say it’s hippy new age ‘peace man’ and not your thing, consider that elite athletes and sporting teams, CEOs and world leaders incorporate mindfulness into their routines, not just our Eastern neighbors and spiritual folk. There are plenty of apps you can download that start you with short 2 minute breaks and train you up. Grab a few minutes and pause throughout the day to down-regulate your mind through present focus. You don’t have to be a Zen master to get into the headspace, or meditate straight up for an hour. Start with small moments. My article on mindfulness is a great start and also introduces the idea of ‘life flow mindfulness’ to incorporate present focus and appreciation in everyday things. For some people, connecting with their spirituality will help centre them, down-regulate, inspire hope, hone insight and discernment, receive comfort, strengthen inner peace. Most denominations have study, prayer and worship as central themes to connection with the Divine. Perhaps you have never explored; used to have a faith but it has been long neglected or have had a bad spiritual experience that needs to be healed and now is the time for ‘unfinished business’. With everything stripped back, your soul can find its time to seek.
- Push through procrastination – Set a goal to do something you’ve been putting off. We’ve all got ‘mad drawers’; overflowing cupboards; household maintenance; clothes that need to be mended; piles of stuff that need to be sorted. You might be able to fully interact with the task rather than just getting it done – for example sorting a photo pile into categories is also a chance to interact with meaning and memory. Pause and feel. Unclutter your psyche as you unclutter stuff, enjoy creating order. You’ll get a buzz when you get it done. Then set a reward for yourself on completion.
- Do something for someone else – Neuroscience proves that a powerful positive pathway is created that leads to joy when we give and receive. Feel good neurochemicals are stimulated: dopamine (motivation), serotonin (sleep, digestion, appetite, learning and memory) and oxytocin (bonding, trust, empathy, social fear reduction) increase in production and improve mood. This is what spurs on communities coming together in crisis like floods and fires – the giving and receiving charges the neurochemicals and boosts mood despite adversity. Let’s talk practical ideas – do a check in call or skype with people you know are lonely, unwell or struggling; cook a meal or do a grocery shop for an elderly person or a front line worker who is run off their feet and fatigued; drop encouragement notes into letterboxes; get your kids to do some cheery drawings and drop off to retirement or nursing homes and hospitals. Put your mind to operating out of the best of yourself in every interaction that you’re involved.
- Connect! – Our brains are hardwired for connection. Even if you are an extreme introvert or battle with social anxiety and feel the pressure is off, you still need to reconnect at some point. Online and phone still offer powerful connection opportunities and in fact this time may motivate you to take a bold step out that you may not have because it is now less intimidating and people are more open – join an online discussion group; book club; fellowship group; interest group. You can back out at any point if it is not your thing, but you may surprise yourself and others. Extroverts, need I say more? You know you need to stay connected so get creative and explorative!
- Build your Resilience – When you find yourself ruminating or focused on the ‘what ifs’ and stuck in a downward spiral of negative emotion and hopelessness, think about the following: the times in your life when you have overcome such as passing an exam; got through an interview; managed a difficult situation; recovered from an injury or illness; pushed through and kept trying despite setbacks; faced your fear and did something anyway; experienced something better than you expected; when something wasn’t as bad as you thought or didn’t eventuate the way you convinced yourself it would; someone said something positive to you or recognized your talent; you tried something new. Focus on your progress and when you have overcome and coped. Rather than say to yourself “what if … “, consider instead:
- “Where’s the proof that will happen?”; or
- “What are the other ways this could work out”; or
- “What good is coming from this?”; or
- “What then?” (in terms of an action you can take).
An example would be “What if I can’t pay my bills … and it will affect my credit rating … and I won’t be able to buy food … and I’ll get kicked out of my home … and I’ll end up on the streets hungry … and I’ll get sick and die”. Convert this to “what then actions”:
“I can contact the energy company/landlord/bank and set up a payment plan; I can go to Food Bank or Hillsong Citycare or Tribe of Judah (Google social support charities) and collect a food parcel; I can look up cheap nutrition recipes and learn to cook some new things; I can find out what newly introduced government measures apply to me; I can contact my support network to talk things through and maybe they can help” etc.
One other point. Let’s change our language from ‘isolation’ to ‘other connection’. Whilst I prefer to see my clients face to face, I can still convey warmth and understanding and establish a therapeutic relationship regardless of the method I connect with you. I recently did an online group supervision where we shared ideas to do expressive therapies and grounding techniques online. All sorts of therapeutic interventions are still available. I encourage you to seek and embrace the good that can come out of COVID-19, learn new ways to engage and look for the perks in a more relaxed pace of life.
Sara Martin has a Master’s qualification, and takes an integrative counselling approach to her work with individuals, families and couples. She assists her clients with a range of issues, including trauma, life transitions, workplace stress and burnout, depression, anxiety, grief and loss, identity and self-esteem, relationship and intimacy.
To make an appointment with Brisbane counsellor Sara Martin, try Online Booking – Mt Gravatt. Alternatively, you can call Vision Psychology (Mt Gravatt) on (07) 3088 5422.