Therapist offers tips for staying sane in current crisis
By ROWAN PERCY
In this COVID-19 health crisis, practising support skills — especially kindness, patience and mindfulness — is especially vital as we face new dimensions of stress.
Naturally, we worry how we will get through this. There are multiple factors to contend with — physical and mental health, fear of getting sick, financial fears and work issues.
Most of our lives have suddenly undergone big changes. For one thing, physical distancing feels strange. While we need to practice it, we miss contact with friends and family. Not going to work and spending so much time at home, offers new kinds of stresses.
Not only have our circumstances changed, but how we experience daily life is changing. If you are battling your worst impulses and reactions, you are not alone! If you’re helping in new ways, you’re also not alone! If you see yourself behaving outside your previous norm, this is likely to be a response to the effects on all of us of such large shifts in our health, our social life and our economy.
It takes time to accept this new reality. Many people are overwhelmed and afraid. A friend said to me, “Really? This is my world now?” Experiences such as: irritability, anxiety, feeling easily upset, crying suddenly, feeling wired, flat, depressed, feeling disoriented, disconnected, a loss of ability to focus, feeling quickly tired are to be expected.
There are some simple things you can do to help yourself and those around you. A quick one is to take three deeper than usual breaths. Sense the inside of your body expanding as your lungs expand your rib cage. Try it right now! The principal here is: Notice your state of mind and intervene. You only need a few seconds to give yourself attention and kindness. Remind yourself, feelings are not permanent: they come and go. Take frequent and brief “breathing spaces.” These breaks can promote a sense of calm and spaciousness.
We can also find benefit in absorbing ourselves in favourite activities. I need hardly remind anyone about Netflix or Crave! There is also: cooking, reading, exercise, creative work, laughter, playing with kids, virtual time with friends. When you do something you enjoy, you have more resilience for the overall stresses.
Although we are more physically separate, we have not lost community. We can develop our sense of community by sharing what we’re going through and offering help. A brief and balanced exchange on how you and a friend are coping can make all the difference to both people. Check-ins help us know we’re in this together. The odd irony to our situation, which I hope you also may be experiencing, is this strong spirit of pulling together, this renewed desire to be kind and gentle with each other. This helps us all and is needed.
Expressing our gratitude to our front-line and essential workers is also all-important. Our gratitude and support can strengthen them in their long shifts and stressful work.
Below are a few “staying sane” tips. If you find them helpful, you could cut it out and put it on your fridge as reminders!
STAYING SANE TIPS:
• Acknowledge your shifting experience: accept it with compassion (kindness). Remind yourself: “This will pass.”
• You don’t have to believe everything you think and feel is “the new normal.” You are much more than your current thoughts and emotions— they are different today than last week and will change again.
• Take time to notice what you need. Try or resume mindfulness, attend to your breath, meditate. Don’t rush over your experience. Strong feelings actually pass sooner, given some attention, than when we avoid, repress or push through them.
• Maintain healthy routines: sleep, exercise and good food.
• Take time outside, in nature. Lean against a tree or a rock, look up at the sky, lie on the earth. Touch the plants and trees. They do not have coronavirus! Be in the present moment: your sight, hearing, smell and touch.
• Remind yourself when you feel alone, “Right now, millions of others feel this way. We are all in this together.” Try sending your love to those millions, including you! It may help, you, at least.
• Reframe your situation. Instead of seeing it as “forced isolation,” we can frame it as time to rest and explore our world in new ways.
• Think how you can use this increased time at home creatively. Or, just take quiet time. That may be just what you need, rather than getting busy.
• Ask for what you need and ask others what kind of support they need. If you can’t provide it, help them think about how to get help. Generosity toward others relieves everyone of isolation.
• Practise gratitude: giving thanks for small or “large” things — a small blue flower in the grass, a health minister you trust.
• Remind yourself: My effort makes a difference. Everyone’s care matters greatly now (actually it always did, we just don’t necessarily realize that).
• If you miss daily structure, make a schedule that will help you keep steady. Make sure to give yourself weekends or equivalent; this may not be a brief crisis.
• Think about how best to support your social needs, e.g. virtual socializing, individually or in groups. Consider which social media are helpful to your wellbeing and stick to those.
• Follow guidelines in local media and stay informed with health authority updates, but avoid becoming obsessive: https://news.gov.bc.ca/ministries/health
• Use reliable news sources. Think critically: beware scams, trolls, misinformation and disinformation.
• Make a budget for the next few months to reduce money anxiety: know what you have to pay and what you can put off. If you can’t make the numbers work out, get free financial advice at your bank, credit union or check out your eligibility for provincial or federal aid.
• Practice kindness and patience with yourself and others.
Rowan Percy, MA, RCC is a Salt Spring therapist.