Coping in our Current Crisis
Our world has literally turned upside down in the last number of weeks. We are faced with circumstances that none of us could have dreamt of in our worst nightmares, loss of freedom, loss of finances, loss of certainty and sadly loss of loved ones in many cases. On top of all this extreme loss we are having to cope with ourselves, our relationships and our responsibilities in a confined and constrictive way while also being bombarded with a constant slew of seemingly never-ending bad news. We are experiencing loss and disruptions not just in the areas of employment and schooling but also in accessing emotional support from others or even in having regular interactions with others.
Is it any surprise that many of us are struggling with Anxiety and Stress? Of course not, anxiety is a normal human evolutionary response to this scary and abnormal situation we find ourselves in. A level of anxiety may actually help keep us safe and following the required guidelines. If we had no fear we may be careless. So some anxiety helps and too much cripples. We don't want to get completely overwhelmed to the point that we cannot manage our daily lives. So what can we practically do that is helpful and tailored to suit each of our individual situations. Firstly we need to acknowledge that none of us can control the chaos of the external environment, we can only come to terms with our own internal landscape and control our hour to hour or day to day feelings and behaviours.
1. Thinking in short chunks of time can be more helpful than casting our minds to the longer term, asking yourself "What can I control today, this afternoon, this evening etc." is more reasonable and empowering than thinking, planning, worrying or trying to predict for the longer term. No one has a chrystal ball, so no one knows, staying somewhat optimistic and hopeful for the longer term that this crisis shall pass and that we will come through it is a helpful thought for our day to day ability to cope. Keep your focus on the present task as much as you can, use your senses, touch, smell, hear, engage with whatever you are doing now as much as possible.
2. Accept your emotions and the ups and downs that you may experience, you are perfectly normal. According to neuroscience extreme emotions come and go quite quickly, in fact maybe as quickly as 90 seconds, so just notice the emotion and accept it as best you can in that moment. dont reject it or reject yourself for feeling it, instead be as compassionate to yourself as you can in moments of struggle. Say to yourself, this is ok, this is what I am feeling in this moment, it is normal that I am feeling x....then ask yourself what would help you right now? Choose something that you find soothing and nourishing for your body or your mind.
3. Don't invite the critic committee that lives in your head to start beating yourself up or comparing yourself and how you are coping to how other people are coping with things, we are all uniquely wired and there is no one single way of coping in this situation that suits everyone the same, so let yourself off that pressurised hook! Find what works for you and accept that. Comparing ourselves or our non existent cakes to others leads to lots of feel bad!
4. Breath when it all gets a bit much, inhaling is linked to our sympathetic nervous system, this controls that flight or fight response which we have all experienced when things get too much, the speeded up thoughts or actions are a clue we are in midst of a fight or flight reaction. In contrast when we exhale deeply we engage our parasympathetic nervous system which helps our body to relax and restore calm. So take yourself to some quiet corner and take a few big in and out belly breaths to ground and calm yourself.
5. Hugs may be limited or non existent for some of us at the moment with many of our loved ones being distanced beyond arms reach. However hugging yourself is always available and limitless, do it for as little or as long as you want whenever you want. According to science a hug releases oxytocin, the comforting and calming hormone which helps reduce stress and protect our immune system. It is also an ultimate act of self care. Here is a slightly different way to experience a self hug.
Here we go, sit comfortable, put your right hand over your heart area and your left hand on your belly. Breath deeply and try no notice your heartbeat, just feel the rhythm, notice the stillness, notice what if feels like to hold yourself in the heart area. Where your left hand rests on your belly, notice the way your belly expands and contracts with each breath. Just sit and hold yourself, notice how good it feels to be held. Enjoy.
4. Avoid or at least minimise reading about others who are putting out their perfect coping strategies in the public arena, perfect baking, perfect schooling or perfect anything is very subjective and not attainable or reccommended for us all. Remember very, very few people are coping perfectly. The challenge for us all is to keep well and survive this experience as sanely as we can, anything extra is a bonus. If we manage to get ourselves and our loved ones through each day safely and sanely we are doing very well.
5. Move, as much as you can it helps release natural endorphins as does play. Skip, play fun type games, dance in the kitchen, play happy music, watch comedies if that's your thing or at least some uplifting programmes or movies. Humour is a great antidote to stress and we cannot fill our brains with scary news 24/7. Take the lead from the experts of play, children if you can. Go with their play flow, join them. Remember too that they will be looking to adults to give them some sense of safety in their upturned world and seeing you can play and laugh is very reassuring to them. So move and play together whenever you can.
6. Where possible keep some regular routins, the key here is where possible, there will be times when the schedule goes a bit haywire, children kick up, dinners are late, shopping isn't done on time or any number of other stuff comes into our day and throws our plans off , it helps to be o.k with that too. It happens. Give yourself permission to deviate, it helps to keep as flexible as we can. Rigidity causes internal and external conflict.
7. Reach out and connect with others in whatever way you can, human beings are wired for connection to others, we are not meant to be isolated for long periods of time, even for the more introverted of us. Take the lead and call someone for a chat wherever you can.
And finally, alter, ignore or embrace some or all of these common sense tips, we all know them already but sometimes we just need a bit of reminding that the simple things we can control and do can each day can really help us to manage and cope in this turbulent time.