Coping during a pandemic
Coping and resilience is all about the balancing the books; you don’t need to have a gold-standard coping repertoire, but you do need to have enough to offset the stress and demands of your life. If stress goes up, then it is wise to up the self-care, too. When it comes to coping, it isn’t a “one size fits all” situation. However, there are some strategies that are generally considered healthy and effective.
Relaxation: Because our threat system keeps being triggered, we need to try to slow it down where we can. We can’t get rid of it, because it helps us stay alive, but we also need some respite. Breath work is a fast and effective bit of trickery that resets our body to non-threat mode. You can find breath work all over the internet, but essentially it consists of breathing more slowly and mindfully, ideally with a longer exhale than inhale, in through your nose and out through your mouth and into your belly not your chest. Even a few minutes of this a day can make a huge difference!
Mindfulness: The idea of mindfulness is slowing the brain down to focus on quite simple things. You can do this with practically anything, but the idea is to shut out the chatter in your brain. It actually trains your brain to slow down, but is also pretty relaxing in itself. You can really look at a leaf, or observe a pine cone, or feel something with your hands or feet, or even focus on the sensory experience of washing the dishes.
Meditation: A bit trickier than mindfulness, but very effective for reaching deep levels of relaxation. If you are a newcomer maybe start with mindfulness, then move to short bursts of meditation (2-3 minutes) and try structured visual and guided meditations.
Self-care: While we continue to adapt to change you may feel out of sorts, more emotional and out of your usual routine. Try to establish a new routine quickly — even if it is relatively fluid — as this will be grounding. In uncertain times, having an attachment to familiar things is helpful. Try your best to maintain a good sleep routine, be aware of your diet, how much exercise you take, and how much you are still doing things you enjoy. These are simple things, but easy to neglect when we don’t feel great.
Watch what you put in your head: Just like not filling your body with junk food, you need to do the same with your head! Don’t feed it negativity, doubt or panic on a regular. In Covid-19 times, this might mean not flooding it with excessive news, but equally don’t overwhelm your brain with your own broken record of negativity, such as “I’m not good enough”.
If you experience that, practise saying “that’s enough now” to the negativity, and redirecting or, better still, work on words of affirmation and compassion.
Honour your feelings: Do take time to feel and experience your emotions. Often, we see emotions as annoyances in our lives; things to be ridiculed or suppressed. We ignore them, stay busy and refocus. Try to honour them with some time, validate them, accept that this is part of being human, and be curious about what they are telling you. We can’t ignore that living through a pandemic and its restrictions is upsetting, stressful and frustrating — to name but a few emotions!
Journal: For those of you who avoid feelings, journal to connect and explore. Dig deep. Be curious. For those who obsess and live in their feelings regularly, use journalling to focus on compassionate reassurance and validation. If you are struggling, keep a thought diary to monitor the process.
Treat yourself: Treat yourself to some nice food, some home pampering, and downtime, however you prefer it. Try to find joy in your home, your pets and your surroundings.
Stay connected: It is really important that we stay connected. If you aren’t hanging out at your usual social haunts or at work, you will be missing a lot of your usual social connection, so try to remember to balance this out, even if it is with phone calls, text messages or face time.
Seek professional help: You don’t have to wait for your life to hit a crisis point to seek therapy. In fact, if you do that, you may be creating a worse trajectory for yourself. Therapy can provide a supportive, neutral space to simply think through challenges and develop your resilience.
• Gemma Harris, ClinPsyD, is Director of Corporate Wellness at Solstice, and writes on Instagram as @theexdoctor