COVID-19: How to Stay Calm When Things Are Not Calm

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At the grocery store yesterday, I noticed that people seem dazed.  I watched a shopper in the parking lot as she bewilderedly looked for her car (though I think we’ve all done that) and when I asked the store checker how she was, she paused and honestly said, “I don’t know.  It’s a weird time.”  She was a woman in her late 60’s and I wondered what she was worrying about; Her own health?  A loved ones health?  Whether she would have a job at the store if people were asked to socially isolate and no one was coming in?

This situation is even further unique in that it’s a collective worldwide experience.

So here we are.  We’re all in this together.  Aside from doing what you can do wash your hands frequently, disinfect your surroundings and possibly stock up some items in case social isolation is called for, there’s not much we can do other than do our best to work with our own personal anxieties.  This will not only be beneficial to YOU but to those you care about, especially if you have children.  Remember that emotions are also contagious.

9 Ways to Stay Calm when Things are Not Calm

1- Breathe.  If you’re alive, you have your breath and it’s an excellent anchor to bring you to the present moment.  Stop, close your eyes and take several extended breaths in and out.  Pay attention to your belly as it rises and falls.  Oxygen is an antidote to the stress hormone, cortisol.  Now could be an excellent time to start a mindfulness practice to train your brain to stay in the moment rather than leaping ahead to the “what if’s.”

2- Pull it in.  This is also a good time to say no to extra obligations or asks from people.  Now more than ever you want to be sure you are practicing self-care.

3- Make a plan.  For many, making lists and organizing what needs to happen can be soothing.  If you’re concerned your child’s school may be closed and you will be home for several weeks, slowly get what you need for that.  Do things in manageable pieces until you feel prepared.

4- Watch for cognitive distortions.  Though the COVID-19 is truly a serious situation, don’t allow your thoughts to perceive reality inaccurately where you predict the worst possible outcome and are living in the emotions surrounding something that hasn’t even happened.  There are many “cognitive distortions” but the few that come to mind here are jumping to conclusions and catastrophizing.

5- Cuddle with your canine or feline pet.  Our furry friends can provide incredible amounts of unconditional love.  Did you know that gazing into your dog’s eyes can generate oxytocin (the love hormone) just like it can with your intimate partner?

6- Talk it out.  Find a friend or family member who tends to be emotionally balanced and practical to share your concerns.  Sometimes just talking it out with feedback and suggestions can reduce the impact.

7- Employ your most useful distractions.  It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the intensity of the coronavirus media coverage.  Rather than spend too much time taking that in, do an art project, watch a favorite tv show or movie or do some early spring cleaning.

8- Take care of your body.  Now more than ever it’s important to try get enough rest, eat healthily and exercise.  Even a walk around the block can be beneficial.

9- Create a serene environment.  If possible (and for those with families and young children this may be more challenging), pay attention to the nest you call your home.  Candles, lighting and music choices can all impact the feeling in the space.  Make it as calm as possible for you to be in.

I am a therapist and can acknowledge that I too sometimes find myself getting preoccupied by the COVID-19 situation in a way that doesn’t serve me.  This is a normal response to abnormal times – but allowing it to overwhelm to a place where reasonable functioning is compromised is another issue.   For me, making a plan, distracting myself and general self-care helps a lot.  And the act of writing this piece to help others feels good too!

Lastly, those who tend towards anxiety or have trauma around loss of control and “bad things happening” can be even more vulnerable to this kind of situation.  If this is you, it might be a good time to seek therapy for additional support.

Be well and remember we’re in this together.

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