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Coping With COVID-19 Stress

How are you? 

I hope you are safe and well as we continue to navigate these uncertain and scary times together. 

I wanted to take a moment to share a few thoughts/ resources in the hope that it spreads some hope and serves as a gentle reminder that we have the capacity to exercise some control as we go through our days in the context of this unprecedented time due to COVID-19.

Creating a sense of control…

If there is any possible silver lining to self isolation, it may be that it is allowing us to reflect more deeply on how we spend our days. Perhaps this can help us to evaluate our intentions and be more present with our choices, our boundaries, and the people we choose to keep close. However, in addition to social distance, some of us may also be tasked with actually caring for loved ones who fall ill as we are all being significantly impacted in a variety of ways. Let’s not forget that we are all in this together. Kindness, curiosity, and small acts of care can go a long way!

There is no point in sugar coating: crisis mode is scary. Uncertainty can leave us with a feeling of losing control — unable to act in constructive ways. Sometimes it helps just to share with someone any strong feelings we might be having so that we can allow ourselves to receive some support and comfort.

Let’s not forget that there is so much healing energy in just listening and feeling heard. You can do this for a partner, a friend, a neighbor, a family member, or a colleague. You can also do it for yourself – through journaling or meditating, for example.

Making adjustments…

As we continue to adjust to social distancing, new work schedules, and increased time at home alone or with family, it’s important to keep a sense of structure to our days. If we have small children, this is especially important. In maintaining a schedule, we can have a sense of normalcy and take the necessary steps to move through our days with a sense of purpose and control. 

When we are in a space of extreme unknowns, fear can trigger our stress response cycle. It can take a toll and leave us feeling stuck if we don’t respond to it and work to stabilize ourselves. 

In working to stabilize, putting supports in place, and creating new routines, we can do what we can to maintain a sense of inner peace, self-control, and normalcy when facing the uncertainty of the outside world. 

Start small…

When feeling overwhelmed, start very small – even just focusing on our breath can have a significant impact on helping us to calm down so that we can become more effective. Just taking three deep breaths in and out, calmly and very slowly can help us regulate. 

It takes our bodies approximately 20-minutes to calm down from a heightened state of arousal, think: when we are upset with someone, in an tough argument with a partner, or when we are feeling frustrated or triggered by something. This is because the stress hormones that are released when in fight, flight, or freeze mode need time to leave our bloodstream. We need to calm down in order to be effective. So take some time today (individually or with a partner) to do some deep breathing and get to a more settled place. 

Creating an action plan to stabilize ourselves (as best we can), our relationships, and our family can help. There may be many feelings of fear and worry swirling around and this is a perfectly normal response to what has been unfolding as a result of the pandemic. These emotions are to be expected while experiencing a collective community/ global trauma. It’s important to honor any feelings that might be coming up by processing them so that you can feel supported in making a plan that works. It may be a good idea to take some space to gain clarity and talk through the worries by preserving some space in the coming weeks to unpack them in a thoughtful manner. 

Setting boundaries + intentions…

You may find that, in order to stabilize, you have to take certain steps to help you sustain yourself and this may involve making tough decisions too.

This might include talking through how to care for older family members, how to navigate childcare, finding time for good virtual social supports, and managing time for both work and personal while at home. 

If you are living with a partner, you may find it’s important to preserve some alone time along with your together time so that you can maintain connection and balance in your relationship while self-quarantining. 

Taking time to open up about these important areas can be incredibly helpful when it comes to feeling more in control and maintaining a sense of calm. In discussion, you have a chance to better understand yourself and what action steps you may need to take to feel more grounded. 

You may find that you will need to sort out a more constructive way to work from home so that you can maintain your projects and responsibilities. This may also involve evaluating your present boundaries and updating them or making some small adjustments. 

Take some time to organize yourself and get clear on how best to proceed given your unique situation. This is a unique circumstance where self-compassion is critical.

Give yourself a break…

Moving through COVID-19 is stressful! Save all the harshness for another time. (Better yet, just get rid of the harsh self-talk altogether!) 

You will not have everything perfectly sorted in a day. It might take a little time to work out a good system for yourself and loved ones and that’s okay. 

There is no right way to start, we just have to start. 

Fear has a way of robbing us of our ability to make good decisions and act rationally. From a grounded place, we can set the stage for the right action steps to take in order to maintain a sense of personal control and stability. 

A few simple suggestions to help you move through the coming weeks:

Create cozy moments in your day

It might be preparing a special meal, listening to music, lighting a candle, or using a special body oil. Shifting the atmosphere – even in a small way, can help promote a sense of calm and improve our mood. 

maintain at least 20 minutes of physical activity a few days per week

With many gyms closed and most of us staying indoors for much or all of the day, workout routines are significantly disrupted. Perhaps you can do a few reps of strength training or floor exercises to help you get moving. You may want to put on some music and just dance for 20 minutes or even join a virtual dance party. Any movement can help to significantly boost mood, complete the stress-response cycle, and help promote a sense of calm. 

Be thoughtful about nutrition and especially processed sugar intake

While we are more restricted with our days, it seems even more important than normal to pay close attention to our nutritional intake and maintain high doses of fruits and veggies now. Perhaps take a little special care to add in a few more servings of the good stuff over these next few weeks. You may want to use some time to pay a little more attention to meal prep in general. 

Dedicate some time to have a few stress-reducing conversations with a partner or a friend 

Social support and connection are essential to our well-being and especially in times of significant uncertainty. In stressful times, we need to experience both giving and receiving in order to help maintain feelings of closeness. A stress-reducing conversation helps you feel calm and cared for, try it out!

Plan some virtual dates with friends/ family

Get together with people! Just because we are limiting our time out doesn’t mean we have to stop socializing altogether. Schedule some time to talk to your people. We are all in this together and maintaining connection matters.

Maintain a normal routine/ schedule of activities, naps, mealtimes for kids

Kids need structure to thrive. If you have little ones and they are used to going to school or daycare, you will need to help recreate their activities and schedule so that they have a sense of what to expect day to day. It can help to have a few activities on hand similar to the activities and experiences your child may be involved in when going to daycare or school. You can help them to transition smoothly to being at home full-time by planning ahead to structure their day in a way that feels familiar and comforting. 

Protect your energy levels

It’s important to preserve a sense of peace as best we can. Let the news update instead of dominate. This can be tough when it feels we are constantly bombarded with the latest stories. However, it’s important to set limits and boundaries around how much exposure is necessary and helpful. You may find it’s helpful to try and balance staying informed with disconnecting by a certain time. Or, perhaps setting a time to stop checking for updates can be a helpful boundary. 

Get adequate rest and prioritize your sleep

Creating rituals to shut down your day can be helpful. If sleep has been a challenge more recently, perhaps you can just start with one small adjustment like making some soothing tea about 30-minutes prior to sleep or setting a time to put down all screens to start your bedtime routine. If you find yourself worried about your to-do list before bed, you may want to try a ‘brain dump’ exercise where you write down all the things you’d like to get to in order to release it. This can help you to psychologically give yourself permission to rest. 

These small behavior changes can go a long way in terms of creating the right atmosphere to help sleep come more easily. Remember, you don’t have to have it all figured out right away, you can just start with one small thing to help you move closer to the goal. If sleep has been problematic, here are some great tips to help you along.

A few news break distractions/ helpful resources:

The Tribeca Film Festival, like so many cultural/ community events, has been put on hold for the time being. However, you can still enjoy some entertaining shorts when you sign for their newsletter. You can check out their latest one here.

If struggling to get more organized at home, check out this great article featuring Karin Bohn’s design tips for how to set up a work space at home (when used to working in an office).

This interesting interview featuring Lori Gottlieb about her new book: Maybe You Should Talk to Someone – where she journeys into her experience both as a therapist and as a client. 

If you are feeling particularly tense, take a few minutes to listen to some running water or the sounds of a forest…check out the Mindfulness Coach app for a variety of brief meditations to help you relax and ground yourself. The nature sounds can be found under practice now—> all —> mindful listening. 

In addition, I’ll be hosting a free (ongoing) virtual mindfulness group on Mondays from 11:30-12:00. So if you’d like a little FaceTime with a familiar face where we practice some skills together, please join me! You can sign up here.

In keeping with the present safety measures, Modern MFT is now offering virtual sessions so we have the chance to meet face to face in the comfort of home. If you find yourself needing some additional support, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Well, I do hope there’s something useful in here for you; and feel free to share this with others if you think it might be helpful. These are anxiety-provoking and uncertain times, so please treat yourself kindly. And remember the words of Winston Churchill: ‘When you’re going through hell, keep going.’

Sending you peace and positive energy.