HOW TO MENTALLY AND EMOTIONALLY SURVIVE A PANDEMIC: 10 STRATEGIES TO COPE WITH THE PSYCHOLOGICAL IMPACTS OF COVID-19
Pandemic life is tough, let's just be real about that.
Independent of age, occupation, level of health, or financial status, we have all, to some degree, experienced the mental and psychological effects of Covid-19. For most of us, quarantines, lockdowns and restrictions have completely flipped our lives upside down. Our plans are continually being modified or halted all together and our access to family, friends, money, healthcare and other resources have become limited or temporarily non-existent. Uncertainty and fear is at an all time high and loneliness is quickly becoming an epidemic all of its own. With all of this being our current reality, it is no wonder that mental health during covid-19 has been rocky for most.
But, there is hope!While there are many things that we may be powerless to change at this time, we are far from helpless. Our minds may want to tell us otherwise, but, deep within each and every one of us exists the powerful resources of strength, courage, creativity, resilience and adaptability. Resources that I have personally reacquainted myself with as I've observed, experienced and have learned to cope with my own feelings and mental health during Covid-19.
3. REDUCE EXPOSURE TO NEGATIVE INFLUENCE - This may mean taking a break from watching TV, and limiting time on social media. It is important to keep informed but repeated and ongoing exposure throughout the day can lead to a fear based mindset. Make it a point to check in no more than once daily on the latest pandemic updates. Additionally, unfollow or temporarily block any people or accounts that constantly complain and/or post about negativity, judgement or the latest doom and gloom. Removing that content from my feed has made an astronomical improvement in my mental health. I love my peeps, but I do not have the space to listen to judgement or negativity at this time. Having said that, it is also important to check in with yourself and the words and content that you yourself are putting out into the world. Often times we can so easily pick out negativity and judgement in others but fail to recognize it within ourselves. Being mindful, I am learning, is the key to making change in this area and it is a process so acknowledge that.
4. PRACTICE RANDOM ACTS OF KINDNESS - Science has long showed that helping others is a proven methodology for getting out of your head and shifting your mindset. The feeling of being useful is of a far higher vibration than the feelings of being helpless, scared or hopeless. The best part is, random acts of kindness can be big or small. Send someone you care about a surprise letter or text to let them know how much they mean to you, clean up garbage in your neighbourhood, make a donation to your local food bank or shelter. The possibilities are endless here. You just have to be open to and look for the opportunities.
5. TAKE GOOD CARE OF YOUR PHYSICAL HEALTH - Healthy bodies make for healthy minds. Healthy bodies are also better able to ward off or cope with illness. And sure, when you find out that lockdown has just been extended for another few weeks (like it has been where I live) of course you want to stuff a mocha fudge brownie in your face (like I just did because remember, I am human) and that's okay on occasion. But just remember how much better your body and mind will be prepared to deal with an illness if it's been fed with a wide variety of healthy nourishing whole foods as apposed to chips, chocolate and alcohol. Just as important as eating well, is to make sure you get in some form of physical activity most days. If it's raining or you are stuck in self isolation, dancing to your favourite tunes, or finding random objects to use as weights works great. Tap into your creativity.
6. FEEL YOUR EMOTIONS BUT DON'T GET STUCK IN NEGATIVE THOUGHT - Most people deal with uncomfortable feelings in one of two ways: by repressing them or by ruminating on them. Suppressing emotions is neither healthy nor helpful as it usually causes either a larger outburst later or, turns into physical illness in the body. Ruminating on emotions is also neither healthy nor helpful as it just keeps us stuck in a loop of negativity. So, if you need to cry, then cry. If you need to scream, then scream (but perhaps into a pillow so no one calls for help). If you need to physically move the energy in your body try pounding on the couch cushions, or tearing up some scrap paper or breaking down something that's headed for the garbage (safely). Do not pound another person or smash your phone or iPad... those scenarios will definitely not make things better for you. Do whatever you need to do to let the emotions out in a healthy manner so that you can then shift your focus to more helpful and productive thoughts.
7. BE GENTLE WITH YOURSELF - Treat yourself as you would treat your best friend or a loved one. Some days are for getting things done, some days are for naps and cuddling up with a good book or some Netflix. Remind yourself that you are going through a lot and like everyone else, you are managing as best as you can. It is important to find a good balance between everyday duties and self care. Don't be afraid to set boundaries with your family members or housemates and ask for what you need. Earplugs go a long way when you need some peace and quiet!
8. LOOK FOR THE OPPORTUNITIES - How many times pre-Covid have we said things like: "I wish I had more time with my kids," "I wish I could work from home," "I wish I had more time to spend on my hobbies," "I wish I had time to start that business I've always wanted to own," and so on and so forth. When we humans experience change, especially abrupt change, our minds seem hardwired to immediately focus on all we've lost rather than all we have gained. If you are having a hard time shifting your mind set, try focusing on the little things like time to work on your hobbies, or the wear, tear and gas mileage you are saving on your vehicle. There is always something positive that comes out of a negative, we just have to train our brains to look.
9. WITHHOLD JUDGEMENT - We all lead different lives, with different pasts, different levels of education and different struggles which are all determining factors in how we think and choose to live our lives. You may not like the way other people behave but next time you feel like judging someone or calling them out on social media remember that you are only hurting yourself by getting sucked into the trap of negative thinking. Furthermore, at a time when the mental health of the masses are suffering and anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and suicidal tendencies are on the rise, now more than ever is the time to choose kindness. You are not going to get anyone to change their viewpoint by calling them an idiot. Don't believe me? Just try. Instead, I invite you to approach the situation from a place of curiosity as to why their opinion differs from yours. Have a civil conversation about it. If that doesn't work, refer to step 3. It also must be said that while we may think we know what someone else's life is like, we have absolutely no idea what someone else is going through. Let me repeat that, WE HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA WHAT SOMEONE ELSE IS GOING THROUGH.
10. FOCUS ON SELF IMPROVEMENT - As much as we human's hate to admit it, our greatest growth is often born out of our greatest pain. Like a caterpillar that must reduce itself to a blob of primordial goo before growing beautiful wings and learning to fly, the effects of Covid-19 can be used as just an opportunity. Set aside some time to take a real honest inventory of your life. Identify area's that are not serving you and then seek ways to make positive improvements and grow those wings. For me, this has looked like reading (and listening to) a lot of self improvement books in my fields of interest, building physical resilience to stress with cold water therapy, and furthering my meditation practice by trying new techniques. As an added bonus, this doesn't have to cost you anything! YouTube (Ted Talks, interviews, podcasts, how-to videos), the library (you can borrow audiobooks too!) and of course blogs are some of my favourite free resources. You can also tap into your own intuition and internal resources or keep trying different things until you figure out what works for you.
And so, there you have it.
Insights and tools that have helped me to cope with my own broken dreams, being unable to physically be with loved ones who are experiencing health crises, the discomfort of having my own medical tests pushed off, lack of access to resources and extreme loneliness of missing my friends and human interaction. And you know what, despite all of that (and much more that I care not elaborate on) I am pretty darn impressed with how I am coping. In fact, I am amazed at how shifting my mindset and implementing new strategies into my life has helped me to feel stronger and more empowered than I ever did pre-Covid. My hope in creating this post is that you too are able to find some value in these strategies and as a result tap deep into your own internal resources of strength, courage, creativity, resilience and adaptability.
We are all in this together <3
Much love and thank you for joining me on my journey of discovering what's possible,