No single thing has impacted everyone’s life as much as the Covid-19 virus has. We are living in unprecedented times. Everything has changed and that requires a major adjustment to how we live our lives. This entails practical changes, but also emotional ones. How can we protect our wellbeing and survive the emotional onslaught of the Coronavirus crisis?
Relationship Tensions In Lockdown
When we’re stressed, we often don’t handle things well. Being forced to shelter 24/7 in the same domestic space as everyone else can be very challenging. We come to appreciate how going out to work or school every day gave us personal freedom and space, a private life. Living in lockdown on the other hand can appear to take away that space and freedom, leading to stress and tension. It’s easy to take it out on those around us.
As a result of my own major life crisis some years ago, when I lost my home, my income, AND separated from my husband, I ended up moving back into my mother’s house for a while. At the time it felt like I had no other choice – it was that or something worse. However, it is healthier and much more helpful to view this NOT as “having NO CHOICE“, but as “CHOOSING to do it”.
When we look at decisions as a choice, and not as an obligation, it makes us feel more in control and we stop fighting against it. Try to reframe your current position: I choose to stay at home because I don’t want to get the virus and spread it to my family. I choose to work from home because I want to continue earning a living.
What are your expectations? Can you organise different locations in the home for each person to get some peace and quiet, or a dedicated workspace, where you won’t be bothered by others? Can you renegotiate responsibilities such as cleaning, childcare or cooking, to take on board everyone’s need for personal space and rest time?
In my case, we picked up an old caravan very cheaply and I quickly redecorated it and made a very comfortable home office and chill out space for myself at the end of the garden. It gave me the personal space and privacy that I needed, and made it easier for me to appreciate spending time with my family once I had met my own needs.
As a dog owner, I also found that walking the dogs became even more important to me – getting out of the house once a day helped keep the ‘lockdown’ sensation to a minimum.
I’ve noticed so many families now going out for a daily walk together during lockdown – something they certainly did not do beforehand. Getting out in nature is an excellent way to make you feel better, and is confirmed by many studies.
Brainstorm ideas together as a family about how to manage private time and shared time, and come up with a list of shared, fun activities as well as dedicated ‘me’ time.
Expectation Or Appreciation?
It can help to try and focus on the positive things we enjoy about each other, the good things that each household member does for the others, and what we can enjoy doing together.
Try this exercise: swap thoughts of expectation with those of appreciation. For instance, I am frustrated that I can’t go to work but I appreciate the time and money I save every day in not travelling. I find it hard that I have less personal space but I appreciate being able to see my kids develop.
Or how about this one: this is a difficult time but I know that the biggest growth happens during challenging times and crises and I can do this.
Negativity is very powerful and will only make your anxiety worse. When faced with conflict or frustrated expectation, looking for something that you can appreciate in that situation and focussing on that can be just as powerful.
Gratitude is a powerful force. Research has shown that gratitude practices are good for our physical and our mental health. The benefits include better sleep, improved mood. reduced aggression, increased life satisfaction and improved self-esteem, amongst others.
Gratitude is nothing more than a positive emotional state in which we recognise and appreciate something. It could be something little, like the smell of blossom when you go for a walk. Or it could be something big, like still having a job when so many don’t right now.
Since studies have demonstrated that taking time to experience gratitude can make us happier and healthier, an ideal way to practise gratitude is to keep a gratitude journal. I incorporated this activity into my daily Accountability Journal some time ago and have found it to be a valuable tool (feel free to download it in the link below).
The process of focussing on the things you are grateful for and actually writing them down makes this practise more effective. Take 5-10 minutes each day to write down at least three things for which you are grateful.
What are you grateful for?
Don’t Add To The Doom And Gloom
Do you need to check the news stream every 5 minutes, or talk about the virus it in every conversation? Try turning the TV or radio off. Ignore the social media drama. You can’t do anything about all the bad news. You are just feeding your fear by constantly consuming it. It is simply not good for us to do this.
Since most of it is repetitive anyway, why not just check in on the new headlines once a day? You can use the time you gain not reading the news to do something that will actually help you, rather than depress you.
If you’ve run out of ideas to do for yourself, consider something useful for others, for example, sewing scrubs, volunteer work in the community, or phone support for people suffering from isolation. Spreading kindness or making social connections while isolated will benefit you and the person who receives your help.
Be careful to avoid burn out if you’re on the front line. By ‘front line’ I don’t just mean doctors, nurses and care workers. Cashiers, bus drivers and supermarket staff are in exposed positions too.
If you work in the caring field, try to separate your feelings from your work. It can be hard not to ‘take your work home’ – this certainly happened to me when I worked as a therapist.
When your own emotions are overwhelming it will make being there for the needs of others even more challenging.
The coronavirus has not just caused loss of life and physical illness, it has brought millions to their knees financially too. The economic havoc is still to be counted, but sadly we already know that many people now find themselves jobless.
This can feel like a terrifying position to be in. If you have been laid off, finding your next career or job is a priority. Can you get another job in the same industry easily, or has it been too affected by the virus, such as the travel industry? Rely on what you know – what are your skills? What else can you do?
A Financial Plan
If you lose your job and no longer have a healthy income, you need to cut costs, urgently.
If you can’t work, or can’t find work, consider other possible sources of financial assistance, such as friends, family or support groups.
Structure And Routine
Building healthy habits and keeping good routines WILL help us get through this. If you have been put on furlough and find yourself bored, keep busy. Don’t spend all day lounging around. Set yourself a daily routine and follow a schedule. Having a structure helps us to feel more contained and in control.
Of course, you can learn something new, or start on that long ‘To Do’ list of maintenance things around the house. You can read, garden, be productive… there are a million ways to keep yourself busy. Try to include something intentionally relaxing, and something active in your daily routine.
Meditation And Exercise
Research has shown that meditation and exercise are valuable tools in helping us through stressful times. Maybe you’ve never tried meditation and think it’s difficult. It isn’t. You just do it. There’s no right or wrong way to meditate. There are different methods for organising our thoughts and physically calming our otherwise overwhelmed brains.
There are also many free ways to learn and practice both meditation and exercise these days, so it doesn’t need to be a financial burden either. Add a free app on your phone to get started with meditation, such as Insight Timer or Calm. I have used both and found them very useful for meditation and to help me sleep. See more meditation and app suggestions here.
Try to include breathing, mindfulness and exercise breaks in your daily schedule. It’s essential to look after your mind AND your body even when you aren’t stressed, so imagine how important it is in a time of crisis.
The Importance Of Sleep
One of the most important aspects of self-care is to get enough sleep. The body and mind simply do not function as well when they are tired. If a full, good night’s sleep is impossible, try to schedule daily power naps to revitalise yourself. I never used to be able to sleep a siesta, but with practise, since I started working from home, I now find it easy to reap the benefits of a quick nap after lunch.
Just 20 minutes rest time can revitalise the body and mind. If you struggle to sleep because your mind is racing, take advantage of the meditation apps we looked at earlier – they all have recordings to help you sleep. In my time of crisis I really appreciated them helping me turn off the noise in my mind so I could sleep. Even if you don’t sleep, 20 minutes spent in a calmer, more relaxed state will benefit your wellbeing enormously.
The Health Risks Of Long Term Stress
Long term stress is so bad for us. It’s bad for us mentally and physically. It can cause irreversible damage to our health.
This is an excellent and entertaining short video about the dangers of a continued stress response. Our stress reactions were meant to save us from impending death, like escaping from a lion or bear. In our modern day society though, some of us experience stress as a continuous, 24/7 prison sentence.
To avoid living as if we are constantly escaping from lions, it is essential to incorporate into our lives as many healthy, helpful management techniques as possible. We need to change our mindset to be more positive.
Tools For Getting Through A Crisis
Here is a list of some of the different resources I relied on to recover from my major life crisis when I lost everything. From these, I learned essential life tools that I still use on a daily basis to continue to be a happy, healthy person, and continue to grow. Despite now finding myself in another crisis – the Coronavirus Crisis – I can honestly say that I’ve never felt as calm and balanced as I do now.
I highly recommend listening to books on Audible. You can you do it during time that would be otherwise lost, such as while you are cooking, washing the dishes or driving for instance, so it’s a much more efficient use of your time.
Jane McGonigal, Superbetter: How a gameful life can make you stronger, happier, braver and more resilient
James Clear, Atomic habits: An easy and proven way to build good habits and break bad ones
Alie Fraser and Ash Ranpura, In the habit: Introduction to changing our behaviour
Darren Hardy, The compound effect: Multiply your success one simple step at a time
Ryan Holiday, The obstacle is the way: The timeless art of turning trials into triumph
Mark Manson, The subtle art of not giving a fuck: A counterintuitive approach to living a good life
Steven Pressfield, Turning Pro: Tap your inner power and create your life’s work
Cheryl Strayed, Tiny, beautiful things: Advice on love and life from Dear Sugar
Alex Tugend, Better by mistake: The unexpected benefits of being wrong
Florence Williams, The 3 day effect: How nature calms your brain
Irvin D. Yalom, Love’s Executioner (this was a re-read of a book I’d particularly enjoyed when I trained as an art psychotherapist years ago)
The Life Coach School Podcast, Brooke Castillo
Darren Daily On-Demand, Darren Hardy
Unfuck Your Brain, Kara Loewentheil
Do It Scared, Ruth Soukup
It is essential to look after ourselves in the midst of a crisis. It can be hard to see a way out of crisis sometimes, but there are many strategies we can use to protect ourselves and recover. If you are buried in negativity it will be very hard to pick yourself up and start again. A positive mindset, and taking action, are essential for our continued growth and success.