As we progress through this pandemic, we are faced with a mass of shifting, sometimes confusing information. There are so many factors to contend with—vaccination questions, physical and mental health issues, fear of getting sick, financial worries and work issues. We have been confronted with many challenges. We are getting used to all this, but we also long for a return to some kind of normalcy. The longer the pandemic goes on, the more we see the arrival of new variants, and rising or falling cases. Covid carries serious risks for our elders, people who are immune compromised and other groups.
Most of our lives have undergone big changes. We may still need to practice physical distancing sometimes and wearing a mask in some situations. We may still miss contact with friends and family, and gatherings. Spending a lot of time at home may have generated new kinds of stresses. Going to work and risking illness is another stress. Vaccinations have greatly helped us resume some if not all aspects of our former life. New variants demonstrate the pandemic is an evolving reality.
It is easy to fall into feelings of chronic fear, or denial, or blame.
A time like this invites us to increase the use of positive skills—like kindness, patience and mindfulness—even as it may feel harder than ever to apply them. It also helps to keep ourselves informed at the global, international and local levels. As we explore the shifting picture of covid, its variants, the evolution of scientific understanding and the vagaries of popular theories about covid, we need to evaluate for ourselves what makes sense, what we will choose to believe, and how to live with all these changes. We are being challenged to stay grounded, use our “common sense” and learn to adapt.
The three cornerstones of mental health remain good sleep, healthy eating and daily exercise. Maintaining a regular rhythm with when you go to bed and get up, with meals and exercise can make a big difference to how you cope with any kind of stress, especially covid stress.
Experiences such as: irritability, anxiety, feeling easily upset, crying suddenly, feeling wired, flat, depressed, feeling disoriented, disconnected, loss of ability to focus, feeling quickly tired—are to be expected at times of crisis.
There are some simple things you can do to help yourself and those around you. A quick one is to take three longer than usual breaths. Sense your breathing, as your lungs expand your rib cage. You could try this right now! It is possible to notice your state of mind and intervene. You do not have to be at the mercy of a wild mind or erratic moods! It only takes a few seconds to give yourself attention and kindness. Remind yourself, feelings are not permanent: they come and go. Frequent, brief “breathing spaces” can promote a sense of calm.
When you do something you enjoy, you have more resilience for the overall stresses. I need hardly remind anyone about Netflix or Crave! There is also: cooking, reading, exercise, creative work, laughter, playing with kids, outdoor walks, enjoying the natural world, virtual time with friends.
We cope better when we share with family and friends. Checking in with each other helps us know we’re in this together. We can share experiences and covid survival tips. The odd irony to our situation, which I hope you also may be experiencing, is a spirit of pulling together, a renewed desire to be kind and gentle with each other. This helps us all and is needed.
Continuing to express our gratitude to our front line and essential workers is also all-important. Our gratitude and support can strengthen and encourage them.
Below are a few more “staying sane” tips. If you find them helpful, you could put this list on your fridge as reminders!
Staying Sane tips:
• Acknowledge your shifting experience: accept it with compassion (kindness). Remind yourself: “This will pass.”
• Maintain healthy routines: sleep, exercise and good food.
• Take time outside, in nature. Lean against a tree or a rock. Look up at the sky. Lie on the earth. Touch the plants and trees. They do not have coronavirus! Try to stay present to your senses: sight, hearing, smell and touch.
• Remind yourself when you feel alone, “Right now, millions of others feel this way. We are all in this together.” Try sending your love to those millions, and remember to include yourself! It may help, you, at least.
• If you notice your emotional life is more erratic or intense, that’s normal. Strong emotions will pass sooner, if you can give them some room. Just breath with them and acknowledge what you feel. Have a good cry. Ask a friend to give you five minutes “to rant” (but stick to the timer!) Then you will feel more able to turn to your life again.
• Take time to notice what you need. Ask for what you need and ask others what kind of support they need. If you can’t provide it, help them think about how to get help. Generosity toward others relieves everyone of isolation.
• Practice gratitude: giving thanks for small or “large” things—a small blue flower in the grass, health guidance you trust!
• Remind yourself: My effort makes a difference. Everyone’s caring matters greatly now (actually it always did, we just don’t necessarily realize that).
• Think about how best to support your social needs, e.g. virtual socializing, individually or in groups. Consider which social media are helpful to your wellbeing and stick to those.
• Use reliable news sources. Think critically: beware scams, trolls, misinformation and disinformation.
• Practice kindness and patience with yourself and others.