In times of heightened stress, it can often feel like everything is spiraling out of control. Chaos seeps in and we cannot think as clearly. Many people are feeling that way in the midst of the ever-changing coronavirus COVID-19 news. Although you might feel hopeless, there are strategies that can bring calm and peace.
Focus on Gratitude
When we feel out of control or scared, one of the best counterbalances is gratitude. We can be grateful for our favorite comfy socks, the touch of a loved one, a pink rose on our desk, or the taste of zeppoles in March. Practicing gratitude is actually proven to reduce anxiety and depression. We live in a world with a lot of fear but we also live in a world of beauty. Try to focus on the beauty.
Find Other Ways to Connect with Others
Right now, isolation is being encouraged to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. When faced with isolation, it is important to remind ourselves that we are still connected. Small acts like sending loving thoughts or prayers can make a big difference. We can use technology to stay in touch – have a FaceTime conversation or text a note of kindness. These simple gestures remind us that we’re all in this together. Humans are social beings and need to feel connected to others.
Draw or Write Your Feelings
I often use art to help my patients and their families cope with the difficult emotions they are facing at end of life. Art can be very healing in any situation, especially in times of stress. Expressive arts can help release emotions that you maybe didn’t even know were there. It doesn’t matter if the art is good. You could even scribble and color in the intersection of the scribble with a pattern. You can make a maze and trace it with your finger. Writing or journaling is another great way to express and process emotions. Whatever you choose, make sure you have fun with it.
Take Care of Yourself and Stay Positive
Remember as best as you can to sleep, drink water, eat healthy foods and be kind to yourself and others. Take deep breaths. Know that we’re all going to have to be patient. Positive or negative: we choose what we focus on. Focusing on the positive can calm you, which is really good for your body. It reduces your heart rate and can elevate good hormones and reduce the bad ones. Your brain can think more clearly when you’re calm and your heart becomes more compassionate. All of this helps you take better care of yourself and others.
Ground Yourself with Mindfulness Techniques
Practicing mindfulness is a great way to safeguard the overwhelming feelings of stress. Here are a few of my favorite mindfulness exercises to practice:
- While washing or sanitizing your hands, think of a song or poem that makes you feel calm. You can also engage in a mindfulness activity such as sharing compassion with yourself and the world. I like to say, “may I be safe, may I be calm, may I have peace” – I repeat this phrase for my friends, family, community and so on.
- Imagine you’re inhaling your favorite color. See that color filling you to the tips of your toes. When you exhale, imagine the color leaving your body the same way it came in. This can be a great way to feel peace wash over you like an ocean wave.
- First, let all the air out of your lungs. Count to four. Take a deep breath for the count of four. Hold your breath to the count of four and then breath it out to the count of four. Repeat as needed.
- Imagine in front of you a circle with your favorite color. Whenever you feel ready, step into that circle. Feel it come up and over you to form a protective bubble. When you’re inside that bubble, you have everything that you need to be your best self and to function in all the ways that you need to. When we feel outside forces working against us, they can just bounce off the bubble. If we feel the bubble starting to disintegrate, we can envision the circle again and step right back into it.
It can be hard to cope with stressful times, but hopefully having these tools in your pocket will help. Remember that you can always just start with remembering something you’re grateful for and then take a deep breath.