Are you feeling stressed due to lockdown?
COVID-19 has been a life-altering experience for everyone around the world. With a second year of lockdown now taking place, there is an overall feeling that the world has changed. We have lost our freedom, our daily routines, our economic stability, our connection with others and for many, our loved ones. In the face of such tremendous loss and uncertainty, it is no wonder we are experiencing so much stress.
There are many strategies we can use to cope with the effect the pandemic is having on our lives. Some are problem focused and others are emotion focused strategies. Problem-focused coping involves actively engaging with the outside world. Emotion-focused coping, in contrast, is directed inward, attempting to change how we respond emotionally to stressful events and conditions. Neither of these coping strategies is intrinsically more or less effective than the other. Both can be effective for different kinds of challenges.
Here are 15 strategies to get you out of the crisis and into calm!
Problem – focused strategies
Structure, structure, structure
Coming up with a structured plan for each day with clear boundaries between your working and private life will give you a sense of control amid the uncertainty. Try to divide your day into small activities and make sure you build in time to do things you enjoy, from pursuing your hobbies or exercising to spending time with your children or pets. Moreover, set a daily routine for work. Take regular breaks, leave your desk for lunch, and have a fixed time to turn off. Additionally, focus on getting enough sleep and regularly eating healthy meals.
Sleep plays a fundamental role in mental health. However, when daily life gets disrupted, it’s easy to fall into bad sleep cycles.
Try and focus on maintaining a regular bedtime and avoid the temptation of lying in bed for ages in the morning. Take some time to wind down at the end of the day, refrain from scrolling your social media feeds for at least one hour before bedtime and avoid having caffeine or alcohol late at night.
Eat your veggies
Although staying home is the best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the sudden disruption to daily routines may lead to unhealthy eating habits. It is important to not let healthy eating fall by the wayside at it is good for your heart, your bones, your immune system, and your mental health.
Consuming snacks and junk food have been linked to higher levels of stress and depression. So make sure you prepare well balanced meals and swap the chocolate and crisps for nutritious snacks like crudité and dip.
Let’s get physical!
Physical activity can do wonders for your mental health – especially if you are feeling stressed. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week – or if you are very motivated, a combination of both. That’s as little as 15 minutes a day!
If time permits, go for a long walk around your neighbourhood. Is there a nice open space or forest you can explore? Numerous studies have shown that spending time in nature has a positive effect on mental health. Spending just 20 minutes connecting with nature can help lower blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and stress hormones. And on days the weather does not permit outdoor activities, there is a huge selection of exercise videos free on YouTube.
Close your eyes and breathe…
When you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed, your body goes into the fight or flight response. This state aims to help us respond to a dangerous situation. But if you allow your body to remain stressed for long periods, it suppresses our digestive and immune systems and can take a toll on your health.
Meditation and controlled breathing is vital to reverse this process. By slowing down your breathing and regulating oxygen intake, you can calm down your stress levels. Do this for at least 5 minutes when you wake up and again before going to bed.
Deep breathing – the 4,7,8 approach. Whilst sitting down, make a whoosh sound by exhaling completely through your mouth. Shut your mouth and quietly inhale through your nose, counting mentally to 4. Hold your breath for 7 seconds. Exhale by making a whoosh sound again for a count of 8. Repeat this cycle another three times. This exercise can be repeated throughout the day when needed.
Put your phone down!
It’s tempting to spend a lot of time looking online for news – especially at social media. However, it can amplify anxiety and stress with a constant flow of worrisome (mis)information. It’s important to be discerning about what you read and watch.
So, if you’re going online to look for updates, try to –
Limit how often you check for updates
Stick to reliable sources like the CDC, WHO and local public health authorities
Step away from media as soon as you are aware of feeling overwhelmed
Turn off push notifications,
Unfollow or mute accounts, people, keywords and conversations which are triggering for you
Finally, be careful what you share. Do your best to verify information before passing it on. We all need to do our part to avoid spreading rumours and creating unnecessary panic.
Humans are social animals. We’re hardwired for connection. Isolation and loneliness can exacerbate anxiety and depression, and even impact our physical health. That’s why it’s important to stay connected as best we can and reach out for support when we need it, even as we cut back on in-person socializing.
By talking to someone, we share our emotions and experiences, provide or receive support which makes us feel connected. When we socialise and have physical proximity to others, we reduce cortisol levels. Simply sharing our concerns with a loved one can help us feel better.
But don’t let coronavirus dominate every conversation. It’s important to take breaks from stressful thoughts about the pandemic to simply enjoy each other’s company—to laugh, share stories, and focus on other things going on in our lives.
Plan at least one connection a day – a phone call or a chat with a colleague or friend who you can share experiences with. Consider regular virtual meetings with family and friends to check in on each other. This can be a great source of support during these times.
Just as a side note, emotions are contagious, so be wise about who you turn to for support. Avoid talking about the virus with people who tend to be negative or who reinforce and ramp up your fears. Turn to the people in your life who are thoughtful, level-headed, and good listeners.
Lean on me…
It’s no coincidence that those who focus on others in need and support their communities, especially during times of crises, tend to be happier and healthier than those who act selfishly. Helping others not only makes a difference to your community—and even to the wider world at this time—it can also support your own mental health and well-being. Much of the anguish accompanying this pandemic stem from feeling powerless. Doing kind and helpful acts for others can help you regain a sense of control over your life—as well as adding meaning and purpose.
Follow guidelines for preventing the spread of the virus. Even if you’re not in a high-risk group, staying at home, washing your hands frequently, and avoiding contact with others can help save the lives of the most vulnerable in your community and prevent overburdening the healthcare system.
Reach out to others in need. If you know people in your community who are isolated—particularly the elderly or disabled—you can still offer support. Perhaps an older neighbour needs help with groceries or fulfilling a prescription? You can always leave packages on their doorstep to avoid direct contact. Or maybe they just need to hear a friendly, reassuring voice over the phone. Many local social media groups can help put you in touch with vulnerable people in your area.
Donate to food banks. Hoarding has reduced supplies to food banks in many areas, while unemployment and economic difficulties have greatly increased demand. You can help older adults, low-income families, and others in need by donating food or cash.
Be a calming influence. If friends or loved ones are panicking, try to help them gain some perspective on the situation. Instead of scaremongering or giving credence to false rumours, refer them to reputable news sources. Being a positive, uplifting influence in these anxious times can help you feel better about your own situation too.
Be kind to others. With the right outlook and intentions, we can all ensure that kindness and charity spread throughout our communities even faster than this virus.
Emotion – focused strategies
Be kind to yourself
It is normal to have feelings such as stress, anxiety, sadness and fear in times like these. The coronavirus crisis is unlike anything we’ve experienced before. Let’s practise self-compassion and not make things worse by criticising ourselves for failing to cope better.
In fact, unpleasant emotions draw our attention to problems and motivate us to tackle them, rather than just being signs of mental fragility or not coping. Having said that we should be vigilant for serious problems, such as thoughts of self-harm, and seek professional advice in these cases.
Understanding ‘I am.’
Are you questioning ‘I’ve done everything right so why me?’ to the universe? Or feel anger towards those in denial about the pandemic? Are your feelings of anger accompanied with periods of sadness and anxiety? Are you feeling down and less motivated by activities you used to love? Are you experiencing nervousness, restlessness, irritability or even difficulty breathing? Feeling anger, sadness and anxiety during challenging times like these is normal.
Our ego is very clever as it gives our mind the feelings of anger, sadness or anxiety to focus on in the face of an overwhelming sea of uncertainty. When we feel these emotions arise within us, we must be aware and realise we are not our feelings and emotions. We are our soul consciousness. Our soul is a fractal of source energy where singularity resides. This means there is no happy and sad where the soul is concerned. Just simply being. I am.
As we experience these negative emotions, it is important to feel what you’re feeling. It’s OK not to feel OK. Our thoughts and feelings might keep on changing very rapidly: that’s totally normal. We must acknowledge them but not live through them. During these moments, take the time to sit down, breathe deeply and allow these feelings to pass right through you without engaging with them.
Stop reacting. Start responding.
Being in close contact with family members all day everyday can be challenging, especially if you live in a large household or a confined space. If you find yourself being agitated by the behaviour of family members, do make time for yourself. Go for a long walk in your neighbourhood, take a relaxing bath, find a quiet corner to meditate, are just a few suggestions. Take a few deep breaths and when you are in a relax state, remind yourself that different people will feel different things at different times, and that’s OK too. We’re not always going to be on the same page as our family and friends. We are all in the same boat trying to get through the day, so forgive them and allow your feelings to pass.
Seeing somebody out and about not adhering to the quarantine protocols might be triggering to you. Remember, everyone is dealing with the situation differently, some better than others. Once again, take the time to breathe so that you respond instead of reacting. They may be going through a denial phase as a coping mechanism from feeling too overwhelmed with the change. In this instance, the best course of action is to lead by example.
Facing up to denial
Do you often feel like the central administrators are over-reacting or like your civil liberties have been restricted for no reason? Do you relax the social distancing or quarantine protocol from time to time? If the answer is yes to any of these questions, then you may sub-consciously be in denial.
When dramatic changes to your life occur, denial is a normal and automatic survival response. It is a way to cope when changes feel too overwhelming to face. Denial involves feeling resistance, shock, and avoidance.
It is important to set aside regular peaceful moments to think and gain clarity. Ask yourself the following questions and journal your honest answers –
Are you looking at the situation through a rational lens? Are your current thoughts on the pandemic been tainted in anyway due to limiting beliefs that have been formed from past negative experiences? Gather data from the news and reputable websites and try and look at them through a neutral lens.
Is there any possibility that my thoughts on the pandemic could be wrong? What effect will this have on my family, friends and community, if I continued my current actions and I turned out to be wrong?
Speak to people who have different views on the pandemic to you. Be open and try and understand their point of view. And please do not rely on your social media feeds for balanced opinions on this topic. Their algorithms are constructed in way to send you more information towards your current bias because this helps the platforms get more clicks, likes and comments.
Focus on the things you can control
We’re in a time of massive upheaval. There are so many things outside of our control, including how long the pandemic lasts, how other people behave, and what’s going to happen in our communities. It’s natural to be concerned about what may happen if your workplace closes, your children have to stay home from school, you or someone you love gets sick, or you have to self-quarantine.
It is tough to accept but endlessly thinking over all the different scenarios that might happen won’t make the situation better. Focusing on questions with unknowable answers and circumstances outside of our personal control, will only leave us feeling drained, anxious, and overwhelmed.
While these possibilities can be scary to think about, being proactive can help relieve at least some of the anxiety. For example, you can’t control how severe the coronavirus outbreak is in your area, but you can follow the quarantine protocols to reduce your own personal risk.
Write down specific worries you have about how coronavirus may disrupt your life. Make a list of all the possible solutions you can think of. Try not to get too hung up on “perfect” options. Include whatever comes to mind that could help you get by. Focus on concrete things you can problem solve or change, rather than circumstances beyond your control. After you’ve evaluated your options, draw up a plan of action. When you’re done, set it aside and resist the urge to go back to it until you need it or your circumstances significantly change.
Just like the Coronavirus mutates to survive, to be successful in new situations we need adapt.
The only constant is change – Heraclitus
Focusing on the past and thinking about life before Coronavirus will only taint your heart. We are destined to always be refugees of the past without a permanent home. As with riding a bicycle, we must push forward and not reminisce about the past in order to retain our balance.
The one thing we consistently have within our locus of control is what we choose to do with the present moment. So use the present to think about accomplishing what you need in an altered way. Take inspiration from the arts, science, philosophy etc. Perpetually upgrade your thinking.
Remember to stay positive knowing that this uncertain time shall too pass as nothing survives the ultimate guillotine of time.
A golden opportunity
I love this poem by Leslie Dwight as it captures the chaos of 2020 so well.
What if 2020 isn't cancelled?
What if 2020 is the year we’ve been waiting for?
A year so uncomfortable, so painful, so scary, so raw —
that it finally forces us to grow,
A year that screams so loud, finally awakening us from our ignorant slumber.
A year we finally accept the need for change.
Declare change. Work for change. Become the change.
A year we finally band together, instead of pushing each other further apart.
2020 isn’t cancelled, but rather the most important year of them all.
Is Mother Nature giving us a chance to rethink our life? Lockdown is giving us plenty of quiet time to think about who we are and what role we want to play in this world. To reflect and take stock of where we are in our lives and whether that is aligned to our soul.
Are you happy and relaxed most of the time? If not, think about what the main stressors in your life are. Are you leading a fast-paced lifestyle? Maybe it is time to embrace slower living?
Do you feel energised throughout the day? If not, embark on a wellness journey so you don’t feel sluggish.
Are you doing a job you really enjoy? If not, maybe it is time to explore opportunities aligned to your soul purpose?
Are you in a fulfilling, loving relationship? If not, maybe it is time to seek relationship counselling to create the connection you would like or leave and take a different path.
Have you got financial plans set out that you are working towards? If not, think about and set financial goals that you can work to.
Do you get on well with your family and friends? If not, do you need to change your behaviour or establish boundaries for their behaviour? Do you need to curate a new supportive tribe of friends?
You get the picture! This is basically a golden chance to look within. Maybe it is time to swap big bonuses for simple pleasures, processed food for homemade, anxiety for clarity, chaos for calm.
How have you been keeping with the quarantine so far? Have you used any of these strategies already? Which ones are you going to try? Can you think of more suggestions?
I hope you have enjoyed this post. Please share it with family and friends who might need abit of help during these challenging times.