HOW TO RELAX AND THRIVE AMIDST COVID-19
As someone who has had Cystic Fibrosis my whole life, and now as a post double lung transplant,
immunocompromised person, I've spent years seeing the world as a dangerous place. To me, potentially fatal germs are everywhere and hand sanitiser is an important part of every day life. Watching the world find and learn to deal with this perspective I've grown so used to is an interesting thing.
Understandably, a lot of people are anxious and I thought it might be helpful to share some of the ways I've learned to deal with life in health crisis mode.
1. Get to know yourself and what is helpful for you.
I'm a data person. Knowledge comforts me. Statistics help me assess a situation and stay calm. I find it actively helpful to read up about what's bothering, make sure I know the facts, and am doing what I can to control the situation.
That approach absolutely does not work for everyone. If you find data overwhelming, do your best to stay away. Uninstall certain apps, unfollow certain people, don't visit certain websites. If it's making you anxious, turn it off, put it down, step away. If you're then worried about missing important information, find someone who is a data person and ask them to keep you up to date on the useful, non-panicky bullet points. As a data person, I can tell you that they will be delighted to be able to do that for you.
2. When you are anxious, notice what is happening in your body.
Have you ever noticed that your feelings come out in physical ways? When you get angry, maybe you feel something in the pit of your stomach, maybe your hands clench involuntarily. When you get anxious, something physical will happen - it might be butterflies in your stomach, it might be certain muscles tensing up, it might be an overwhelming desire to eat something.
For me, when I begin to get anxious, I get tension in my shoulders and neck and my breathing shifts from low lung, relaxed, diaphragm breaths, to high lung, shallow breaths. The thing to do is notice what is going on because, only then, can you take steps to combat it. It's a crazy thing (but it's true!) that we can change our feelings by changing what's happening with our bodies. Amy Cuddy has a fascinating TED talk on power poses and how you can make yourself feel more courageous and powerful by the way you position your body. This is the same thing.
When I notice my anxiety signs, it's time to act. For me, that means it's time for relaxation and yoga/stretching.
Here's a simple relaxation exercise to help you calm yourself.
- Find a quiet space and some comfortable clothes.
- Sit in a way that is comfortable to you - a good way is in a chair with your feet on the floor.
- Close your eyes or gently focus on one spot in front of you.
- Relax and lower your shoulders.
- Take a few slow, deep breaths - in through your nose, out through your mouth. Try and notice where you are breathing from: place your hand on your stomach and try to move your hand with your breath. If it helps, think about blowing up a balloon with your breath, deep and long, in through the nose, out through the mouth.
- If thoughts come into your mind, notice them, accept them and nudge them back out. Bring the focus back to your breathing.
- If you feel something in your body, notice it, accept it, and bring your thoughts back to your breathing.
- Sit for a while in quiet, appreciate the time you've had and get up slowly.
Why not take half an hour and stretch it out with Adriene?
Personally I love my acupressure mat. I find it incredibly relaxing (though it does take a while to get used to it - it hurts quite a bit at first but now it just feels great) and it's now my go to when I'm feeling physically anxious.
Disclaimer: This is absolutely not a medical suggestion but sharing something that works for me. If you have a medical condition, please ask your doctor before you use a mat or do physical exercise.
I'm a Christian and, for me, prayer is incredibly important. If you haven't prayed before, why not try it? I believe God loves us and loves to listen to us.
5. Go and talk to someone.
You're a human being! You were built for communication. Talking to people helps us process information and gives us space to think and say things which might be difficult for us on our own.
I know that most of us are social distancing, if not in actual isolation, but thanks to the Internet and phones, we still have access to the world and most people in it. Give someone a ring, have a coffee over Skype. Don't ever feel silly or embarrassed asking someone if you can talk to them - they might be hoping the very same thing!
If you want to talk to a professional, the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy has a directory. Go and find someone and, even in this time of self-isolation, there are ways of talking to them.
6. Find things to do.
I know that's obvious but it's so helpful to have a plan.
Make a list of things you've wanted to try but haven't yet.
Make a list of fun things to do with the people you're isolated with.
Make a list of projects to do in the house (this is obviously my thing. If this isolation lasts for months, I'm going to have redecorated our house several times!)
You know what you love. Take some time to do it. Now's the time to bake that cake, to paint that room, to learn how to embroider, to read that massive book, to organise your finances, whatever makes you happy.
7. Take the focus off yourself.
It's easy to become anxious when we focus on ourselves. That's when our world become smaller and small things become bigger and our of proportion. Even though I'm high risk and Coronavirus is unnerving, I've been struck by how much I really do have. I don't have to worry about losing my home or my job or wonder where the next meal is coming from. For lots of people, this virus will have huge implications for their lives. People with zero-hours contracts, children who's only good meal is from a school which is now shut for a month, people who can't make ends meet on statutory sick pay.
How about taking some time to think about how you can help others during this crisis? If you can't go out, here's a list of excellent charities who will be working every harder because of Covid-19 and could really use your support:
If you're low risk, perhaps ask your elderly or vulnerable neighbour if they need anything from the outside world?
Think about buying a gift certificate from a small business - that way they can use your money now, when they most need it.
8. Start a gratitude journal.
Nothing combats anxiety like gratitude. We all have things to be grateful for even in the hardest times. Every now and then I jot down a line or two of things I'm grateful for and it's a fantastic resource to look back on. There's so much I forget about that is wonderful and worth being grateful for.
9. Sometimes it's ok not to be ok.
There are times when things get too much and that's just a normal part of being human. Don't put pressure on yourself to be fine all the time. Give yourself time to feel what you're feeling and then do the next thing.
10. Remember that it will pass.
“It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going, because they were holding on to something. That there is some good in this world, and it's worth fighting for.”