We are all living with high levels of anxiety, uncertainty and stress. There does not seem to be any light at the end of the tunnel just yet, so how can we best look after ourselves and our communities?
Over the last few weeks, I have been discussing strategies and best practices with other mental health professionals trying to come up with a list that we can share with our clients, colleagues and families.
On a personal note, my own coping strategies when I feel overwhelmed by uncertainly and anxiety are the following:
Morning- stretches, followed by listening to stand-up comics, drinking my coffee by an open window to receive as much light and air as possible.
Zoom lunch with a friend- I have a rota of lunch dates with friends I have not or cannot see at the moment.
Afternoon: 30 minute fast walk with my dog and whoever is agreeable and at home to accompany me.
Dinner: I set the dinner table with all the best silverware and table linen. Basically we make an event of just sitting down together - its not about what is for dinner... Its kind of fun eating pancakes and cream from a fancy plate with cranberry juice in a champagne glass. Making today special, has helped me focus less on tomorrow and the next day and the flow of thoughts that follow from there.
Evening: I see a lot of my clients in the evening and it is nice to set my office as if I was having clients in the office with me- I clean up my desk, put flowers on the side table, air the room out, put my lipstick on...
Later evening: I seem to be drawn to watching shows about people living off the land, nature and survival shows and travel documentaries. I find they do not disturb my sleep and cause me to further worry or stress (believe it or not).
Bedtime: Since lockdown began I have completely decluttered our bedroom. I make an effort to make the room feel cosy and fresh but I have removed all electronics, ornaments, piles of clothes, papers, even photos and a few paintings. I only get into bed to put my earplugs in, close my eyes and go asleep. So far, as a sleep aid routine it has worked well.
Best Practices and Strategies for living with extreme uncertainty.
1). Exercise, exercise, exercise... It does not have to be complicated or fancy, a brisk walk outside, a bike ride, swim or some home-made exercises.
2). Yoga- I think that we all accept the mind-body benefits of practicing yoga regularly.
3). Improve your sleep- establishing a good bedtime and wake time, avoiding coffee and late night meals, exercise but not before bed, improving your sleep environment and be careful of napping (ideally no longer than 30 min a day).
4). Social Phone tree: create a list of people that are close to you and call 1 of the people on the list everyday- rotating the list every week or so. Staying in regular contact with people close to you is vitally important in times of stress and has been proven to reduce anxiety and isolation.
5). Relaxation: regularly practicing relaxing the mind and body- it can be different for everyone, reading a book, listening to music, progressive muscle relaxation, knitting, painting, gardening....
6). Practicing deep breathing - placing one hand on your belly or heart centre and breathing deeply for a few minutes, focusing on the in-breath and then the out-breath, noticing the warmth of your hand on your heart or the rise and fall of your belly as you breathe. Deep breathing can help activate our natural rest and restore system.
7). Mindful Meditation: practicing guided mindfulness meditation - focusing on the present moment just as it is and not judging or trying to change your present moment experience.
8). Practicing Appreciation: Spend a few minutes every morning and evening by bringing to mind the care and support you have received from one particular person. Try and feel the feelings of care and support and allow them to foster a sense of appreciation in your day.
9). Smile: Seems kind of silly but it really works. Smile at yourself in the mirror, smile at your family, smile as you pass someone in the street or in the park and smile on your Zoom calls. Its quite hard to be anxious and smile at the same time and you cracking a smile might help brighten someone else's day! While we are all wearing masks its hard to tell if people are smiling so when we can, smile- its free and its pretty easy.
10). Prioritize self-care and routines: Nourishing meals, enough sleep, relaxation, exercise, fresh air, social connection and time to just BE.
11). Thinking about what you can control can help you to deal with uncertainty. Find a piece of paper and divide it into 2 columns: 1 column "what I can control" and the other column "what I cannot control". It can help to see that there are things that you can control, lessening the feelings of helplessness and anxiety.
12). Am I seeking out good news? Watching/reading/listening to the news can increase our levels of stress and anxiety exponentially, while its important to stay up to date we do not need to be constantly attached to a newsfeed. Some handy resources for good news are : Greater Good and Solutions Journalism Network. Reading good news stories and sharing the kindness and good deeds of our fellow humans with our friends and family can be a great mood booster and create a sense of resilience and foster further acts of kindness and empathy.
13). Practice being grateful for today: While I am aware many of us are experiencing illness, job loss, major life changes and in some cases the devastating loss of loved ones- where possible bringing a sense of gratefulness to the day is a practice that can leave us feeling less anxious, less isolated and more resilient. Cultivating a sense of gratitude can also help us from becoming burnt out, depressed and hopeless.
14). Finally... What skills or talents do you have that can benefit your family or community during this time of extraordinary uncertainty and stress? Maybe you can teach a zoom class and help people to learn to knit, you might be able to help people to redo their CV's, you might be great at organising socially distanced walks for people who feel they need to get outside and are feeling isolated. In our family, I teach several free meditation classes during the week, my children have offered to do the food shopping for several vulnerable people in our community and going forward into the Christmas season we are hoping to deliver a hand-made seasons greetings card to everyone on our street.
While I hope that this list of suggestions can help you in your daily life I realise it is by no means exhaustive. What are the things that are helping you to deal with your anxiety and uncertainty?
At The Daily Meditation Lab we are starting several Soothing Saturdays sessions, organised to help you to build your own well-being routine: including how to soothe yourself, guided meditation and what we mean by self-care. We will also be offering a session on how to help cultivate appreciation, gratitude and resilience within our families and how to help our children to be more calm and grounded.
Take good care,