From fear and anxiety to anger and frustration, the Coronavirus pandemic has shaken up all our lives. While there isn’t much we can do about being locked down and unable to move about freely, we can and should still do what we can to preserve not just our physical but also our mental health.
Here are some tips to keep in mind as you navigate these troubling times which may bring up troubling emotions.
1. Acknowledge and allow yourself to feel your feelings
It’s okay to feel scared about whether you and your loved ones will be okay. It’s okay to feel unsure about how your work and daily routines are out of whack. It’s okay to feel angry that you can’t go out and do the things you normally do. It’s okay to feel sad for those who don’t have the luxury of social distancing. It’s okay to feel helpless or want to cry. It’s okay to feel disappointed if your birthday or travel plans got ruined. It’s okay to grieve about the money you lost even though your life is safe. It’s okay to feel happy because you now finally have a chance to take a break. It’s okay to feel relieved because you don’t have to deal with that annoying co-worker for a while. It’s okay to feel joy at the thought of spending more time with your children. Or fatigue because of it!
It’s okay to feel whatever it is you feel. Simply recognise and accept its presence rather than trying to do something to get rid of, fuel or judge it.
2. Label and lean into what you are feeling
Label and allow yourself to get closer to your feelings instead of resisting, distracting or judging yourself for them. This powerfully mindful step of acceptance (versus resistance) enables us to create a soft space of awareness; which in turn facilitates “being with” rather than “becoming” our emotions.
Also avoid identifying with your emotions. For instance, if you feel fear, instead of saying “I am afraid”, rephrase it to say “fear is here” or “this is a moment of fear and anxiety”. This kind of self-talk often known as dissociation helps tone down the intensity of uncomfortable emotions.
Also remember you can have multiple and even opposing emotions simultaneously. That’s fine too. For example, you may feel sadness perhaps for the people who have died, admiration for healthcare workers, anger at how people’s lives have been disrupted, pity for the poor, gratitude for your blessings and even joyful at the amount of time this is giving you to relax. Simply acknowledge, accept, label and hold space for all your emotions.
3. Practise self compassion
Sitting and feeling uncomfortable emotions is not easy. However, recent research shows that self-compassion skills can help us through these tough moments. Say things like “It’s really tough to feel this but I allow myself to feel it for now.” Or “I am here for me. I will take care of me. This too shall pass.” Or “whatever happens I will get through it. How best can I be kind to myself at this moment?” Affirmative, soothing statements go a long way to help us navigate the rocky terrains of our emotional landscapes. Imagine how a loving parent would soothe their child in distress. Think about the words they would use, the body language (for example hugs and hand strokes) they would offer and the reassuring presence they would create for their child. Then imagine you are that parent speaking to your own inner child. Let the words flow from this space.
4. Journal your thoughts and emotions
We often overeat, overwork, and/or over-commit ourselves in order to distract ourselves from feeling uncomfortable emotions. Yet what we truly need are more effective outlets to release emotions. Journalling is one such way. Write down everything that occurs to your mind as and when it does. Don’t judge. Don’t edit. Just let the thoughts flow. Journalling helps us get more clarity on what we want, insight into who we are and wisdom about how we wish to live our lives.
5. Take a break from social media
Be wise about how much and how often you tune in to the news and social media. Set one hour a day when you read the news or engage with it. Then for the rest of the day engage in something that makes you feel alive. Stay connected to friends via video calls, play with your kids, read a book, cook yourself a hot lunch or simply take a nap. Use the time to slow down, reassess and rest.
While no one knows when this pandemic will end, let it invite you to begin exploring how to truly nourish your soul long after it’s gone.