The goal is to change your response to what you cannot control. To grow so strong on the inside that events on the outside cannot impact your inner wellbeing.
As the COVID-19 virus rips its way around the world right now, we are all facing a changing and unpredictable reality. In all likelihood, we are on the cusp of a historic event that will forever change the way we work and live. While human lives are the main concern, it’s important to consider how this uncertain moment in time is impacting your mental health and to prepare yourself mentally and emotionally.
I’ve been sheltering at home for the last week, only going out for groceries and my daily walks or bike rides. The impact of social distancing, while vitally important in slowing the spread of this pandemic, is making some of us stir crazy. Here are the things you need to do to keep your mind strong:
1. Calm the Mind: Mindfulness
Given the swirl of bad news and unprecedented developments that COVID-19 is wreaking, it’s easy to get caught up in a vortex of worry and negative thinking. If left unchecked, your mind gets stuck in this state and a chain reaction begins. Fear sets in and severely narrows your perspective and ability to see the bigger picture and the positive, creative possibilities in front of you.
When you focus on calming your mind, you become attentive to what is really going on around you and what is arising from within. This allows you to observe and manage your thoughts so that you can catch them when they start to sprint towards doomsday scenarios. You can then selectively focus on what you choose instead of being pulled in the direction of each new ping of a breaking news story. For example, thinking about the benefits of working from home instead of the stock market impacts. While this latter is a reality, having it become your sole focus is not helping you or anyone else.
Creating a calm and present state is critical to keeping you centered. In short order, it helps keep the mind from wandering and getting hooked on negative thoughts. It greatly reduces the pits of stress and worry that we can easily get stuck in. Importantly, over time the continued practice of clearing and focusing our minds builds a muscle of resilience that will serve us time and time again. When we practice bringing ourselves back to the present moment, we deepen our capacity to cope with all sorts of crises, be they global or personal.
Fortunately, learning a mindfulness technique is easy and free. Those that follow me know how much of an advocate I am for meditation and it’s profound impact…and it’s easy to learn. There are also a number of free apps available, the best I know of being UCLA Mindful. Great paid apps include Calm, Waking Up and Ten Percent Happier.
2. News Diet: Manage Your Focus
For some, the news is best avoided completely as it adds enormously to their anxiety. For others, this can be quite difficult, and avoiding the news can cause more anxiety. If you’re in the latter, it’s important to consider where you are getting your news. Are they sensationalizing and scaremongering or do you feel that they are providing responsible and balanced coverage? The key here will be to limit how much time you spend on social media or reading, listening to or watching the news. Perhaps the worst time to check in on the news is first thing in the morning. This can easily ignite the worry and put the negative thought machine into action. Balance your media intake with something fun that lifts your spirits. We are currently watching Schitt’s Creek and loving it. Laughter is good medicine.
3. Get Outside
In many communities, here in the United States and globally, officials are encouraging people to seek out both physical activity and time outside. The San Francisco Bay Area shelter-in-place order includes an exemption specifically for “engaging in outdoor activity, such as walking, hiking, or running provided that you maintain at least six feet of social distancing.” In New York, state parks are now free, and residents are encouraged to use parks and trails as they seek opportunities to safely be active. In Paris, physical activity, taking the kids outside and walking a pet are all considered essential.
Recent studies show that time spent in nature benefits both your physical and mental health. It reduces stress and promotes healing and a sense of wellbeing. Try to get at least two hours outside every week. This is the minimum recommended to get the full impact.
4. Exercise: Just Do It, Dammit
The many benefits of exercise are well documented. They include improved mental health and mood, increased focus and concentration and improved sleep, to name a few…and who couldn’t use a boost in these areas right now? Even though our gyms are now closed, there are tons of online yoga and workout videos. You can still get your workout on by hitting the streets for a run, walk or cycle. Just remember to keep your social distancing of six feet from other folks.
5. Stay Connected to Friends
I’ve saved one of the best for last. If there is one sure-fire way to help you make it through these troubled times, it’s maintaining contact with your friends.
In a recent study, a Brigham Young University meta-analysis of 148 previously published studies which looked at how often people interacted and their health outcomes. The results are pretty damning. Cutting yourself off from others is not only worse than inactivity, but it is also twice as bad on your health as obesity. Social relationships are crucial to your health and wellbeing. People with stronger social relationships are happier and healthier than those with weaker social relationships.
So bust out the Zoom, Skype, FaceTime or Google Hangouts and connect with your peeps. Perhaps share a virtual cocktail hour or wine tasting?
Stay well. Stay centered. We are all in this together.