Dr. Kira Bartlett
April 20, 2020
Who knew a few months ago that we would be living through such a bizarre time, a global pandemic unlike anything most of us have seen in our lifetime? The myriad ways we connected through work, family and friendships that we took for granted are now seemingly distant memories. Learning new phrases and skills such as social distancing, flattening the curve and how to navigate zoom Seders and Easter dinners are becoming all too familiar. As we enter week 4 or 5 (I find it easier not to know…), I am taking this moment to reflect on tools to stay calm and centered. As a psychologist and meditation teacher, I have tried to gather a few ideas here.
- Let go.
We should not feel pressured to make the “most” of this pandemic. Just as many schools are moving to pass/fail, we should too. Sometimes just getting through each day is a victory. We are all struggling in different ways. Have compassion for yourself and others. We will all come through this.
And hopefully, we will also recognize a new normal for ourselves that gives rise to a kind of post traumatic growth. Perhaps we will take our newly learned methods of self-care, and use them in new ways we can utilize as we move forward once this time ends. I for one have found such joy in realizing we are making and eating more family dinners together. We are laughing more as we discover a renewed love of puzzles and inventing a family jeopardy game complete with a dressed-up host!
- This is temporary.
Of course, no one can say exactly how long we will need to maintain social distance, but we do know it is NOT forever (even though it feels like it). Reminding ourselves of the temporary nature of this situation, especially when we feel our minds spiraling out of control, can be an important mantra. I like “this too will pass” or “I am here now.”
- Acknowledge and name the loss and the grief.
An illness or loss of a family member or friend due to the virus is, of course, the most extreme loss. And in this case, that loss is compounded by the inability to be present for them in the hospital or with others at a funeral or other service.
But cancelled concerts, parties, weddings, trips and graduations are all real losses as well. Not getting to see work and school colleagues and acquaintances is a reminder there are parts of our lives we did not realize contributed to our sense of identity. An article in the Harvard Business Review by Scott Berinato detailed this beautifully: https://hbr.org/2020/03/that-discomfort-youre-feeling-is-grief. His reference to anticipatory grief (worries about unknown future events) is invaluable in understanding the way our minds move forward in an effort to protect us, but this effort ultimately creates more anxiety and stress.
And for those women and couples who are pregnant, undergoing fertility treatments or on an adoptive or surrogacy journey, this time can bring unique challenges. Now is a time to increase connection with others in similar situations for virtual support. Finding an online support group through organizations suited to your specific needs such as Postpartum Support International or Resolve will be useful.
- Stay present and grounded in the here and now.
Our bodies are holding onto the stress and worry of this time amid the constant overstimulation of challenging news and social media posts. Monitor your diet of news, and make sure to try to ground yourself with some yoga positions and breathing exercises. As the weather thankfully is improving, being outdoors safely can be a very important aspect of grounding and centering yourself. Grounding literally means reminding ourselves where we are – “I feel my feet on the ground”, “I see the tree out the window.” These are ways to recenter our minds back to the present moment, an important focus when it is so easy to get caught up in one’s worries and fears about the future.
- Keep some degree of structure.
We are certainly off our normal routine. My kids are staying up later and using their screens much more than I would like. However, I am trying to keep some semblance of structure, so we all know what to expect as much as possible. My partner and I are both doing therapy with clients remotely while managing our three sons’ homeschooling. This means each day is bit different for our schedules. We try to discuss our days the night before to give the kids a sense of when we are starting and ending our days as well as when we are available throughout the day. For myself, I try to fit in my needs, some form of exercise, meditation, and time outside even if it’s just walking the dog some days.
- What makes me feel good?
Asking yourself this simple question is a key component of self-care. It can be different for all of us. And right now is a great time to experiment. Always wanted to try meditation? Take your pick from a variety of free online apps or free and reduced cost classes with studios all over! Recognize that you do not need 30 minutes. The research on meditation shows that even just 9 minutes of daily practice can literally change your brain! And we know that even just 3 deep inhales and exhales can help shift your nervous system from the sympathetic (fight or flight) to the parasympathetic (relaxation response).
Research from positive psychology indicates the power of a gratitude practice. When we draw our attention to the positive and the silver linings, we tend to notice more of those things moving forward. This can be as simple as creating a short daily list of 5 things you are grateful for, both large and small, and really thinking about them as you acknowledge each item.
Maybe reconnecting with nature is your version of meditation. New outdoor mindfulness programs are popping up all over with good reason. Hiking is making a major comeback as we all try to get out of our homes and get some Vitamins D and N (for nature).
Some of us find joy in baking and cooking and there has never been a better time to try new recipes or just use up some of the food you’ve been saving in your freezer or cupboard. If that’s not your joy, you can support local businesses and stay safe by ordering in from a local restaurant. Most are delivering or doing curbside pickup.
Lastly, look for ways to help others. Yes, this may sounds counterintuitive, as I have encouraged you to take care of yourself. However, we know that helping others has a wonderful side benefit of making us feel great too. Give a note of appreciation to the sanitation worker, the FreshDirect delivery person, the mailman, to all those essential workers on the front lines… or put your money where your mouth is and send some food to a local hospital. This can help you cultivate compassion not just for those who are out there helping on the front lines, but for all of us.