In the past few weeks, we have seen life as we know it turned upside down. Our foundations, and much of what we considered to be our basic reality, have been badly shaken. Remaining buoyant in the face of chaos and maintaining equilibrium in the midst of turbulence on this global scale is something few of us have had much experience with. Every one of us is, to say the least, flailing a bit, trying to find our way. Many are ramping up alcohol intake and/or prescription and recreational drug use to escape the madness.

The reaction is understandable but I am urging everyone to step away from the wine glass, put down the edibles and try going deep into self-care mode instead. The mission: to use this time to do the things that improve health, not undermine it. Though I don’t claim to have all the answers, here are a few thoughts on how you can support mind, body and spirit as we move through these times together:

1) Start with a calm foundation.

Mornings in the midst of the coronavirus can be extra stressful so get yours off to a cooler start.  Upon rising, take at least five minutes to meditate. It’ll help you start the day in a healthy way – with a calmer nervous system, lowered blood pressure and less ratcheted-up state of mind. Now that you’re probably not rushing to get everyone off to school and yourself to the office, try to meditate for a bit longer, say 10 to 20 minutes, to enjoy even more these benefits.

2) Design your ‘new normal.’

Beyond our real concerns about catching or spreading this coronavirus, the sheer disruption of our everyday routines is apparent from the moment we get out of bed. Without the usual morning rush, school drop-offs, and office commutes, it’s easy to feel untethered, sad or depressed. Instead of heading down that slippery slope, create a new routine and stick to it. Don’t linger in bed, get up, take control of what you can and get moving. Shower, get dressed, have a to-do list and check off the boxes as you go. You’ll bring a sense of order, purpose and structure to the day – and give yourself a new routine to work with for the duration.

3) Keep the volume down.

As many of us will be ‘sheltering in place’ over the next few weeks, keeping the vibe at home as chill as possible will help maintain family harmony, or at least keep anxiety levels at a more manageable level. If the TV is blaring a constant stream of “Breaking News!’ flashes at you and the kids while you’re eating breakfast, everyone is going to suffer.

Even if you find gorging on the news relieves your stress, be conscious that for others it may simply be adding fuel to their anxiety fire. If you absolutely can’t live without 24/7 news, then discreetly check your phone to keep the upsetting visuals and audio from alarming others.

4) Control the conversation (a little).

Our social lives are going to be quite different for the foreseeable future, so consider keeping conversations with friends and neighbors on the lighter side to help keep anxiety levels down. If there are those in your life who enjoy deep dives on every possible doomsday scenario, and you don’t, allow them a few minutes to speak their piece and graciously change the subject. Recuse yourself from the conversation if they don’t take the hint.

Got close friends who love to kvetch, and now have more time to do it? Here too, be prepared to gently and politely steer conversations in a more positive direction or, if need be, end them a little sooner than you normally might. Remember, putting your sanity first isn’t a selfish act, it’s an act of self-preservation.

5) Manage your mind.

Though the internet is a marvelous thing, it is not without its downsides. Right now, the volume of news, be it bad or good, real or fake, is exhausting our brains. And there’s no shortage of non-stop commentary, snark and negative chatter to be had on Twitter, Facebook, Tik Tok and thousands of other platforms. So how about letting go of a lot of it? Now is an excellent time to turn off the social media fire hose (or at least cut it down to a trickle) and give your mind the gift of more quiet time. How to spend it? Doing simple pleasurable things – reading a book, meditating, appreciating your back yard or the stars at night, whatever works for you. 

6) De-stress with breath.

To tamp down stress and relieve tension on demand, access the power of mindful breathing – it’s a self-soothing tool and can be done just about anywhere, at any time, and here’s how to do it:

Basic Abdominal Breathing Technique  

  • Find a quiet spot where you won’t be disturbed.
  • Get into a relaxed position whether lying down or sitting up.
  • Put your hands on your abdomen, close your mouth gently, touch your tongue to your upper palate, and breathe through your nose. If your nose is blocked for any particular reason it is fine to breathe through your mouth.
  • Inhale deeply and slowly into your abdomen (rather than your chest), being aware of your diaphragm moving downward and your abdomen expanding. Your hands on your abdomen will feel the expansion like a balloon filling.
  • At the end of the inhalation, don’t hold the breath; exhale slowly, so that your abdomen falls automatically as you exhale.
  • Try to get all the breath out of your lungs on the expiration. The expiration should normally be about twice as long as the inhalation when you get relaxed.
  • Keep repeating this, keeping your focus on your hands rising on the abdomen as you inhale and falling as you exhale.

7) You’ve got to move it.

No need to start training for a marathon when you haven’t moved off the couch in months but, in these challenging times, some daily exercise is essential for your physical and mental well-being. Keep your social distance and walk outdoors, chase the kids around the yard, dance around your living room or sign up for one of the thousands of live on-line fitness classes being offered on Zoom and Skype by temporarily displaced fitness instructors. Doing so will improve your circulation, get your heart rate up, help you look better and feel better. And better still, exercise will encourage the brain to release those happiness-inducing endorphins, aka ‘Mother Nature’s happy hormones,’ which help elevate mood. 

8) Give to others.

The relentless stress we’re under now can put people in a near-constant state of anxiety and exhaustion from riding multiple daily waves of negative emotions. One way to combat the emotional roller-coaster is to find some way of giving to others, or supporting an organization that is fighting the good fight. Though face-to-face contact is not an option at the moment, giving time (virtually) or money will help provide you with a greater sense of community – in the midst of this very isolating time – and help blunt some of those feelings of powerlessness and anxiety. On a more local level, if you can, pick up some essentials for a neighbor; walk an elderly person’s dog; or make daily check-in calls with those who live on their own and may be feeling lonely.

9) Spread Ubuntu, not anger.

When frightened, or angry, or depressed, some people will lash out, with or without good reason. You can overhear some of that in those long supermarket lines. Maybe you’ve done it yourself. But next time, instead of lashing out, look inward and practice the African spiritual practice of  ‘ubuntu,’ which basically means: what makes us human is the humanity we show each other. It’s about basic caring, having respect and compassion for others. Ubuntu helps build bridges between people instead of chasms, so practice daily!

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