It appears that the word “pandemic” has struck fear into the hearts of many. As mental health practitioners, the possibility that millions of people around the world are in the grips of fear is more concerning to us than the mysterious disease that is at the source of the panic.
If there is any silver lining to be found in this situation, it’s the attention it places on the importance of practices we should continue to practice to promote and maintain wellness. Washing your hands, not touching your face, and keeping your distance from others when you are sick are some practices that we agree are a good thing to do all the time.
Supporting your mental health is an aspect of staying healthy that unfortunately gets far less attention and yet is one of the most effective ways of boosting your immune system. Here are some strategies you might consider incorporating and maintaining to counter any anxiety you might be experiencing in support of your wellness
- Practice deep breathing/relaxation techniques. These practices boost the part of your nervous system that cares for all of the restorative functions of the body, including your immunity. One of our therapists, Gabrielle Iwaskow has recorded an exercise called Progressive Muscle Relaxation. You can access it here.
- Unplug. The constant pings and notifications that take us out of the present reality too many times to count is a form of stress. Now that more of us will be working from home, the risk of staying connected for longer periods of time is greater than ever. Consider turning your notifications off and checking in at times that you determine and are best suited to you (vs the other way around)
- Be mindful of the information you consume. The 24/7 news cycle is full of alarms and little direction regarding what to do with the information. Consider replacing sensationalized media with evidence-based information. Here is a great article from the Globe and Mail from a medical journalist that strikes a good balance. You can read it here.
- Stay connected with each other. Community is one of the most important resources we have for all aspects of health. One of the risks we are concerned about is people becoming even more isolated. For those fortunate to live with loved ones, take the opportunity to do things you enjoy and that allows you to experience presence, together. Cook beautiful food, enjoy meals, have great conversation, make music, tell stories, play games..whatever will keep you feeling engaged and connected. And if being together physically is not possible for whatever reason, consider using the technology available to have these experiences together through the internet.
- Practice Mindful Presence. Set the intention to focus on one thing for a period of time. It might be your breath. It might be a cup of tea. It might be petting your dog. It doesn’t matter what it is. Just set the intention to focus on it. When your mind wanders somewhere else (and know that this will happen), just gently come back to the intended focus. Notice how you feel. Repeat.
- Practice Gratitude. Gratitude is indeed the antidote to fear. It keeps us grounded in what we actually have and cues the brain to notice positive experiences and lean into them even more. Noticing moments of joy and the things you do well on a daily basis are some additional practices that are proven to foster resiliency. This is why I included them in the Growing Forward Journal, the guided journal I created to help people grow consciously through whatever life brings. You can download a free copy here to use and follow.
- Be present with what is…even if that includes thoughts you’d rather not have. It’s better to allow the thoughts than to resist them. As long as we regard them as just that …thoughts. You have a gazillion thoughts and not all of them are useful. In fact, many of them are nonsense. If that sounds insulting, take that as a sign that you might be too attached to your thoughts, and might even identify with them as being a part of you. They aren’t you. The fact that you can notice them is an indication that there is a “you” that is separate from your thoughts. So just notice them. The practices outlined in the points above will help. Journaling can help too. We are a big fan of journaling because it gives the thoughts a place to go so you can notice them and then decide what you want to do with them. Giving them a physical place also helps to contain them, reducing their chance of making havoc from behind the scenes. If you make this a practice, they are less likely to pop up at times when you’d rather be focusing on something else. And there are some physical benefits for this too. Journaling for 15 minutes a day about anything that is emotionally relevant shows benefits for every indicator of physical health (blood pressure, sugar levels, hormones, you name it). Emotions are energy. When it gets used and processed it frees up more energy that will mobilize you vs weigh you down.
- Practice a Growth Mindset. I developed the Growing Forward Journal precisely for times like these. I consider this game time. It doesn’t matter if you have never practiced. You can start today and learn how to leverage this time of chaos to become even better.
Download the journal here and consider using it in this way…
Start the day with free writing in the space provided and end the day with the 3 resiliency practices of moving moments of competence, gratitude and joy.
After 7 days, you will be prompted to look back and reflect on whatever you notice in your past entries, which is information you can use to inspire how you might choose to grow forward.
Again you can download the journal here.
As this is an evolving situation, know that we remain committed to continuing to be that place of balance and support.
We welcome any questions or suggestions you might have for how we can continue to be of best service to you in the days and weeks ahead.
Be well. Our hearts and minds are with you.
Dr. Stacy and the Design Your Life Team