I decided to start my day without the news. I took the morning slowly, preparing a nourishing breakfast, drinking my coffee mindfully, meditating with a guided meditation on fear, soaking in the tub with calming music.
After all of this, I thought I would be mentally and spiritually prepared to look at the news on my phone. I was wrong. The first few stories I read ramped up my stress response and sent me into a spiral of anxiety. I closed the app and without any hesitation, I deleted it.
While I know it is important to stay up to date on the latest guidelines and health recommendations, I do not need all the fear-mongering that is our news cycle. As Sargent Joe Friday said on the 1960’s crime show, Dragnet, “All we want are the facts Ma’am.” Amen to that. I don’t need all the doom and gloom predictions, please. Just the facts, thank you.
In this time of the coronavirus pandemic, taking care of ourselves mentally is as important as guarding our physical health. We are facing changes to our world that we neither wanted nor anticipated. We are filled with fear and anxiety over what might happen, and how bad it’s really going to be. Our need to feel in control of our lives has been ripped out from under us like the proverbial rug, and we are in a free-fall.
All of this is the perfect recipe for anxiety, stress, and ultimately depression, if we are not proactive in protecting ourselves. That is why I decided to delete my news app. I will be of no use to my family or others if I am a total wreck from ingesting a steady diet of the fear and negativity. I can get the information I need from the CDC’s website and one other trusted news source that stays away from sensationalism.
Acknowledging Our Fear
“Acknowledging, recognizing and acting on mental distress in these uncertain times is key to lessening the impact,” says Katherine Ponte.
I think it is important for us to be willing to acknowledge our fear and anxiety. We can’t act on it if we are in denial. That is why it was easy for me to delete the news app. I immediately recognized the signs of stress in my body and I know it is not healthy.
Some of us think we are supposed to be strong, especially if we have had a longstanding spiritual practice of any kind. It feels like we should be able to handle all this with the equanimity of a yogi, staying calm and being an oasis for everyone else.
Certainly, our spiritual practice will hold us steady at this time, but I think we need to recognize that we are first, and foremost, human, and the human thing to do right now is freak out a little. Or a lot. It’s ok. We need to extend some grace towards ourselves right now. But we also need to make sure we are protecting our mental health in whatever ways we can.
On the NAMI website, Katherine Ponte details some of the mental health risks during this frightening time and some of the ways we can mitigate those risks. NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is a great source of encouragement and information, and one that has been a life-saver for me when a loved one was experiencing a mental health crisis years ago. Their website has many good tips for coping with the crisis in ways that will protect your mental health. This is not just for those who suffer mental illness, but for all of us in these unsettling times.
We are all being affected by the coronavirus and we need coping strategies to help us get through the uncertainty.
“Anxiety related to the coronavirus is to be expected. A survey of Chinese citizens published in February found that 42.6% of respondents experienced anxiety related to the coronavirus outbreak,” Ponte says.
The fears that can cause us anxiety are many, from losing a family member to the virus, getting the virus ourselves, losing our life savings, shortage of vital supplies like food and medicine, losing our jobs and having to cancel important milestone events like weddings or funerals.
According to the Healthline website, symptoms of general anxiety include:
- increased heart rate
- rapid breathing
- trouble concentrating
- difficulty falling asleep
Many of us are experiencing some or all of these symptoms right now. When we recognize that our bodies are responding to our anxious thoughts and creating stress, we can counteract that with these breathing exercises, prayer, this meditation or physical activity.
If you find it impossible to concentrate or get out of your head, sitting outside in nature can help. A study in England based on 20,000 interviews showed that just two hours a week of nature were enough to significantly boost health and well-being. You don’t have to do anything, just sitting on a bench is enough.
When I find myself anxious and unable to focus on anything, sitting outside is the perfect antidote. If I can pull a few weeds or water some plants, all the better. The point is to get outside as much as you can. Take a walk, do some gardening, throw the ball for the dog or the kids. Just get outside.
With social distancing being mandated and many businesses and schools closed, loneliness can become a problem for many people. If we are sequestered in our homes, we can miss our family and friends, and feeling isolated can trigger depression and other health issues.
Scientific evidence proves that social interaction benefits our health. This is concerning for everyone at this time, but especially for our elder population who may not be as tech savvy or have the devices for staying connected like younger people do.
Staying connected is more important than ever, and if you know someone who is isolated and alone, please reach out to them via Skype, FaceTime, email, text or phone.
If you have an elder in your life, call them often to check in with them and let them know you are available to listen to their concerns, or talk about whatever they want to talk about.
If you are experiencing loneliness, speak up. Tell someone you trust that you are lonely and ask to connect regularly. Find groups online that are supportive and positive. Find a community Facebook group and get to know some people in your area. Call an old friend that you haven’t heard from in a while.
Our social connections are vital to our physical and mental health and we need them now more than ever. Being proactive in this area will go a long way to preserving your mental well-being.
Many of us are mentally exhausted. We have been glued to the news, talking about the pandemic, reading about it and worrying about it for days now. This is the time to step back and evaluate all the input and shut some of it down. Delete your news app like I did. Limit yourself to checking the news once a day, and choose your news source carefully.
Give your mind a chance to rest by distracting yourself with funny movies, playing an instrument, dancing in the kitchen or reading to your children. Our life is what is happening while we are glued to the news. Don’t miss the only chance you will ever get to live, and that is in this present moment.
Caring for Yourself and Your Family
According to Katherine Ponte on the NAMI website, “It’s essential to make your health a priority during this time. The critical self-care activities are sleep, physical exercise and a healthy diet. Find ways to address forms of stress, such as journaling, going for walks or calling a loved one. Maintaining a sense of normality and routine can also reduce stress.”
Making sure our children feel loved and safe is a priority, too. They are looking to us to show them how to handle a crisis. This doesn’t mean we have to do it perfectly, and we may melt down and totally lose it from time to time. That’s ok. What they really need from us is assurance that we are going to be there to take care of them. When we model coping strategies for them, we are giving them tools for their toolkit that will carry them through life.
The Amazing Generosity of Humans
One thing we can do for ourselves and our families is to take advantage of all the amazing things that are being offered free online during this time of shared trouble. The generosity of others is heartwarming and also encouraging. Many musicians are giving free, impromptu concerts from their living rooms. Authors and actors are reading children’s books on social media for children and families who are at home.
One of my favorites is Patrick Stewart reading Shakespeare sonnets on his Facebook page. And children’s book author and illustrator, Mo Willems, is hosting a Lunch Doodle every day until the 31st for kids to learn to draw simple cartoons.
There is so much good happening in the world right now, right alongside all the grim and dire. It is smart for us to stay informed, but once we reach saturation, it is time to turn our attention to all the beauty that is still available to us every moment of every day.
Protect your mental health. Be gentle with yourself and with others. Go outside and breathe. Move your body. Sleep. Watch some funny movies and chat on Facetime with those you love and miss. Like all things, this will pass, but it is the care you take now of your mental health that will enable you to go forward into the new reality with strength.