Mental Wellness Strategies to Stay Calm During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Author: Shoshana Belisle, MSW, MA, RYT, Namaste Wellness Advisor and Director of Wellness Research
During the evolving coronavirus crisis, we at Namaste recognize the significant strain being placed upon the mental wellbeing of our global community. While surrounded by confusion, fear, and anxiety, retaining a sense of normalcy, well-being and groundedness can be difficult. We believe it is paramount that we direct our attention towards supporting one another’s emotional and mental well-being during this critical time so we can move through this together and emerge stronger.
While many things remain beyond our control, it is important to remember that we can still control our internal thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. We also have the power to exercise exceptional self-care. Victor Frankl, who survived incredible hardship during the Holocaust, reminded us of this fact with his profound wisdom: “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” Even with events canceled, schools closed, and travel restrictions in place, we can choose our mindset and select how we will interpret the circumstances and respond.
As we navigate the coming weeks of uncertainty, we would like to offer several practical, evidence-based wellness tools to help you reduce stress and anxiety, summon resilience and creativity, and turn this situation into an opportunity for growth:
1) Cultivate mindfulness. Some anxiety is appropriate in the face of unknown threats. However, when fear and anxiety rise excessively, it impedes our functioning and ability to respond wisely. Mindfulness can be an exceptional tool in times of discomfort and has been shown to be very helpful in reducing symptoms of anxiety. Mindfulness involves consciously cultivating non-judgmental awareness of events and experiences. It teaches us to ride the wave of our experience, acknowledging that this reality is a moment in time that will pass. Mindfulness allows us to drop into the immediate experience of our bodies and sensations, and helps create some distance between ourselves and our thoughts and emotions. If you have a mindfulness practice, now is the time to use it. If you need assistance, our Namaste wellness team is prepared to offer instruction and support through virtual meditation sessions. If you are truly overwhelmed with fear or anxiety, seeking support from a mental health provider may be appropriate and should be pursued without shame or stigma.
2) Reaffirm your commitment to healthy lifestyle habits. Whether you are relatively healthy or dealing with chronic health conditions, seek to reduce your risk of serious illness by taking active steps to improve your baseline health through evidence-based lifestyle practices. If needed, let this be a wake-up call that it is time to take control of your health. A first step? Choose one new healthy “keystone” mini habit to anchor your new commitment. Perhaps this means starting a simple walking routine outdoors or exploring a brief daily yoga practice (both of which will also lower stress and anxiety). It need not be complicated. In fact, it needs to be small enough to be sustainable without triggering your inner rebel. A Namaste wellness coach can offer support (via virtual wellness coaching) for you as you select new wellness habits and work them into your life in a sustainable way. Namaste can also provide you with virtual fitness or yoga instruction to make your new movement habit as accessible as possible. Let this experience launch you into a new phase of healthy living that will benefit you even once this crisis has passed.
3) Check in with your basic physiological needs. In last week’s blog on wellness for improved immune function, we reviewed the importance of movement, nutrition, sleep, staying (virtually) connected, and practicing stress reduction tools to reduce your risk of stress-related illness. Addressing these physiological fundamentals can prepare you to thrive even when in crisis.
4) Rediscover nature. Get outside. Even if you are practicing social distancing, you may be able to find a park where you can take a walk or a hike. If available, experiment with forest bathing, the benefits of which include stronger immune function, improved cardiovascular health, enhanced mood, and lower stress levels. Being outside also reminds us of our place in the larger systems of nature and of life. This awareness can be humbling and may allow us to put our problems into perspective.
5) Extend kindness to someone. Reaching out to others is exceptional medicine. Acts of kindness boost our well-being and create an atmosphere of compassion. Altruism even reduces depression and boosts longevity. Given the current disruptions in our communities, we are presented with numerous opportunities to be of service. Maybe make a meal for a vulnerable family member, donate to a charitable relief organization, or simply run an errand for someone under quarantine. Not only will this have others feel supported, it will lift your spirits and help to reduce anxiety.
6) Watch something funny. If you are going to binge-watch videos when stuck at home, choose comedy when possible. Health care providers have known for years that laughing is good for your health. It lowers stress, reduces pain, and improves immune function. Additionally, limit the media that you are consuming through movies, television, internet news and social media. If your consumption of fear-based news is triggering an anxious response, notice this phenomenon and take control, lower your exposure, and redirect your attention. Watch something that makes you laugh and feel lighter.
7) Reach out for support. We are social beings, and social distancing challenges the fabric of our fundamental needs. Thankfully, virtual tools can offer relief and connection. If you are isolated, make efforts to reach out to both offer and receive support. This is vital to long-term wellbeing. Namaste has bolstered its virtual offerings to make sure we are here to offer coaching, fitness, yoga, and meditation sessions to anyone regardless of location.
8) What is your silver lining? For many of us, the current disruption creates an opportunity to question the status quo, critically examine our responsibilities, explore a new hobby, enjoy much-needed rest, or connect with family members in a meaningful way. As much as possible, focus on the unexpected gifts of disruption. Are you able to see your life in a new light or feel grateful for something you have taken for granted?
Finally, even in crisis, we can decide to remain optimistic. Yes, this can be a decision. As unbelievable as this may seem, optimism is associated with better health outcomes and longevity and is worth cultivating. We do not suggest falling into denial or ignorance; we should all be informed and rooted in reality. We also must acknowledge and grieve the significant losses that many have sustained. But do not get stuck in fight-or-flight fear mode. Imagine several months from now when we are past this crisis. Let that vision guide you and replenish a sense of peace and hope. Humanity is remarkably resilient. Let’s weather the storm together and support one another in feeling as whole and well as possible. We are here to offer compassion, support, and resources. Please reach out so we can connect and move through this experience together.