Our way of life has massively shifted this week, and my hope is that you are doing your best to take care of your emotional well-being. I want to share some resources and potential insight on tips so that you have the tools to emotionally support yourself for the weeks — and potentially months — to come. Please feel free to share this “care package” with family, friends, colleagues and anyone that you think may benefit from some or all of the below information.*
One thing that the pandemic is teaching us is the extent to which we are all connected; our individual health is only as strong as our community’s health and vice versa.
Whatever you are experiencing emotionally is NORMAL. There may be a natural mourning process as we grieve the loss of our former way of life and adapt to the changes of our new daily routine and setting. This process can take time. Change can be about loss, loss is about mourning, and mourning involves a negotiation with acceptance. The negotiation with acceptance can involve moments of disbelief, irritability, sadness, a lack of motivation, and challenges with concentration. Additionally, there may be fluctuations in appetite and disturbances in sleep patterns. AGAIN, this is NORMAL.
Because many of us in our community have no direct experience with a pandemic, there is a natural potential fear of the unknown and uncertainty which can prompt anxiety, panic, numbness and rage. This is also NORMAL. Acknowledging and normalizing our personal emotional experience offers us a pathway to invite self-compassion. If we know what we are feeling and know that our experience is valid, chances are we are better equipped to be nice to ourselves. You can literally say to yourself, “What I am feeling is normal, and I am going to be nice to me.”
So now that we have some education and normalization on our potential experience, what else might be helpful?
1. Practice tools that regulate your nervous system if you’re feeling off your center. Use your body’s innate resources:
A — Visually orient to your environment. Pause and notice the objects in the room, the shape of the objects, the distance of the objects from you and the distance of the objects from other objects. Notice the colors in the room that stand out for you. Allow your eyes, neck, and head to explore and be curious about the surrounding room. This is a way to bring yourself into the present moment.
B — Notice that you have feet. Take a couple of beats to feel your feet on the ground. Push into the ground and activate your leg muscles and notice the lower part of your body.
C — Observe the support of the physical world around you. Identify where your body is coming into direct contact with the physical world. Feel and notice your skin.
D — If you identify a sensation in a part of your body that is activated and needs attention, place the palm of your hand over that area and notice what changes. (This is what somatic therapists refer to as a self-contact exercise.)
E — If you identify the absence of sensation in a part of the body, place the palm of your hand over that body part and observe.
2. Implement a flexible structure while maintaining boundaries:
A — Create a realistic daily to-do list. Having a roadmap for the day can help contain your day. It provides direction, gives you something to focus your attention on, promotes a sense of competency when you check something off the list, and offers a sense that there is movement and shape to your day. Start with items that take priority, and remember to also check your expectations. Stay flexible. We have no template for the change we are experiencing. Finding your unique rhythm may take some time. You have the opportunity to create your own template for the day, and remember that rituals and patterns ground us.
B — Make sure to be mindful of setting aside time to eat as part of your day. Do your best to keep the sleep routine you had prior to the self-shelter mandate. Watch out for behaviors that may be excessive and escapist. We can easily fall into engaging in excessive eating and excessive substance use — remember alcohol is a substance — to cope with challenging emotions and sensations. The objective here is to maintain a healthy and strong immune system — protect your sleep, eat well, be mindful of overindulging.
C — Set boundaries. Be careful of too much social media and news consumption. Set aside specific times of the day for these activities as well as a time limit for them. Consuming too much of these can increase anxiety and prompt low grade mood states. Separately, because we do not all have the same support systems, some of us may be encountering energy vampires in our lives. Remember again that the goal is to maintain a healthy immune system and if your cup is running low, your first priority is self-preservation. There are trained professionals that are equipped to provide support to individuals who are struggling. They are called therapists and life coaches. You don’t need to carry the weight alone. You can lovingly and compassionately refer someone you know to a professional so that s/he/they can benefit from professional support — refer, refer, refer.
3. Where you place your attention is where you put your power:
A — The fear of the unknown and the fear of uncertainty can be balanced out if you focus on what’s within your control. Acknowledge whatever is out of your control in the moment.
B — Accept that whatever is out of your control is indeed out of your control. Know the difference.
C — Finally, redirect your attention to what is within your control and take back your power.
4. Play! Children and adults alike have a basic human need for fun, play and movement. It is crucial that we gift ourselves with moments of joy, laughter, and social connection which can take many forms:
A — Move your body. Going out for 30-minute walks alleviates mild depression and lowers stress. Listen to music that makes you dance and DANCE. Reach out to a trainer you know and see if they can train you by video. Many instructors and gyms are providing free sessions on Instagram Live and YouTube. Search for a Zumba class or a yoga class that meets your level of movement.
B — Socialize on-line. Have dinner with a friend or friends on FaceTime, Zoom, or Google Hangouts. Have a virtual game night. If you feel safe with your family, connect with them too. Reach out to family members who you may not have spoken to or seen in a while.
C — If you have pets, PLAY WITH THEM. This may be a time to deepen your bond with your animal friend.
D — Fun for some people does not require a need for stimulation. Take a second to find joy in stillness. Listening to silence can be quite fruitful and can invite wonder and creativity. Restock the well.
5. Finally, KNOW your privilege and be of service. Nothing feels as good as giving.
A — We don’t all have the same resources. Find your own way to be of service during this time if you can. There are organizations that need help with time, goods, or financial donations. Perhaps there is an elderly person in your building or neighborhood or a person with physical impairments that could use your support.
B — Another great way to be of service is offering a smile to whomever you see when you go out for your essentials. Practice kindness and hone your patience. Be aware of the energy you bring into the world.
Of course, always be mindful of following all the CDC guidelines whenever leaving your home. Links for additional resources and support are below.
Remember, we’re all in this together. If we all take care of ourselves, we’re taking care of the community.
Share the care.
José F. Mata, MA, LMFT
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
Academy of Cognitive Therapy, Diplomat
EMDR Practitioner, EMDR Institute
Somatic Experiencing Practitioner-L1
Boston University — Course Facilitator
FB: The Held Space
Covid19 Los Angeles Community Resources
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Emotions Are Contagious — Deepak Chopra
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI — COVID-19 RESOURCES)