I have seen so many wonderful and helpful tools and tricks on how to cope during COVID-19. With the plethora of mental health tips and knowledge, I have summarised some emotional themes that relate to:
1) what many of us are feeling, and
2) what many of us need.
These emotional themes and needs include: Containment, Calm, Control, Connection and Compassion. If we are mindful of and intentionally tend to these 5 themes, we can powerfully, simply and effectively transform our emotional well-being.
Of course we need to feel our feelings; however, during these exceptional times, we need to intentionally find containment from our feelings as well.
Containment helps to provide boundaries around and within our thoughts, feelings, experiences, and memories, that continually trigger us and/or keep us staying in the unsettling feeling and emotional place for extended periods of time.
So, how do we introduce containment into our lives? First, we need to know what we need containment from (and this will look differently for everyone).
Try first reflecting on:
1) What are my triggers? What brings up my _____ (anxiety, depression, anger….)?
When I’m feeling _______ , where am I, what am I doing, and what am I thinking about? What does it feel like in my body?
I feel anxious when I read the news throughout the day. Even when I quickly scroll through my newsfeed, I find it leaves me feeling unsettled in my stomach and this feeling lingers well after I’ve put my phone away.
Then try reflecting on:
- What could I do to set boundaries for myself to limit my exposure or set limits on ______(my triggers).
I could find times to intentionally check the news, and that way I won’t be scrolling throughout the day, activating and continually triggering my body and anxiety. I could set an intentional time, perhaps in the morning from 8-8:30am, and that will keep me informed but will not overwhelm me.
Just as we need to intentionally take time to foster containment, we need to intentionally take time to bring calmness into our lives.
And you might be thinking, “find CALM… now…are you kidding me!! I live in a household of people…. or I have three kids!!”
I hear you and it is all the more reason why intentionally setting aside a few minutes to feel calm is so necessary and effective to get through these challenging times.
Try this for therapeutic exercise for 5 minutes. Just 5 minutes. This could be right before you drift off to sleep at night when you’ve put your kids to bed. If you go to work, this could be done in 5 minutes before you enter your house. If you have a car, this could be done in your vehicle. Find where you can carve out a few minutes and don’t be afraid to get creative.
The Calm Place
Imagine a real or imagined place that brings you calm and peace and I want you to imagine you’re there. Not that you’re looking at yourself there, you are there. You are sitting there, standing there, walking there, etc.
Once you’ve found a calm and peaceful place, put yourself into that place and then fill in the rest…..
Start with the Physical Layout- what do you see around you?
Is it outdoors, indoors? Are you at a beach, in a forest, by a cabin, etc? What naturally comes to your mind? And keep filling in the details- what’s in front of you, to the sides of you, below you and above you?
Now notice what you hear in your calm place. What sounds are you hearing now? How far away are they, what location are they coming from? Be specific.
Keep imagining yourself in your calm place. What do you smell right now as you are in your calm place?
And what do you taste right now in your calm place?
Finally, what sensations of touch are present for you in your calm place? This includes anything from what you are physically doing (if you are sitting, what are you sitting on, what does it feel like, etc), to the air temperature and weather (if it’s sunny, where does the sun meet your skin and what does that feel like?). What kinds of clothes are you wearing and what does it feel like on your body? Keep filling in what you’re feeling on and around you.
Stay in this calm place for a few more minutes, enjoying the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and sensations. Notice how your body feels and where it feels comfortable in your body. Breathing in and letting yourself come back into your space whenever you’re ready. Know that you can return to this calm place whenever you need to.
This theme of control has come up often lately, because most of us are dealing with a lot we cannot control. At a time with a lot of uncertainty and unknown, we crave order and certainty to help us feel more settled, secure and (you got it) in control. Since we have this need for control, we can intentionally satisfy it in healthy ways to make us feel better, rather than satisfying our need for control by controlling our partners, kids, or loved ones.
To satisfy our need for control, we can start small. It can be as simple as organising and cleaning out your fridge, to arranging your book-shelf or hallway closet.
And you might be thinking, “this sounds so simple and silly, will it really make a difference?” So let me answer with this: What do you feel after you have organised your tupper-wear container drawer? Or finished a project around the house? Satisfied? Accomplished? Organised? Clear-headed? More at peace?
So notice small things around you that you are able to control if you’re feeling particularly helpless, uncertain, and/or anxious about the unknown times we’re in. Know you’re not alone in these feelings and reflect on what small ways you can satisfy this human need.
In doing our part to self-isolate, this comes with some very real emotional and social consequences. We are social creatures! We crave connection!! So, how to find connections during COVID-19?
First, I am a huge believer in being mindful and evaluative of whom you connect with. If they are not safe people (*and, when talking about safety, this always includes emotional safety*), then I do not want to encourage that. There are still options beyond people to foster that sense of connection. These could include:
– Connection to Nature.
– Connection to a Higher Power (or whatever you believe in).
– Connection to an Animal. If you don’t have one, can you look up cute photos of dogs (my go-to are cute Panda videos, but it’s whatever floats your boat!).
– Connection to the World and our shared humanity. I follow positive news outlets that dedicate their news to heartwarming news stories. I look at them daily to remind myself of the incredibly kindhearted, inspirational people I have the privilege of sharing the world with.
Essentially, you want to know- how do I feel when I connect with (______).
Does it leave me feeling depleted and exhausted or settled and comforted? Tune into how you feel with what (and whom) you’re connecting with.
The last thing we need in the midst of this pandemic is to feel like “we aren’t doing it right” or “we aren’t doing enough” in some way. Our negative self- talk creeps and we think, “I am not being productive enough,” “I am not exercising enough,” or “I should be using this time to do x, y and z….”. If there are things you’d like to change as we adjust to our new normal, that’s completely fine. But we do not have to beat ourselves up about it. We are in a pandemic. Let me repeat that again, we are in a pandemic, and you are doing the best that you can with what you’ve got.
Author: Sinead Neary, MA, CCC.
Bio: Sinead is a trauma therapist and Canadian Certified Counsellor. Sinead lives and works in the Vancouver area.