How to survive pandemic stress, isolation and uncertainty
'We can find refuge in ourselves and each other,' says Winnipeg mindfulness therapist
As a mental health professional, I've been asked to offer some mental health tips that may be helpful during the COVID-19 pandemic that has affected all of us.
Apparently my mental health tips come from my dog Cedar, an eight-month-old Pomeranian-husky mix.
You see, Cedar's paw on my arm reminds me to pause, slow down and be aware.
Building this concept of awareness invites us to be more compassionate toward ourselves and others.
It also allows us to take things day by day and moment by moment.
The body likes … predictability. It makes us feel safe- Narda Singh
We can trust that everything that happens on the surface of our lives is temporary, and that beneath all of the events currently happening, we can find refuge in ourselves and each other.
Often we move through the day in a fairly distracted state that some call "automatic pilot."
But the idea is this: we can actually manage stresses more effectively if we're present; we have more options for wise decisions when we respond, rather than react.
Eat, pray, love
In my opinion, prayer is also a very helpful tool to get us through this time — remembering that there is a larger view and a larger source beyond the small self.
My dog's routine doesn't change. She needs predictability, comfort, contact, nourishment, exercise and rest.
Keeping a sleep routine — as if we were still going to work or school — allows us to feel a sense of predictability when the world does not.
The body likes this sense of predictability. It makes us feel safe.
Similarly, having a routine for the day or week opens up the feeling of agency over our lives during a time when there is such a strong undercurrent of unknowing.
Dr. Google isn't always your best friend. Fear begets fear- Narda Singh
If we live with others, we may enjoy an embrace and contact.
If we don't, we have screens and technology that allow us to gaze into another's eyes or hear their voice — again, very calming for the nervous system.
We may have a pet that provides this comfort. (Cedar demands a gaze into her baby blues.)
Also notice when we need privacy and space.
We are spending more time than ever with other beings and may be overwhelmed by this.
Therefore, giving ourselves permission for time to be alone is also important.
Cedar loves to curl up on her own bed in her own corner, as much as she loves attention. It is her time to restore and rest.
Eat healthy meals and watch the junk food intake.
We can invite a sense of pleasure into our meals by eating with others, either in real time or using our technology, to share the experience of eating together.
But loading up on sugar, fat and processed foods, which feels pleasurable in the moment, ends up being more stressful for the body and our immune system.
That doesn't tend to positively impact the feeling we have about ourselves, nor, in turn, our moods.
(In other words, some Milk-Bones are okay, Cedar — but not too many.)
Less news, more laughter
Carefully manage the amount of news we listen to — and listen to reliable sources.
Dr. Google isn't always your best friend. Fear begets fear.
Find a balance between being informed and consuming news and information for long periods of time.
(You can't listen to all the dogs barking all day long.)
TV shows, chat groups, Zoom get-togethers, six-feet-apart conversations, funny memes — they all can offer the body a sense of release as we counterbalance the state of high alert and looking out for threats and danger.
Experience small joys, laugh at ourselves, invite in a sense of silliness and play!
Cedar and a little red squirrel have a pretty good game of chase going on, as they bark and chitter at one another.
Walk outside, breathe the fresh air, fill the lungs, exercise, practice yoga, do short indoor workouts.
Feel the aliveness of the body, discharge some of the stress we hold, and bring the body to calm or self-regulation.
How unsettled would Cedar be without her daily walk?
Grounding exercises to enhance self-regulation can look something like engaging the five senses in an intentional way: looking at a beautiful image, smelling a freshly cut fruit, the taste of something refreshing, the feel of a warm blanket, the sound of nature or a favourite piece of music.
We have been here before in the history of the world and we have survived pandemics- Narda Singh
Watching Cedar chewing on a stick is an exercise in observing embodied focus and relaxation.
As far as humans go, we tend to take our thoughts pretty seriously, and we can become quite trapped in certain patterns of thought.
If we notice that we're becoming trapped in the thought loop of control, for example, try to recognize what we can control and learn to let go of what we can't control — especially when it comes to others' behaviours.
For example, I can control how much toilet paper I buy, but I cannot control what my neighbour does, so I will let go of that concern.
We can choose to behave with kindness and grace.
We have been here before in the history of the world and we have survived pandemics. We have tools to help us through these times, be they ancient practices or emerging technologies.
Let's try to stay in our integrity as best as we can. Remember that we are all in this together — all beings everywhere.
And don't forget to wash your paws.