Coronavirus. Pandemic. Social distancing. Isolation.
These words are distressing. So I started looking for ways to calm myself. If you’re looking for ways of how to stay calm in uncertain times, maybe this will help you like it did me.
There is certainly no shortage of people offering help and suggestions for how to stay calm and relieve stress right now. And it is a stressful time all over the world. It’s almost as if Mother Earth put us all in “time-out” for behaving badly. An oversimplification, no doubt.
Many people have offered meditations, words of comfort, and plans to put into practice while health officials try to figure out how to keep us all safe. I actually wrote a blog about how to cultivate joy long before coronavirus was a thing.
And though some of these have been helpful in helping me stay calm in uncertain times, nothing has been more apropos than an old Mindful magazine.
In it, Barry Boyce, editor-in-chief, reminds us (in Alone Together) that while meditation is something you do for yourself, it doesn’t have to be done alone and is even bolstering when done together. These days, of course, that either means the people you are actively quarantining with or doing so virtually (think FaceTime).
Many people I know love meditation, yet some people I know hate it. They say they can’t “stop thinking”. Well, maybe that’s true, we don’t stop thinking. But if we can only hold one thought in our mind at a time, then we have a choice what it is we are thinking about. Positive psychology would say, “just think positive thoughts”, kind of a Pollyanna effect.
But cultivating mindfulness is so much more than thinking positive thoughts. Cultivating mindfulness is allowing feelings of uncertainty to come to the surface and coming face-to-face with uncertainty. As Boyce points out, “the present moment is not automatically a place of rest” (Confessions of an anxious meditator, Mindful, April 2017).
Coronavirus has infected many, some have died. When health officials speak of how many people die from flu each year that doesn’t make me feel better. The frenzy that encompasses this pandemic is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Barren grocery store shelves, a neighborhood akin to ghost town when I walk my dog, my kids home from school and husband home from work, and the very real evidence that some of my close friends are ill now. All of these things point to the real threat that is coronavirus. And… it causes very real anxiety.
Sentient beings are equipped with the fight or flight response for our safety, to help us stay alive. But it works in the direct opposite way that it should, causing illness from chronic stress and inflammation of the adrenal glands, when we are quarantined and listening to all the information streaming in on 24-hour news circuits.
We are at our best when we believe we are safe, that our families are safe, and that our world is safe.
It frees us to think about work, friendships, and how to make the world a better place. Right now, we just don’t know what the next moment will bring. This sense of not-knowing-what-will-happen-next is anxiety provoking and steals our creativity and ability to be our best selves.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Anxiety, like any other feeling (emotional or physical), is a sign that we are alive. I t has the ability to spiral us into fight or flight mode, but if you stop and take a breath (or two or three) you will realize you are on to the next moment and the stressful one has already passed. As Boyce puts it, “we are surviving. The next moment awaits.”
So how can you stay calm in uncertain times?
These are some suggestions of ways to calm an anxious mind:
1. Set an intention as you sit down to relax to find peace in your heart and mind. Meditation experts would tell you to focus on your breath. If your thoughts start to roam bring them back to your breath. Rinse and repeat, keep doing that as many times as it takes (and it may take a while to train yourself).
2. Be patient with yourself and the situation you are living in. Realize that it is normal to have anxious feelings and with patience, they will pass and new feelings will arrive.
3. Don’t try to change the situation. When you fight against anything you create suffering. When you feel anxious, name it, accept it, and thank it for being there as a warning signal. Feelings are your body’s way of communicating with you.
4. Have compassion for yourself and others at this time. This situation is not easy for anyone and we are all in it together. Be kind and be helpful. Pick up items for your elderly neighbors and leave it outside their front door. You will be their hero.
5. Set limits on how often and how long you will allow yourself to listen to news reports. Don’t get consumed by the repetition of information. Pick a few reputable sources of information and leave the rest to “talk”.
6. Eat nourishing and comforting foods like soups and broths, adequate protein (mostly plant-based), organic (to avoid pesticides), fruits and vegetables (even if you cook them, like applesauce or baked broccoli), good quality fats (olive oil, avocados, flaxseeds, and nuts and seeds), and stay hydrated.
7. Drink Valerian root or lemon balm tea to calm frazzled nerves.
8. Distract yourself with a good book, a puzzle, or other project (knit, crochet, clean the basement, watch a movie, catch up on a show, draw or paint).
9. Stay physically active with yoga, or any other equipment you have at home.
10. Write about your feelings and your daily experiences. Writing is a great way to get what is in your head and heart out. Once it’s on paper it’s no longer jumbling around in your body like a ping-pong ball.