According to a recent New York times article 1, 30% of people report being depressed or anxious during this current Covid-19 pandemic. In my coaching practice, I find that most people are experiencing some level of uneasiness, angst and sadness during this time. Human beings are social animals, so to stay home and isolate goes against the grain. Our brains and bodies are meant to be in connection with others, through physical touch and close proximity. The pandemic is making us do what is unnatural and unhealthy.
During this challenging time of isolation and increasing anxiety, it is time to amp up your coping skills. Try these steps to calm yourself. The first one is in the right order – notice your body first – but the others can be done in any sequence:
1. Notice the physical symptoms and breathe, darn it, breathe 2!
Your body is an early warning system for your emotions. Notice what happens when you get upset or triggered. I can actually feel a squirt of adrenaline from the adrenal glands in my stomach, and I know that means I am feeling anxious or threatened. Your symptoms could also be tension in the shoulders, feeling redness in your face or neck, a quickened heartbeat or sweaty palms. Notice when this happens, and stop what you are doing. Breathe! Breathe from your stomach and feel your breath going all the way down to your feet. This will ground you in your body, and from there you can respond more maturely rather than react without thinking.
2. Challenge your automatic interpretation. Ask yourself, “What else could possibly be true?”
We all have patterns of thinking and make up stories in our heads about what a threat means to us. For example, my immediate thoughts when upset usually go to self-blame and all the things I might have done wrong. Take a moment and identify what your go-to reactive thoughts usually are. Some automatic thoughts might be, “That dirty so-and-so! It’s all the other person’s fault.” or “I can’t believe I’ve been left out again.” Notice these triggers and breathe!
Then, ask yourself, “ What else could possibly be true?” You see, usually there are many other explanations for what just happened, and they usually do not have anything to do with you. Don Miguel Ruiz, in The Four Agreements, says, “What others say and do is a projection of their own reality.” 3
3. Do something physical.
Try jumping jacks , right at your computer, when you are triggered. Or running in place. Better yet, get outside and take a vigorous walk. When adrenaline has been released in your body, the best way to disperse it is physical activity. You know the “fight or flight” syndrome? In the wild, animals react to threats by running away or fighting, both of which use up the neurochemicals released due to the threat. This will clear your head.
4. Talk to an empathetic friend.
Empathy is the quickest way to calm a threatened human. Find a friend who can listen to you without judgment and will say things like, “You have every right to feel that way,” or “I can see how upset you are.” Talk it out with this individual. It is so important to share your upset story because once we share it, it is “out there” rather than “in your head” only. You gain perspective by telling another person about it. The worst thing you can do with an upset is to keep it to yourself. An unshared trigger event becomes a lot bigger, more important, and distorted than it needs to be. Talk it out.
In these uncertain times, let us concentrate on learning tools and techniques that help us now and into the future. These four steps are a great start.
1 Emma Goldberg, “For Long-Haulers, Covid-19 Takes a Toll on Mind as Well as Body,” The New York Times, 7 Sept. 2020.
2 Rick Carson, Tame your Gremlin
3 Don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements
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