Posted by Marlie Standen on March 31, 2020
Written by Marlie Standen, MSW RSW
Global Pandemic.State of Emergency. We’re continuously and constantly bombarded with these words and all that they encompass.
Communities, families and individuals are all-consumed by the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s entangled in every conversation we have with our friends, our family, and our local grocery store attendants. It’s the first thing we see on our news feed or social media platforms. It creeps into our minds when we’re alone. It’s the frown on the forehead of your parents. It’s the chilling energy in the air as the lively, bustling city that we call home becomes overcome with a quiet, somber stillness. It can truly feel inescapable and all-consuming.
It’s also the generosity of those who deliver groceries and necessities to the doors of those who are most vulnerable. It’s the teachers and support staff at your school, trying to find ways to continue providing education. It’s in the unexpected call from someone you haven’t spoken to in years. It’s in the hearts of the wellness professionals and fitness coaches who find alternative and virtual ways to support their clients and members. It’s in the musicians playing from their balconies creating melodies for their communities. It’s in the courage of thousands of health care professionals showing up to the front line every single day. It’s in the way that, despite it all, we’re finding connection in a time of isolation.
There is no denying that COVID-19 is all around us. Constantly. And. I believe we all have the choice to decide how we consume what is all around, and more importantly, how we let it effect us and how we respond to it.
I believe we all, as individuals and as communities, have the capacity to find calm in a time of chaos, and connection in a time of isolation.
Collectively, we must acknowledge that this is an incredibly stressful and anxiety-evoking situation to be in. Uncertainty and feeling as though we do not have control, especially in regards to the safety of ourselves and others, is possibly one of our greatest fears as a human species. Feeling fear and anxiety during this time is evidence of your humanness. It can also allow us to be more cautious, careful, and protective of ourselves and of others.
However, when we are all-consumed by the pandemic, the fear and anxiety can take over. We can find ourselves in a constant state of hyper-vigilance: meaning that we are extremely and overly alert, aware, and responsive to potential danger or threat. This may look like riding the TTC and feeling your body full of tension and tightness. You may be noticing every single person around you, every sniffle or cough, every time your bare skin contacts public surfaces. You may notice this in disturbed sleep, problems with appetite and digestion, or just that looming sense that something terrible is around you.
In this heightened, anxious state, especially when prolonged, our mental, emotional and physical health can suffer and our immune system can be altered, and perhaps make us more vulnerable to health concerns (Morey, Boggero, Scott, & Segerstrom, 2015). Our relationships can become increasingly strained, we may feel ourselves withdrawing, lashing out, or doing anything we possibly can to numb out. For these reasons, it is so incredibly important to learn to compassionately respond to our fears and anxieties during this time.
What’s unique about a pandemic in today’s day and age is how easily accessible information is. Access to accurate information allows for greater health education, sharing of prevention strategies, and more effective communication. The downside is that, unfortunately, inaccurate information is also easily accessible, and misinformation can be a significant source of unnecessary stress, worry and anxiety.
It is so important to stay informed and aware of what is going on in our world and our community, as well as keep informed with the latest best practices for keeping ourselves and others safe and healthy. So how do you find accurate, reliable information?
Here are a few reputable sources.
Setting boundaries means setting healthy limits and rules with yourself and with others, and in this case, particularly around how we let COVID-19 into our day-to-day lives. This involves recognizing that we can ‘stay in the loop’ without being fully wrapped up and entangled ‘in the loop’.
Setting healthy boundaries with yourself might look like:
Limiting the amount of time you allow yourself to spend reading news/information about COVID-19
Limiting the sources of information you allow yourself to absorb
Unplugging daily from your social media, news, or technology all together
Setting time in your day where you make an intention to focus and fully participate in something pleasurable unrelated to COVID-19
Setting healthy boundaries with others might look like:
Setting limits with those in your life about when, and how much, you’re willing to talk about the subject
Requesting to talk about something different if others bring it up
If you’re confined to your home with others, defining clear “alone time”
Being open and honest about your mental health and how you’re feeling. Ask others how they’re doing. Find balance between seeking support and offering support
Radical Acceptance is about recognizing and naming what IS, in our present experience, and accepting that it is here. It does not mean we have to like it nor does it mean it is fair, but it does mean we need to acknowledge that ‘it is what it is’ and that we cannot wish it away. It means letting go of these thoughts and feelings about what you wish was, and what you think “should” be.
Unfortunately… we cannot wish this pandemic away. We cannot tell the Universe this “shouldn’t” be happening. We cannot make it disappear. I believe the longer we try to do that, the more unnecessary and additional suffering we will cause ourselves. We must accept that this is our experience right now. This is all of our collective experience right now. When we can accept that it is here, then we can respond to it with compassion and kindness.
Self-compassion is the practice of acknowledging our suffering and giving ourselves the same kindness and care that we would give to someone we love.
Acknowledge and feel the feelings. I imagine amidst drastic changes to your routine, your family, and your social lives, you’ll have a confusing mix of feelings come up. You may be missing your friends, and the social buzz of being at school. You may be worrying about what will happen for the rest of your grades, your sports teams, and your clubs. You may be in your final year of high school (which in and of itself comes with a whole medley of mixed emotions) and now grieving this lost time with your friends and school community. You might be angry that the musical or the project you’ve been working on all year may not happen. And with all of these overwhelming emotions and worries, you may feel frustrated, irritable, unmotivated, or lonely. Please, take a moment and acknowledge that it is so normal and fair to have these feelings and reactions right now. You’re not alone.
Learning how to offer yourself some kindness when you’re feeling down and learning to give yourself permission to not be perfect, is how you’ll get through this. Finding healthy ways to respond to your struggle, with kindness and empathy, rather than criticize it (or ignore it), is how you’ll get through this. When we can respond to our own suffering with kindness and compassion, we can heal in self-nourishing, self-nurturing ways.
“This is really hard. I’m feeling afraid and overwhelmed. I’m lonely. And. I am not alone in this. I’m allowed to be afraid. I’m deserving of kindness when I’m struggling. What would I offer to someone I love who is struggling and afraid? Can I offer that same thing to myself?”
Self-care practices are the things that you do to maintain and improve health, wellness, and overall wellbeing. These are things that are self-nurturing and nourishing. When our routine is completely thrown off, when anxiety is high, and when we’re preoccupied with other things, our self-care can really go out the window.
Self-care can look very different for everyone, so we have to ask ourselves: “what are my needs, and how can I meet them?”, “How do I nurture myself?” Perhaps it means despite being at home and being in isolation, getting yourself fresh and ready as if you were going out to school for the day. Perhaps it means cooking yourself a healthy, nourishing meal, or finding unique ways to get physical activity at home. Maybe it’s unplugging from technology for some time each day and doing an enjoyable hobby. Click here for a great resource of all things self-care.
Mindfulness is a practice that has been shown to improve mental, physical and emotional wellbeing, reduce anxiety, and increase one’s ability to cope with stress and adversity. When we get caught up in stressful, worrisome thoughts, mindfulness is a great practice and strategy to help us get some space from our worries, connect with the present moment, and sooth ourselves. Mindfulness can also help us become more aware and in touch with our moment-to-moment experience, non-judgmentally, and practice acceptance of what is. While there are lots of mindfulness/meditation resources out there… here a few to try out:
Apps, like HeadSpace, Insight Timer or Calm
The benefits of exercise on our physical, emotional and mental wellbeing are astounding. Undoubtedly, exercise and maintaining physical activity may be one of the most important ways to cope with stress and anxiety during this pandemic. And. It may feel really hard right now as your sports teams and clubs aren’t running and the gyms are fitness centers have closed.
Here are a few suggestions on how to find movement and exercise during this time:
Schedule time in the week, or daily, for when you’ll engage in exercise. This can help avoid the “eventually…” or “tomorrow I’ll do it…” mentality.
Reframe the way you think about exercise. As a gift to your body and mind. As self-nurturing. As self-care. “This is not a ‘must’, ‘should’ or ‘have to’… it’s a Want to”.
Go for a walk or run outside (where possible, being mindful of social distancing
Just throw on some tunes and dance.
Free home work-outs. Try searching on YouTube or Google “free home work-outs”
Here at the Toronto Counselling Centre for Teens, we are so eager to help support your families and teens during this time, so all of our therapists are offering online counselling sSessions. We all need a little extra support and a little more connection during this time. While I’m so hopeful that the strategies and practices I’ve recommended here can be helpful to you, the support a therapist can offer is invaluable during this time.
If we tell ourselves that we’re missing out on everything we’d been looking forward to, and if we tell ourselves constantly how much this sucks- well yea, this will seriously suck.
What if we tell ourselves that yes, this is hard, but that we’re resilient and we can get through this? What if we tell ourselves that sure, we’re missing out on some things, but we also have so much opportunity to take care of ourselves, to learn new hobbies, to call up people we’d been previously too busy to connect with? So tune in- what story are you telling yourself? Can you change the story you’re telling yourself a bit to support your wellbeing during this time? Along your journey through these challenging times, allow yourself to be imperfect. Remind yourself, we are all together in our messy, imperfect lives right now.
We are trying our best. We are not alone. We are resilient.
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