Love and Self-Care in the Time of COVID-19: 10 Ways to Cope

We’re all coping differently with our new reality.  It seems to me that the people I see who are coping with the anxiety and restrictions related to COVID-19 best are the people who 1) have a strong support system, 2) know how to take care of themselves, 3) have not lost employment, 4) are introverts who love to stay at home or are normally socially anxious so home is their comfort zone, and 5) are embracing the need to adapt and the opportunities to do things they normally don’t have time for.  In my own neighborhood, a group of us have become a loose network of people who are doing more than we normally would for each other.  I feel fortunate to know this, especially because I know so many people don’t know any of their neighbors and would be afraid to ask for help even if they’re willing to give it.  We have picked up items for each other, shared resources.  That does help a lot, I know.  I’ve been heartened by the sheer number of people doing things for others—sewing masks and donating them, offering to run errands for those at risk.  People seem to be coming together in amazing ways; on the other hand, the dark side of our society is still very much alive and showing itself very clearly.  We have both extremes on display in stark contrast, and everything in the middle. 

In a time of crisis, there is certainly amazing opportunity, as well as the certainty that many of us will be traumatized and some of us won’t survive.  Every day we read about another person, famous or not, dying of COVID-19.  We know we have loved ones at higher risk than we’d like.  We may ourselves be at higher risk due to age, medical conditions, poverty, lack of medical care.  So our first job, obviously, is to do our best to survive, following by helping those around us survive.  To survive, we have to make sure our basic needs are met, and that includes not only our basic physical needs, but our emotional and spiritual needs too.  We need to be able to stay calm and centered so we can think, evaluate, choose, and advocate for ourselves and others.  There are some basic self-calming skills that apply here.  We don’t function well when we’re panicking, angry, overstimulated, or simply overwhelmed.  So here’s a list of things to do that you may find useful.

  1. Breathe deeply and slowly.  Stand or sit up straight, or lie on your back so you can stretch out.  Keep your shoulders back and down and your belly relaxed to give your lungs plenty of room to expand.  Breathe in and notice your belly expand; breathe out and notice it gently contract. If you like, count your breaths, find a visual point in space to focus on, repeat a simple mantra (such as “I breathe in calm, I release fear”), focus on what your physical senses are picking up, or imagine you’re in a safe, peaceful place where you are safe.  Remind yourself that in this moment, you are OK.  No matter what, the fact that you can breathe means you can function.  You need oxygen to think clearly, and taking control of your breath this way tells your body you’re OK and you can handle whatever is going on—a virus, anxiety, anger at whoever.
  2. Embrace what is; accept it and name it.  This is a time for radical acceptance.  That’s not the same as being happy with what’s happening, and it’s certainly not the same as surrendering your will to make things better.  It’s just allowing yourself to accept that this is how things are right now.  This ends denial and paves the way for doing whatever needs doing.  It also helps with distress tolerance and builds resilience.  So if you’re scared, anxious, angry, sad, depressed, whatever, just allow yourself to be that.  Give yourself time to get there, though.  You might need some time out to just breathe and maybe imagine yourself somewhere safe for a while.
  3. Think: how do I make this moment better?  There are a lot of ways to do this.  Maybe you’ll realize that you need to take a walk, or that because you can’t do that, you need to vent some frustration.  It’s normal to feel whatever you feel, and embracing painful feelings doesn’t mean stifling them.  If you need to punch a pillow or mattress, call someone, scream, whatever, find a safe way to do those things.  NOTE:  If you’re not in a safe situation and can’t leave and need to pretend all is well because you’re at risk otherwise, my heart goes out to you.  You need to survive first.  Let’s get you through COVID-19 and then get you into safety if we can’t do that now.  Do whatever you have to do.
  4. When you can, give yourself some love.  This looks different for everyone in every different moment.  It doesn’t have to cost anything.  I find that focusing on some self-compassion keeps me sane and helps me maintain compassion for others.  It allows me to better accept and forgive my mistakes and difficulties.  Loving kindness (metta) meditation is very helpful, and you can find it on the Calm app (there’s a free version) as well, I’m pretty sure, as others.  Here’s a simple way to send yourself compassion, which I think of as heart-centered meditation:  Follow step 1 (see above).  As you breathe, imagine love flowing into your heart, healing any pain or wounding.  Really focus on this until you start to feel it.  When you can feel it consistently, think of something that challenges and maybe threatens you.  It might be your fear, your pessimism, self-doubt, who knows.  Picture it visually.  Now picture the love in your heart surrounding it and taking it into your heart, healing it to whatever degree is possible right now.  Start with small things, work up to bigger things.  You can also send love to others this way.  When you feel ready to end the practice, imagine the love flowing into your heart flowing through you and filling you with strength, forgiveness, and peace.
  5. Do things that help you and lift your spirit.  If you need to cry, cry; you will feel a little better afterward.  If you’re hungry, eat.  If you’re more tired than usual, which is normal in a time of crisis, rest more than usual.  If painting your nails/your room/the floor/your face lifts your spirit, do it!  If you can exercise, remember that a little bit is better than none, and do it.  Get creative, whether it’s changing the part in your hair or wearing something you haven’t in a long time or making art.  You will feel better.
  6. Do things that help others and lift their spirits too.  It could be something very small.  A smile, bringing a family member tea, calling someone just to check in.  The idea is not to exhaust yourself, but to uplift and energize yourself by helping someone.  Humans are wired for this.  Be human.
  7. Restrict your exposure to the news, negativity, events you feel powerless about.  A friend of mine has urged people to restrict news time to one hour a day.  I know that’s difficult when things are changing so fast, but at the end of the day, if recommendations or COVID-19 statistics have changed ten times during the day, how does it help us to track every twist and turn?  It doesn’t and can be traumatizing.
  8. Find positive things to focus on.  A hot shower.  Sunlight.  A leaf, a flower, a plant.  The sound of a loved one’s voice.  The fact that we’re all struggling with the same thing and together we can find the power to change.
  9. Look for the helpers.  Ask for help when you need it.  Even if you are one.  Thank you, Mr. Rogers’ mom.
  10. 10)Remind yourself you’re doing the best you can, and focus on every success, no matter how small.

I hope you there’s something helpful on this list for you.  Feel free to let me know what works for you in a time of crisis.  I think it’s the million small things, rather than a few huge things, that help the most.  And I hope you are doing well.

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