During this period we are all trying to inoculate ourselves against the COVID 19 virus. In order to help our immune system we know that regular exercise, healthful eating, good sleep and stress management practices are all integral in supporting immune function. (For a good overview to boosting your immune system, listen to this ABC podcast)
Besides physical inoculation, there is also the mental and emotional need for inoculating ourselves against the fear, panic and anxiety of uncertain times. I know personally I have been in a heightened state of fight and flight.
Stress put simply is our bodies’ response to a perceived (real or imagined) threat or challenge. This response can be physiological, mental, emotional or behavioural. I personally have been experiencing increased anxiety and worry about the future. Here are some strategies I have been using to assist me in maintaining some form of balance and equanimity.
Breath! When we become stressed or anxious our breathing rate and patterns change as part of the biological stress response, in order to warn us that we may be under threat. When this happens we generally take short and shallow breaths from high up in our chest, rather than using our diaphragm. Slow conscious diaphragmatic breathing is a physiological intervention that can mediate our stress response. Check out this short video
Maintain social connection. Even though you are physically distancing doesn’t mean you need to be isolated. Social connection and the release of oxytocin is another recognised intervention in mediating the stress response. Get creative. I know of people who are using Zoom, Skype and Face time to have regular coffee catch ups, wine time (not whine time) dinner parties, and kids social catch ups. For more on the importance of social connection and good brain health click here.
Develop psychological flexibility. This implies you have the skills and ability to build awareness and be present, make room for uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, yet still take action guided by your core values. As the stress response more often than not involves uncomfortable thoughts, feelings and sensations, having the cognitive skills to better relate to these is imperative to managing stress.
Engaging in some regular mindful practice is a great way of creating some space between troubling thoughts and tumultuous emotions. Mindfulness based practice is like an antidote to living in the past (rumination, regret, resentment) or the future (worrying or predicting the worst). It enables grounding, centering and calming down when stressed. It’s like “dropping an anchor amidst an emotional storm”
Emotional flexibility involves:
Check out this short video on internal struggles by Dr Russ Harris
Download below this great resource created by DR Russ Harris for better inoculating you mentally & emotionally from COVID 19
Manage your (social) media intake. I am normally a veracious consumer of news and current affairs often listening to BBC, NPR and our ABC. Recently I have limited my exposure to the 24-hour news cycle. This involves taking a break from watching, reading or listening to crisis news stories, including social media. Instead I check in once a day and spend other moments listening to something more uplifting like ABC classical or an interesting podcast.
Maintain a routine is something that one can control. Having a written daily plan helps you stay on track with your self-care and other areas that you value and are important for maintaining resilience and equanimity. Check out Kate’s video below. Contact Kate for psychotherapy support.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.