A few months ago, very few of us could've imagined a world in which going out for dinner or kissing hello to a close friend would feel like a luxury from a past life. The changes we've seen in the last weeks would've been unthinkable.
The times we're living in now are also likely taking a toll on all of us, says Robin Stern, a psychologist and the associate director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. "We're all anxious about the news, stressed and stretched from dealing with the day-to-day disruption."
It's not just the grave news reports we're getting, says Stern. We can't engage in the usual routines that help us cope, like working out at the gym, meeting up with a friend for coffee or even our morning commute. It's natural that we're going to be more irritable, less patient and less calm, she says. The disruption and uncertainty is affecting nearly every aspect of our lives.
What we're experiencing as a result of the Corona pandemic is unprecedented in many ways, including the amount of uncertainty we're all facing. Uncertainty is particularly difficult to deal with because it triggers fear, says Neda Gould, an assistant professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and director of the mindfulness program at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "We view uncertainty as a potential threat to our well-being."
Right now, the stakes feel really high, says Gould. We don't know how the virus might physically affect us or our loved ones, how our work and ability to provide for ourselves and our families might be affected or when we'll be able to eat, move and socialise again in the ways we like. "There's uncertainty on many levels," she says.
Gould points out that it's the small routines in our daily lives — walking the dog, going to the gym, taking the tube to work, picking up the dry cleaning — that help create a sense of normality. And often when there are larger global or societal stressors, it's these daily routines that help us "escape" those more ominous concerns and feel comforted. But she warns, "This is not the case with the coronavirus pandemic — where even our daily activities are significantly impacted."
So how can we cope better when it feels like our world has been turned upside down?
There are a number of healthy coping strategies you can use to manage stress and anxiety during the pandemic. Here's what some of the experts have been saying;
Start with you
Self-care has never been more important, when everyone around you is anxious and on edge, the best way to stay healthy and help those in need around you is by taking care of yourself. Exercise daily. It doesn’t matter what your favourite work out is – as long as it is consistent. Getting the breathing going by a jogging spurt, or a cycle is really great and mix this with stretch/ pilates/ yoga/ hit? Whatever you will enjoy doing for a minimum of thirty minutes everyday. I always like to finish my workout with a short breathing exercise or a meditation moment - it really sets you up for the day. Do your workout at a time that you won’t be interrupted and if that means getting up before the kids – do it! You will feel you achieved something and a bit of normality!
Eating three nutritious meals in the day at regular intervals and not too late at night will also help your body calm down and keep your mind and body centred.
Naturally sleep is key at times like this and when the news is so worrying, it is easy to let your bedtime routine fall apart, but please don’t! Getting to bed at a regular time every night and sleeping well will help keep your anxiety levels down and you will cope much better. So take a nice hot bath, sip a camomile tea and last thing to read before sleep is not Sky news but a boring book to send you to sleep!
Stay connected- just virtually!
We are so lucky today to benefit from many various virtual means of connecting with friends and loved ones and it’s a great source of comfort each day to think of virtual catch ups as both communication and commiseration.
This is the time we need each other most and yet we can only see each other from a distance. Everyday, it means so much for me to connect with family and friends spread out around the country and hear how they are coping. And even though we can't physically be together, it's so important to stay connected through social media, phone calls and video conferencing. And particularly for older friends and family, this point of contact is vital.
We are not in control
Get as comfortable as you can with the idea that many things — including those that you can normally control — are no longer within your control.
Right now, the only constant is everything feels strange and very abnormal. It's a hard mindset to adopt, but letting go of the things we can't control will help us focus on the things we can.
How about giving yourself a good talking to, tell yourself that you'll concentrate on the things you can control, such as cooking a meal, calling a friend or starting your day with a workout.
Focus on the positive benefits staying home has had on your life
Whether that may mean just appreciating your health; your home, getting those jobs done you never have time for, spending time with a partner, teaching yourself a new skill. Of course if illness strikes, this section is difficult, but a positive frame of mind can help the healing process.
Avoid information overload
Stay informed, but don't listen to the news all day every day. Pick a few trusted sources of information and decide when you're going to tune in and check them. Then stick with that schedule. Constant news consumption, is more right now, to fuel your anxiety than to be helpful. I always ask for what positive news is there today and look for that (bit thin on the ground currently!)
It's a serious situation, but taking time to do the things that make you smile and laugh can make daily life more enjoyable, Find the small joys in the situation, like getting to spend more time with loved ones, cooking or watching comedy. We need those warm, caring moments right now and even those silly jokes that your mates send you, at least often make you smile – that moment is fantastic as it alters your mood – allow yourself to smile.
Do you, like me, think we have taken so much in the past for granted and not spent nearly enough time expressing gratitude.
This moment in time is teaching us a valuable lesson that is worth remembering for a long time to come:
We have to be thankful for so much in our lives. We should also express gratitude to our family and our friends and community. Why not tell friends and family how much they are appreciated . Perhaps it is being British, but we are not very good at showing our feelings, perhaps now is the time to change!
Sharing feelings can make us feel cared for — and make us feel good.
Take control of the things you can control
Finally, focus on the aspects of your daily routine that you can still maintain — or create a new routine that suits your current situation. This will help you stay on track throughout the day, as well as keep you busy. In my opinion, busy is the answer, so look for opportunities to catch up on the backlog of things you always wished you had more time for, like learning a language, reading books you always challenged yourself to read or reorganising your wardrobe. Above all else "Exploit the positive opportunities." Lastly,
STAY HOME AND SAVE OUR NHS!