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  • Writer's pictureJamie Harkins

Coping with COVID-19

Updated: Apr 12, 2020

Here are some free and immediately available ideas for staying connected, being grounded, and getting through the days ahead.

In recent weeks most of us have been forced into a situation which requires us to significantly change our day-to-day lives. Change is generally an uncomfortable thing for people, be it positive or negative. We humans are creatures of habit and routine, and since at least mid-March, many of our routines have been upended.

So how do we hold on to a sense of normalcy during a period of flux and uncertainty? While there are no easy answers to calm worried minds, here are a few ideas which can be done anywhere, cost nothing, and might help each of us to be in the moment, hold on to what feels important, and stay grounded.

Get outside: Move outside of your four walls, breathe fresh air, and take space when you need it. Depending where you live you can go on to your porch or deck, into your yard, or take a brief walk, all while still staying physically distant from others.

Make and keep contact with others: If you are fortunate enough to be sheltering in place with loved ones, having physical contact-- cuddling, hugging, sharing the sofa, sitting across from one another at a table so you can see each other’s face-- will help to feel connected and reduce sadness related to isolation. If you are sheltering in place alone call friends or family. Voice-on-voice contact is so much more powerful than texts, snaps, or DMs will ever be.

Create: Creating can be done in so many ways! Rearrange your furniture, color, draw, paint a room if you have the supplies, make art or music, cook or bake. Look at your Pinterest boards and see what supplies you have to do some of the projects you’ve pinned over the last decade.

Practice Yoga: Despite what you see on social media, you do not have to be able to bend yourself into a pretzel to practice yoga. Yoga is primarily about staying healthy. There are dozens of health benefits associated with yoga, including reduced cortisol (the body's main stress hormone) levels.

Many yoga studios are offering low cost classes through their individual websites, plus you can access countless free classes, from beginner to advanced level, via YouTube and on Instagram's live stream.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR): Progressive muscle relaxation has been consistently proven as one of the easiest to learn and most effective relaxation techniques. The process is simply to tense, hold, and release each muscle group in your body, from your forehead to your toes. In doing this, you’ll reduce muscle tension, slow your heart rate, and relax your body. There’s no right or wrong way to do it, and the more you do it the easier and more calming it becomes. You can do a quick Google search of the term “progressive muscle relaxation” to find scripts and videos, as well as an abundance of articles on the research supporting the efficacy of PMR.

Mindfulness or Meditation: While the term “meditation” can be intimidating, meditation and mindfulness practice can take many forms. You can practice simple breathing techniques, develop a mantra to self-soothe, and/or take a moment to check in with all 5 senses. Anything you do to feel present in your body is a form of mindfulness.

Deep Breathing: There are many types of rhythmic deep breathing, and any of them can be done in a matter of minutes or even seconds, slowing the cardiovascular system and reducing physical stress. The goal would be to do a handful of rounds each time you use any of these techniques. The more rounds you do, the better it will work to calm you. Below are just a few basic methods:

  • Box breathing, also called 3-3-6 breathing: Breathe in for a count of 3, hold it for a count of 3, and release for a count of 6. You can also go with 4, 4, and 8 if that feels better for you.

  • Belly breathing: Lie down or sit comfortably with your right hand over your heart and your left hand on your belly. Take a deep slow breath in through your nose and feel your belly (not your chest) rise. Exhale through your mouth.

  • Forward fold breathing: Stand up straight with your knees slightly bent. Bend forward while exhaling, folding at your waist, leaving your arms hanging limply toward the floor (also known as "ragdoll pose" or "dangling pose" in yoga). Take a deep breath in while slowly and deliberately returning to your original standing position, imagining yourself stacking one vertebrae at a time. Your head should be the last thing to straighten. Slowly exhale while returning to the bent/ forward fold position. Slowly roll back up to standing as you inhale.

Guided Imagery: This is a technique to give your mind a momentary break. It can mean simply imagining yourself in your "happy place.” The scene can be real or fictional. For example, picture yourself sitting on a beach listening to the waves crashing, feeling the warmth of the sun on your skin and sand beneath your feet, and smelling the salty air. You can practice this on your own or you can do a quick internet search, close your eyes and allow yourself to be transported to somewhere calm and quiet for a few moments.

Express Gratitude: Gratitude is so much more than saying, “Thank you,” to another person. Finding gratitude in small moments can break the cycle of negative thinking, bring about a new perspective, improve our relationships, allow us to enjoy a present moment, improve resilience, increase feelings of hope, and teach our minds to be more in tune with what isn’t so bad in our lives and in the world. Gratitude practice can be done a plethora of ways. You may try to find three moments throughout the day, make a bullet point journal at the end of the night, write “thank you” letters or cards (you do not have to send them), or say it aloud to another person.

And you don't have to look for something amazing to be thankful for! Maybe today you’re just thankful for your warm bed, or that your dog didn’t chew the shoes you left laying out, or that your heart is beating and you made it through the day.

Re-assess your to-do lists: Prioritize what is important and actually doable right now, in the current circumstance. Anything unattainable in the present conditions needs to be shifted to a different list that you're keeping for when quarantine is over and we are not all experiencing a collective trauma.

Consider what you’ve wanted to do, but couldn't find the time: Spend an extra 5 minutes in the shower, pick up the guitar that’s been sitting in your room gathering dust, read the book you bought last year, pull out the old board games from the closet… Try something new or something old. Stimulate your brain or relax your mind. Consider what you need for yourself.

Cut out things which cause additional and unnecessary stress: Look, if thinking about the above suggestions causes you to feel stressed and frustrated, don’t do it! If you really are not up for that Skype happy hour your friends are planning, it’s okay to say, “Maybe next time.” If there are not enough hours today to get done what you feel you need to, prioritize. If it means that one of your kids is not going to have his spelling words done for tomorrow, maybe that is okay. These are trying times and we need to be able to focus on what is going to keep us feeling grounded, safe, and as secure as possible. Everything else is secondary.

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